Category Archives: Schools

Future uncertain for Berkeley school due to unsafe building

German School
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See update at the foot of the story.

A private elementary school in North Berkeley may have to find a new location after assessments of its landmarked building revealed potentially significant work is needed to make it safe to occupy.

Michael Koops, head of school at the German International School of Silicon Valley — which opened in 2012 at the old Hillside School site at 1581 Le Roy Ave. — wrote in an email to the school community Monday that, “continued use of the Hillside building requires significant short-term investments in structural improvements and possibly very substantial additional seismic retrofit work in the near future.” Koops also makes clear that funds for any structural work are not available, not least as current tuition had not covered the costs of instruction and facilities “for some time.”

The news, which came as a surprise to parents, followed a report by geotechnical and structural engineering experts on the seismic performance of the Hillside building.

One parent who has two kids at the K-8 school, and who asked not to be named, said parents were “freaking out.” (Update: He later clarified this was about the announcement, not the news of seismic issues which are commonly known.) Many are angry and disappointed, some are even talking about lawsuits, he said.

Koops said in the email that the school board had discussed the problem last week, but that no decision had been reached. He announced a town hall meeting for all the school’s parents and staff on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.

Before that, the board will meet again, on Wednesday, to “make an informed decision on next steps, including whether or not, and under what conditions, continued use of the Hillside campus is feasible.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High principal on sudden leave; VP in charge

New Berkeley High principal Sam Pasarow at a preparatory meeting with teachers and staff. Photo: Mark Coplan
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Beginning Tuesday, Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow will be on leave, and Vice Principal Erin Schweng will oversee campus operations, according to a brief email sent to BHS families Monday evening by a school district official.

Few details have been made available, and Pasarow’s email has been disabled.

Former BHS Principal Pasquale Scuderi, now an assistant superintendent for the Berkeley Unified School District, sent the email to the BHS listserve just after 5 p.m.

Read more about Berkeley High.

Scuderi wrote that Schweng will “assume the role of lead administrator” immediately and “until further notice.”

He continued: “We understand that the minimal detail included [in] this communication may be concerning for some, yet we are obliged to respect confidentiality whenever private or personnel matters arise.”

BUSD spokesman Charles Burress said no further information could be shared by the district at this time. … Continue reading »

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Two Berkeley High students hospitalized after eating marijuana edibles

Berkeley High School. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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Two Berkeley High School students were taken to the hospital yesterday after eating marijuana edibles on campus. Both are reported to be fine.

According to BHS principal Sam Pasarow, six students were found to have eaten the products. In a statement to the Berkeley High community, he wrote, “We take this incident and all incidents involving controlled substances on our campus seriously. This investigation is ongoing at this time and does involve cooperation with local law enforcement.”

Pasarow said parents should remind students to never accept food from other students without knowing their origin. “Edible products are particularly dangerous as they can include a range of substances and unclear dosages and drug potency,” he wrote. … Continue reading »


Berkeley School Board may levy new fees on development

The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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The Berkeley School Board is set to vote Wednesday night on whether to collect new fees from building projects in Berkeley to raise money for facilities needs.

School districts are allowed under state law to collect those fees, though Berkeley Unified has not done so in the past.

The board announced its intention to investigate what kind of fees it could levy back in October 2015.

Tonight, Nov. 16, it is set to vote on whether to put those fees in place.

If approved, the fees would go into effect Jan. 16, said BUSD spokesman Charles Burress. Projects that have submitted an application to the city before then would not be subject to the fees. … Continue reading »

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In film, Berkeley High athletes wrestle with difficult issues

Berkeley High footballers kneel during the national anthem at a game in a still from Stand Up and Kneel, a Vice News Tonight film shot at the school.
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49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained national attention when he began kneeling during the national anthem at games — a protest against the treatment of black people in the United States. Rolake Bamgbose, a producer at VICE News Tonight, spotted an opportunity for a good follow-up story. The result was Stand Up and Kneel, a 7-minute, fly-on-the-wall film shot on the field and in the locker room of the Berkeley High School football team. (Watch the film below.)

“We had been keeping an eye on how Colin Kaepernick-type protests were playing out across the country,” Bamgbose said last week on the phone from New York. ” We were noticing protests were taking wind at colleges, in middle schools, and even with little-league teams at the elementary level.”

One of Bamgbose’s goals is to find interesting stories with different perspectives that appeal to young people. About a month ago she started making calls around the country to see if she could find a school team that was protesting.

What she found instead was a coach — Berkeley High’s head football coach CJ Johnson — who had just started talking with his team about whether, and how, they should make their voices heard. Johnson told Bamgbose that a couple of his team captains had come to him saying they wanted to protest. A few raised their fists at a game. Johnson suggested talking as a team to decide collectively on an approach.

Bamgbose’s interest was piqued. She asked Johnson if he would hold off formal talks with the team until VICE was able to get a crew onto the Berkeley High campus. Then she and VICE producer and correspondent Jay Kaspian Kang got on an airplane to the West Coast. … Continue reading »


Berkeley High grad remembered at vigil; mother, former BUSD teacher, was also killed

Photo: Benny Wright/Facebook
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A recent Berkeley High graduate who was killed last week in Oakland along with his mothers was remembered Monday during a vigil on campus.

About 100 people came together to remember Benny Wright, 19, who graduated from the BHS Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) learning community in June. Benny’s mother, former BUSD teacher Patricia Wright, and her partner, Charlotte Reed, were also killed.

Monday, vigil organizers passed out candles and invited attendees to share their memories and thoughts about Benny Wright.

“Benny’s brother (home from school in Mississippi) spoke first for nearly 15 minutes about Benny’s spirit of love and joy and about how he had already forgiven the assailant,” said teacher John Tobias, who helps run AMPS, along with Claudia Gonzalez.

Tobias said Benny, according to his brother, had been deciding whether to become a hairdresser or a nurse.

“He always wanted to make people feel better. Other students and teachers spoke about Benny’s unwavering smile being able to light up a room,” Tobias said. … Continue reading »

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Photo slideshow: Berkeley High walkout, protest march

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More than 1,000 Berkeley High students walked off campus Wednesday morning and marched to the UC Berkeley campus to protest the result of the U.S. presidential election. The demonstration was peaceful and the police did not get involved. Read our story. Watch live footage and interviews on our Facebook Live coverage.

And click through the slideshow above, using the arrows on either side, to see photographs taken by staffers, contributing photographers, … Continue reading »

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1,500 walk out of Berkeley High in election protest

Berkeley High School walkout. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Update 1:45 p.m. The student protest on the UC Berkeley campus is disbanding.

Update, 1:20 p.m. The group of protesters that marched through downtown has headed on to the UC Berkeley campus, first through Sproul Plaza and then to the Campanile (pictured above), echoing the movements of Wednesday morning’s march. According to Berkeleyside’s Arielle Gordon-Rowe, many of the this group are from Albany High. A local attorney in the crowd spoke briefly at the open mic, imploring students to read Howard Zinn. Students demanded the teaching of African American and Native American history, as well as gay rights history, among other things.

We are also hearing reports from readers of separate groups of students in protest marches in North Berkeley. One group was seen on Solano and The Alameda heading to the Gourmet Ghetto.

Update, 1 p.m. Many Berkeley High student protesters are heading south down Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley. Traffic is affected. According to Berkeleyside’s Arielle Gordon-Rowe many Albany High students walked over two miles from their school to join the Berkeley High walkout.  Albany High campus administration supported the students and some teachers joined in. … Continue reading »

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School board candidates back Measure E1, will push for education equality

From left: Abdur Sikder, Judy Appel, Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Norma Harrison. Photos: Courtesy
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Two incumbents are facing two challengers at the polls today in two lightly contested seats on the Berkeley Unified School District.

 Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, 60, is the executive director of Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement, an organization that aims to provide families with bilingual learning environments. The daughter of an undocumented immigrant, born in San Francisco’s Mission District, Leyva-Cutler has served on the Board for nearly eight years and says that she is the first Latina bilingual woman to hold a seat in 25 years.

Incumbent Judy Appel 51, was Board president in 2015 and has a joint degree from UC Hastings and UC Berkeley in Law and City and Regional Planning. Appel is currently the executive director of the California School-Based Health Alliance.

According to a candidate survey Berkeleyside conducted, Leyva-Cutler and Appel are running a collaborative campaign, which “reflects the strong partnership and shared vision of the current school board to strengthen our schools with a focus on closing the racial achievement gap and building a stronger, more engaged district for all of our students.”Continue reading »

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Longtime BHS math teacher drowns in Russian River

Heidi Boley. Photo: InnovateEd (Featured)
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A long-time Berkeley Unified School District employee drowned Friday when the canoe she and two friends were riding in overturned on the Russian River near Healdsburg.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department found 69-year-old Heidi Boley in the river under some tree limbs around 1:30 p.m., according to a press release. She was airlifted to shore but could not be revived. She was wearing a life jacket.

Boley and her two friends had set out earlier in the day in an inflatable canoe southwest of Healdsburg, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The river was moving fast but was not treacherous, according to the paper. Somehow the canoe accidentally overturned. Boley’s two friends managed to swim to shore. They alerted a vineyard worker that their friend was missing and he called authorities.

Charles Burress, spokesman for BUSD, released a statement from the district: “We are deeply saddened at the loss of long-time BUSD employee, Heidi Boley.” … Continue reading »

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BSEP renewal would fund small class sizes, libraries, music in Berkeley schools, but with big tax hike

Berkeley students carry Yes on E1 signs during the Solano Stroll. Photo: Yes on E1 campaign
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Since 1986, Berkeley public schools have benefited from smaller class sizes, libraries, music and arts instruction thanks to the infusion of funds from the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP). The parcel tax has been renewed with voter support in 1994, 2004 and 2006. If past elections are any guide, Measure E1 to renew BSEP should pass the two-thirds majority hurdle with ease at next Tuesday’s election.

E1 has no organized opposition, but a California appeals court ruling has forced a significant change in the design of the tax this time. Previous BSEP measures had higher tax rates for commercial property than for residential property. Differential tax rates on a parcel tax are no longer allowed, so Berkeley home owners will see a steep tax increase from the current 29 cents per square foot to 37 cents per square foot if E1 passes.

Check out Berkeleyside’s Election Hub and Voter’s Edge voting guide.

“The BSEP campaign is a once in a decade coming together of the community to say we know the state has been divesting in public education for years,” said Ty Alper, a Berkeley School Board member and one of the leaders of the campaign. “We’re going to come together to make sure that kids in the Berkeley schools have small classes, have support for struggling students, have music, even if the state doesn’t provide that. People understand the increase. They know that we didn’t have a choice in terms of the court ruling. This isn’t a money grab.”  … Continue reading »

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Yvette Felarca to return to Berkeley classroom today

Yvette Felarca during Wednesday night's board meeting. Image: BUSD
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Six weeks after the Berkeley Unified School District placed Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca on administrative leave “pending an investigation into concerns that have been raised,” the teacher will be returning to her classroom.

BUSD Spokesman Charles Burress confirmed Tuesday that Felarca would be back teaching on Wednesday, Nov. 2. He would not say who reached that decision or why, citing “personnel issues.”

“I’m back to work tomorrow!” Felarca posted Tuesday on her Facebook page. “Thank you, everyone and congratulations to all — this victory belongs to all of us!”

Felarca said in an email that her restitution came after a Tuesday meeting between Shanta Driver, her attorney from the group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), Cathy Campbell, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Superintendent Donald Evans and other members of the administration. … Continue reading »

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72K people participate in Berkeley’s ‘Great ShakeOut’

Kids participate in the Great Shakeout at LeConte Elementary School. Photo: Daphne White
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The principal did it. The janitor did it. The students did it. At 10:20 a.m. last Thursday, everyone at LeConte Elementary School in Berkeley participated in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill. They dropped under the nearest table, covered their heads, and held on tight.

The purpose of the annual ShakeOut event is to raise awareness of the need for preparedness and to remind people to practice actual earthquake survival behaviors.

“Your past experience in earthquakes may give you a false sense of safety,” the ShakeOut website notes. “You likely have never experienced the kind of strong earthquake shaking that is possible in much larger earthquakes: sudden and intense back and forth motions of several feet per second will cause the floor or the ground to jerk sideways out from under you, and every unsecured object around you could topple, fall, or become airborne, potentially causing serious injury.”

Read more about disaster preparedness.

Berkeley had 72,000 registered participants in the Great ShakeOut, including the city of Berkeley, UC Berkeley, Berkeley National Lab, Alta Bates, seven schools and 18 neighborhood groups.

“The event gave us an opportunity to test out the Berkeley Emergency Notification System (BENS),” said Dave Brannigan, the Berkeley Fire Department’s assistant chief for special operations. “We don’t get to use the system very often, and it’s a fairly complicated system. The more we practice using it, the better.” … Continue reading »

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