Category Archives: Schools

Op-ed: School district overcrowding is an opportunity that begins as a problem

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Last week’s Berkeley School Board meeting kicked off a series of important community input meetings to address the issue of overcrowding in our schools. Parents from local elementary schools shared observations about how increasing demands on our teachers, classrooms, schoolyards and cafeterias undermine the quality education that we want for Berkeley’s kids.

Although our schools are overflowing, the school board meeting felt strangely empty. Four of our ten elementary schools were represented, and no middle school or high school parents … Continue reading »

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Noose at Berkeley High raised concerns over past suicide

Noose at BHS. Photo: anonymous
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Berkeley High administrators considered whether a noose found hanging in a tree earlier this month might have been in some way related to the suicide in February of a 21-year-old man on the BHS campus, according to Berkeley Unified Assistant Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi.

On Oct. 1 at around 2 p.m., a thin rope tied in the form of a noose was found in a tree on the campus green at Berkeley High School.

Berkeley police were called to investigate the incident, and worked with school safety officers.

Eight days after the discovery, on Oct. 9., Berkeley High Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza sent an email to the BHS community detailing what actions the school was taking in the wake of the noose’s discovery.

Melgoza described the noose as an “act of hate” and said it was “a clear and stark reminder that racism is alive and well in this country.”

Administrators also wondered whether the noose might be in some way related to the suicide on Feb. 17 on the campus of Michael B. Hamilton, who was not affiliated with the school, according to Scuderi, who, until last year, was principal of Berkeley High. … Continue reading »

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Noose hanging from tree discovered at Berkeley High

One of the inner courtyards at Berkeley High
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Berkeley police are investigating the discovery of a noose hanging on a tree on the Berkeley High campus.

A BHS safety officer discovered the noose on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 1. It was immediately removed. The school said it appeared to be an isolated event. Nobody has been found responsible for what the school describes as a hate crime.

“This act of hate has never been, and will never be, tolerated on this campus,” BHS Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza wrote in an email to the school community on Thursday this week. “It is a reminder of a terrible period in our history that will never and should never be forgotten. This incident is a clear and stark reminder that racism is alive and well in this country and we as educators are the ones best suited to combat this ignorance. There are a variety of manners for this to happen and it all begins with us choosing to remain focused on the issue beyond this incident.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley School Board primer: English Learner master plan and increasing enrollment are on the agenda

The Berkeley School Board, at its August meeting. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
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The Berkeley schools Board of Education meets tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 8) for a closed session at 6 p.m., followed by its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Follow along via the agenda packet.

The board will discuss the district’s English Learner Master Plan. It will also begin a four-part process of addressing the challenges of increasing enrollment. (Read more about school enrollment issues on Berkeleyside.) … Continue reading »

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Outcry after Berkeley High abruptly cancels physics lab

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The physics lab class at Berkeley High School started out this year with a big bang – a sudden burst of students. And then it collapsed, when the course was cancelled without a word.

In the first week of school, teacher Matthew McHugh recruited 43 students in his college-prep physics classes to sign up for the separate lab that meets one day per week. Quite a feat, for a class that begins at 7:23 a.m.

For the first lab session, the students went out to Milvia Street, stationed themselves 15 meters apart, and plotted the positions and times of cars, calculating velocity to see if anyone was speeding. The next week they were to study acceleration and mass by rolling balls down the “Galileo ramp.” … Continue reading »

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After 3 years of negotiations, Berkeley school district and union reach tentative agreement

Berkeley Council of Classified Employees demonstrated on Friday March 28, 2014 outside BUSD's HQ on Bonar Street. Photo: Ted Friedman
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A fact-finding panel brought in to assist with talks between the Berkeley Unified School District and one of its unions finally led to a contract breakthrough – after three years of negotiations.

The district and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents 590 employees, hammered out the details of an agreement on Wednesday. … Continue reading »

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Want to know about the Grateful Dead? Go back to school

Grateful Dead play Greek Theatre Berkeley. Photo- Ken Friedman
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References to the Grateful Dead are everywhere — on pints of Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, or at the San Francisco Giants’ Jerry Garcia Night.

The late lead singer has “become this sort of cross between Santa Claus and Smokey the Bear, this kind of patron saint in many ways,” said Peter Richardson, a lecturer in humanities at San Francisco State University.

But behind these watered-down homages and caricatures is a complicated and unlikely story — one that Richardson explores both in a book due out in January, and at a new course beginning October 1 at UC Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Less shoot-from-the-hip, more planning for schools

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In the past fourteen years, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) has authorized $327 million in capital improvements. That represents approximately $15,000 in taxes per household, or about $35,000 per student, a generous investment by Berkeley residents. Most people are surprised to learn, however, that BUSD has allocated these resources without a Facilities Master Plan.

A Facilities Master Plan gathers and analyzes information from various sources to provide a comprehensive study of the district’s facility needs. Projections of student enrollment, an … Continue reading »

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Berkeley School Board primer: Leadership at Malcolm X and BHS, career training, common core, more

The Berkeley School Board, at its August meeting. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
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The Berkeley schools Board of Education meets tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 17) for a closed session at 6 p.m., followed by its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Follow along via the Sept. 17 agenda packet.

The board will consider adding an assistant principal at Malcolm X Elementary School. The board is also slated to discuss career training efforts in the district and get an update on common core standards, including progress so far, expenditures and challenges. … Continue reading »

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State-mandated kindergarten program explains perceived student numbers squeeze at Berkeley schools

BUSD First Day 2014-15 0050
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When the Berkeley school district added two new kindergarten classes – one to Cragmont school and one to Malcolm X — just before school began, some parents were concerned about what impact the move would have on the schools, which, they said, were neither spacious nor overstaffed. In an opinion piece published on Berkeleyside, Joshua Room, former President of the PTA at Malcolm X, asked why the district couldn’t plan ahead better. Quite a few readers agreed with him.

In fact, this year’s incoming kindergarten class is smaller than last year’s class. The squeeze is instead coming from the fairly new – and growing — transitional kindergarten program, required by state law. And the BUSD admissions office said it was well aware of the crunch coming.

“I knew we needed more classrooms back in February,” said Francisco Martinez, district admissions director. But over the course of the spring, plans about where to put the transitional kindergarten classrooms went through several shifts. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley schools are victims of their own success

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I am a proud graduate from, and enthusiastic supporter of, the Berkeley public schools. I am a lifelong resident of Berkeley, and have chosen to raise my family here. I love the school that my children attend, and have had nothing but tremendously positive experiences with all of the teachers and staff that have been involved in their education and care.

But Berkeley elementary schools are experiencing unprecedented problems with student population growth. In recent years, the number of students … Continue reading »

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In Berkeley program, teens learn the law, leadership

Meea Sheard spent her summer interning at the General Counsel's Office of the Peralta Community College District. Photo: Nancy Schiff
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Jay-Z and Beyoncé are working out their relationship problems. The celebrities — impersonated uncannily by two 17-year-olds — are pretty angry at each other. But eventually they restore their romance, thanks to the help of an articulate 16-year-old mediator.

Mediation role-playing is just one sliver of the Summer Legal Fellowship Program at the Center for Youth Development Through Law. Each summer, the non-profit offers 30 disadvantaged youth from Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond paid internships and training in law and leadership.

This year’s program ended with a graduation ceremony last week. The teenagers worked hard until the end, juggling their internships at various government agencies and non-profits, attending college prep and constitutional law classes, and preparing their resumes for mock job interviews. … Continue reading »

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Mediation between school district, staff union fizzles

The BUSD school board meeting at its new meeting space on Bonar St. in March headquarters. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
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After failing to agree on a new contract despite three years of talking, the Berkeley Unified School District and a union representing 570 Berkeley school employees will now turn negotiations over to a fact-finding panel.

A mediator that has been working with BUSD and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union (BCCE) since February decided on July 29 that mediation could not bring the two sides any closer and turned the process over to a three-member panel. The main sticking point is the question of involuntary transfers. The district and union have reached agreement on many other issues, including salary raises. … Continue reading »

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