Tag Archives: Berkeley schools

Berkeley Community Fund awards record number of college scholarships to Berkeley students

Photo: Berkeley Community Fund
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Twenty-seven Berkeley High students who were awarded scholarships to college by the the Berkeley Community Fund (BCF) were honored at the Berkeley City Club on Monday, June 8.

The winners of the High Hopes Scholarships represent a wide range of ethnicities, family backgrounds, and academic interests. Most are first-generation college students, and many are immigrants. They will all receive $16,000 over four years in need-based scholarships and one-on-one mentorships.

The Berkeley Community Fund’s High Hopes Scholarship Program has supported low-income, high-achieving Berkeley High School students since 2008. This year marks the highest number of students ever to receive High Hopes scholarships, up from 23 last year. The students have already been accepted to a four-year college; BCF ensures that they can attend and succeed. Continue reading »

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Remembering the Legacy of Mr. Norman C. Letcher, Berkeley Schools, 1933-2015

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By Natalie Letcher

Norman Cornelius Letcher, Dean of Students at Berkeley High School, passed away peacefully in his sleep on May 1, 2015, and had been continually surrounded by family and loved ones. Born June 11, 1933, he was just one month shy of 82 years old.

Mr. Letcher had a longstanding successful career in education that spanned 25 years, which included employment in the Berkeley Unified School District as well as the Parks & Recreation Department. For over … Continue reading »

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Soda tax brings needed cash to gardening program

BUSD's cooking and gardening program has been in need of financial support since federal funding was slashed in 2013. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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The Berkeley Unified School District’s beleaguered cooking and gardening program will see a welcome injection of funds as a result of revenues accrued from Measure D, the so-called soda tax, approved by city residents last November.

On Thursday, June 4, a panel appointed to allocate taxes collected from the sugar-sweetened beverage tax recommended $250,000 be advanced to the cooking and gardening program.

It was announced May 18 that the soda tax had raised $116,000 in its first month of operation.

The Berkeley City Council is set to vote to approve the panel’s recommendation by June 30, while the Berkeley School Board is slated to finalize its budget June 10 with the knowledge that the funding is essentially secured. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: BTA teacher asks, how can we support our kids?

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The lengthy piece published Wednesday on Berkeleyside about Berkeley Technology Academy has certainly caused a wide array of reactions and emotions throughout our school, district and community. 

Rather than cast blame, point fingers and re-count unfortunate anecdotes of past and current students in crisis situations, I’d like to take this opportunity to provide additional context about the challenge of our school, and how some of us think and hope we might become better and more … Continue reading »

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Teachers at Berkeley Technology Academy raise the alarm

Berkeley Technology Academy. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Teachers at Berkeley’s alternative high school have raised concerns about the state of affairs on campus, citing “extreme behavior” among students, chronically low attendance, a lack of academic rigor, and a generally unsafe campus environment due to deficient security resources and limited district support.

Berkeley Unified School District officials and the school principal have repeatedly declined to speak in depth about safety at Berkeley Technology Academy, the district’s lone continuation high school. The campus serves the district’s highest-need students, many of whom are minorities who come from challenging home environments. Data reviewed by Berkeleyside paints a stark picture of increasing suspensions and dangerous activity at the school site in recent years, including a spike last year in suspensions related to assault or battery on school staff.

Read more about school safety issues on Berkeleyside.

The difficulties have come despite district efforts to improve the school by hiring a new principal — acclaimed in her previous district for outstanding leadership — who has worked to revamp BTA’s record keeping and data collection, upgrade campus infrastructure, and win accreditation for its coursework so the BTA diploma carries more clout for graduates. Graduation rates, too, have risen steadily in recent years.

Teachers say these changes have not been sufficient to address a slew of significant problems that remain widespread. They say school and district administrators have failed to respond adequately to concerns teachers have tried to resolve internally, and that the campus receives more of the highest-risk students than it can handle. Berkeleyside spoke with five BTA teachers and agreed to grant them anonymity — particularly because the campus has only about a dozen teachers on site — in response to fears they expressed about retaliation by the district.

As an alternative school serving what is for the most part a high-needs population, some of its problems may not be unique when compared to other alternative campuses. More than 90% of the students at BTA who were screened by a Berkeley mental health counselor found them to score high enough on a spectrum to be diagnosed with complex traumatic stress disorder. “That’s repeat exposure or daily exposure to extreme poverty, homelessness, harassment from police, drug addiction, domestic violence, or some combination of those factors, that take place in a lot of our kids’ lives,” one teacher said.

But teachers who have worked in other districts say they’ve never seen the issues to the degree they see them in Berkeley. They attribute the scale of the problem not only to the student mix, but also to what they believe to be an inconsistent, unpredictable enforcement of the rules. In the past three years, one teacher reported seeing everything from a student swinging a stick at people to fist fights, and students throwing books, chairs and waste baskets around the classroom: “They’re cussing constantly. They threaten you. I never saw that kind of stuff before, not anywhere.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley schools, police, city join forces on youth crime

A tree outside the Berkeley Zen Center has become a memorial to Nancy McClellan. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley school officials, police and the city are gearing up to work more closely on juvenile crime issues, both to improve information sharing and try to get services to youth who need them.

A small group of residents — part of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee (BSNC), an umbrella organization for neighborhood watch-type activities — got an update on the fledgling effort Monday night, though it had been announced for the first time in November.

Since then, Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said he has met with the city attorney to figure out what type of information can legally be shared. Greenwood also met a couple times with Susan Craig, director of Student Services for the Berkeley Unified School District — briefly, and in the context of other discussions — to figure out some of the logistics of the endeavor. But there have not yet been any official meetings of what had been pitched as a “working group,” and Greenwood left it an open question Monday as to whether those meetings will actually take place.

Former Mayor Shirley Dean, who runs the neighborhood group, told Greenwood that BSNC believes monthly meetings will be a critical component of the working group’s success, and said BSNC will continue to include the item on its agenda, and watch closely as the effort unfolds. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Public Schools Fund reaches $1M mark

The Berkeley Schools Fund provides over $1.5 million per year in grant funding for around 300 educators that affect over 10,000 students. Photo: Berkeley Schools Fund
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For the first time, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has reached $1 million in annual fundraising, according to the organization.

The 32-year-old organization has collected over $13 million to date for the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), providing classroom grants for approximately 300 teachers in the district each year that benefit over 10,000 students. Last school year, the Schools Fund provided over $750,000 in direct grants and program support to Berkeley schools. When the 1,500 volunteers the fund coordinates are included, total annual contributions amount to about $1.5 million per year in grants and in-kind donations, according to the fund.

Larger grants for collaborative projects are also allocated to educators, which according to the press release have inspired new programs to be adopted districtwide. In 2014, the Schools Fund also implemented a new grant program titled “Friends & Family Grants,” a crowdfunding site created by Blueprint, UC Berkeley’s student software club. The program offers educators an online platform to request classroom materials and generate funding for personal development workshops or class projects. … Continue reading »

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District, teachers agree on teacher contracts through 2017

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The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) have reached tentative agreement on teacher contracts for 2015-16 and 2016-17. As a result, teachers should see a total compensation increase of 8% over two years.

The 8% hike comprises a 5% increase that includes a 1% increase to the district’s contribution to health benefits, and a 3% one-time bonus paid in 2016-17. An additional 2% increase will occur in the second year of the agreement, contingent on state funding, according to a press release jointly issued by BUSD and BFT on Friday, May 29.

The agreement also provides for renewed discussion in 2016-17 regarding issues of teacher instructional time and support, as well as compensation.

“We’re really happy with the agreement,” BFT vice-president John Becker told Berkeleyside on Monday. “It’s the kind of agreement that will help keep BUSD competitive.” … Continue reading »

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BUSD poised to adopt tougher school enrollment policy

Berkeley High School has 3,300 students, most of who travel off-campus for lunch. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Berkeley school board officials are considering tougher enrollment requirements to curb illegal enrollment in the district, following the initial success of new registration requirements this year.

Stricter enforcement in recent months led the Berkeley Unified School District admissions office to reject 11% of applicants from private middle schools to Berkeley High School for 2015-16 after it was determined they did not actually reside in Berkeley, according to Francisco Martinez, the BUSD admissions manager. About 150 students applied. Thirty-seven students were flagged for follow-up and officials found that 17 of them did not reside in Berkeley, he said.

Read Berkeleyside’s 2014 story on fraudulent enrollment in Berkeley schools.

BUSD, for the first time, also required all currently enrolled fifth graders to prove their Berkeley residency before being accepted into sixth grade, he said. About 8% of the 684 students did not reapply for admission, despite an aggressive campaign to inform families of new requirements. … Continue reading »

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Parents, students rally for more inclusive schools

PCAD ralley outside BUSD board meeting 5/20/15 Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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Parents, students and community members held a rally at this week’s Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education meeting to urge board members to provide a more inclusive district for students of color and with disabilities.

Announced by the faith-based activist group Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), the rally was led by education groups Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD) and Allies in Special Education. An estimated 25 people gathered before the meeting began at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20.

Participants, both young and old, claimed BUSD has long “walked the walk” on inclusion but now needs to take action. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Bike to Work day set for Thursday, May 14

Bike to Work Day will take place this Thursday, May 14th - get out there! Photo: Bike East Bay
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The wheels are set in motion for Berkeley’s annual Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 14, which is being organized in conjunction with the local Walk and Roll to School Day.

The event, hosted by Bike East Bay, will feature a number of two-wheel-friendly events, including the “Mayor-Palooza Bike to Work Day Ride,” featuring two visiting mayors from Europe, and a pop-up bikeway on Milvia Street.

Bike East Bay and Berkeley High School will also host a morning energizer station at Berkeley City Hall from 7:30-9:30 a.m. serving tasty pick-me-ups from La Note Restaurant and snazzy cyclist swag bags.

“We’re expecting a record-breaking turnout,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director at Bike East Bay. … Continue reading »

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Opinionator

Op-ed: Reforming Prop 13 will benefit our Berkeley schools

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The public school spring gala season is upon us, an annual ritual in which Berkeley parents get to shell out for a bunch of stuff we don’t want in order to bail out our kids’ cash-strapped schools. But there’s a better to raise money for public schools: tax reform.

California voters will soon have a chance to rectify one of the biggest blunders ever to plague the Golden State: Prop 13. Passed in 1978, Prop 13 froze property taxes for … Continue reading »

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Religious group with cameras targets school kids

Bible van photo Jolie Gobler
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When Jolie Gobler, an eighth-grader at King Middle School in Berkeley, left school at the end of the day Wednesday last week she was surprised to see people right outside campus assertively passing out religious pamphlets to students, titled “Our Savior Jesus Christ.”

They were working from a van, parked on Grant Street by the school. Messages painted on the van read: “Seek the Lord Jesus” and “Holy Bible” in English and Spanish.

Gobler was also a little irked. She wrote Berkeleyside: “They were shoving (the pamphlets) in to students’ hands. I asked one of them what they were doing at a public school preaching about religion. They replied they were informing students about Jesus and said that if we believe in “our savior” we would be forgiven for our sins.”

Eventually, Gobler said, a vice principal came out and talked to the apparent missionaries, a response she felt was slow. “It would be great to find out… what the school administration will be doing to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Gobler wrote.

Not much.

This is because passing out religious material outside a school is perfectly legal, as long as the activity isn’t on school property, said Mark Coplan, Berkeley Unified School District spokesman. … Continue reading »

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