Tag Archives: Susan Craig

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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School Board adopts interim sexual harassment policy

Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee Peggy Scott speaks to the School Board during public comment.
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Amid a federal investigation on whether Berkeley High School inadequately responded to sexual harassment claims, the Berkeley School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to pass a new, interim sexual harassment policy.

While passing the sexual harassment policy, and its accompanying administrative regulation, the Board placed conditions on certain points of concern raised by parents and students, such as revisiting the policy in no later than a year, and expediting the hiring process of a permanent Title IX Coordinator.

The interim policy, the first update to BUSD’s sexual harassment policy since 2006, is a model policy created by the California School Boards Association, or CSBA. The policy outlines how sexual harassment complaints should be handled by the district and what disciplinary actions offenders should receive. … Continue reading »

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Feds launch civil rights investigation into Berkeley School District’s response to sexual harassment claims

Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel
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The federal Office for Civil Rights has launched an investigation into whether the Berkeley Unified School District inadequately responded to sexual harassment claims at Berkeley High School, thereby creating a “hostile environment on the basis of sex.”

Failure to adequately respond to sexual harassment claims is a federal offense under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program. The Office for Civil Rights, which is a sub-agency of the Department of Education, opened the investigation after receiving a complaint letter in December from Heidi Goldstein, a parent of two Berkeley High School students. The office’s investigation was launched in late January. … Continue reading »

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Illegal enrollment is boon and burden to Berkeley schools

Students at King Middle School Photo:
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When Sarah James went to the first meeting for her daughter’s freshman crew team at Berkeley High School, she wanted to form a carpool for the 6 a.m. practices.

But James (not her real name) lived in Oakland and had enrolled her daughter using a false address. James did not think she would find any other crew members living near her Rockridge bungalow, but she needn’t have worried. That fall, there were four other girls on the team who lived in Oakland, James said.

The official freshman crew roster, however, showed that everyone had a Berkeley address.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but people haven’t stopped enrolling their kids illegally in Berkeley schools. Everyone seems to know a case: people using relatives’ addresses, friends’ addresses, or even rental property owned by the family who lives out of town. One recent gossip item on a local internet site: a man with a boat at the Berkeley marina, using that address to enroll his child, who lives in another city. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley school district settles into new headquarters

The Berkeley Unified School District has moved into new headquarters at 2020 Bonar Street, right near University Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The Berkeley School District has spent much of the past two weeks moving into its newly renovated headquarters at the West Campus at 2020 Bonar Street.

The school district spent $10.5 million to renovate the building, which was used for years as the Adult School and as a home for ninth graders before that, according to Mark Coplan, the district spokesman. Most of the employees from the district’s main headquarters at Old City Hall, operational offices on Oregon Street, and the Annex at 1835 Allston Way moved to the new site. The move was prompted by concern that the Old City Hall, which the district had used for 37 years, was not seismically sound. The project was paid for with money from two school district bond measures, AA and I.

The renovated West Campus is light, airy and modern, with plenty of conference rooms, a number of classrooms, and even a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from some rooms. … Continue reading »

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Students see security changes at Berkeley High School

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As Berkeley High students returned to school this week, they weren’t permitted to enter by the Allston Street door leading into the main office. Instead they were directed to a nearby gate.

“Visitors Entrance Only,” read the lettering on two new signs posted by the office. “Students Please Use the ‘A’ Gate.”

Five and a half months after two students discharged a gun in a portable bathroom, spooking students, parents, and administrators, change has come to Berkeley High. Access to … Continue reading »

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Student voices are missing from gun safety report

One of the inner courtyards at Berkeley High
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Some significant voices are missing in the 11-page report the Ad Hoc Safety Committee prepared on how to reduce guns in Berkeley high schools: that of the students.

While two Berkeley High students sat on the committee — at least until the end of the academic year — efforts to find out and understand why students brought guns into school did not go far.

Susan Craig, the director of student services for the Berkeley Unified School District, interviewed almost all of the six Berkeley students who were caught with guns and asked them why they brought weapons on campus. None of them were particularly forthcoming about their reasons, she told the safety committee.

The district also enlisted the aid of Pastor Michael McBride of BOCA, a faith-based  action committee, to hold focus groups with students to discuss guns on campus. While those conversations happened, McBride did not provide a summary of those discussions to the committee, despite repeated phone calls asking for the information by Craig and Superintendent Bill Huyett.

McBride was not paid for his efforts, but in late May the school district approved a  $15,0000 contract with Lifelines to Healing, an anti-violence mentoring program promoted by BOCA. (Note 7/1/11: McBride said BOCA will not benefit financially from this contract and is in fact, donating $10,000 to the overall project.)

A survey conducted by the safety consultant Al Bahn of Edu-Safe Associates only garnered one student response. … Continue reading »

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School committee finalizes report in wake of guns

A Berkeley High safety officer stands by a gate before the start of classess, part of a series of measures to reduce the number of guns on campus. PHoto: Frances Dinkelspiel
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In a small conference room on the second floor of old City Hall, a group of school administrators, parents, students, police and safety officers have met regularly over the past nine weeks to debate how to tackle the issue of guns at Berkeley High.

They have talked about the colors gang members wear – and whether gangs pose an issue at the school. They have argued about whether to close the campus, and how a cafeteria equipped to hold 500 would serve 3,200 students a day. They have talked about making school security officers more identifiable, how to encourage students to wear ID badges, and how teaching students about the dangers of guns might be critical to stopping the presence of weapons on campus. They have agreed that metal detectors just won’t work. … Continue reading »

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BUSD director responds to Berkeley Police Chief remarks

Susan Craig, Director of Student Services, BUSD
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Susan Craig, Director of Student Services for BUSD, responded to our story last week which reported on remarks made by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan about what he perceived as poor communication between the school district and the BPD. The article has generated more than 70 comments from readers to date. Craig’s comment was left on the story on May 6. Here is what she wrote:

I am writing to respond to several statements that Chief of Police Meehan was reported to have made.

1. Sharing of information between BPD and BUSD works both ways. There are different laws and regulations governing the release of information from each agency to the other which creates difficulty for each agency to obtain “good information”. For example, BUSD cannot obtain a police report of any kind, including a report taken of an incident on a BUSD campus, without going through a lengthy legal process.

2. Regarding robbery reports, I have spoken to Chief Meehan about the differences between penal code and education code requirements for robbery. Robberies in which there is force or a weapon are always reported to BPD. BUSD schools are to report all weapons, instances of serious injury, and drug sales to BPD. … Continue reading »

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BUSD moves ahead on tackling weapons at Berkeley High

The Berkeley Unified School District Board
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The BUSD Board last night approved expenditure of $89,000 to boost security and staff training at Berkeley High following the recent spate of guns on campus. It also heard from Director of Student Services, Susan Craig, and Principal, Pasquale Scuderi, on what measures had been taken so far, and those that were planned in response to the incidents.

In presenting its “Response to Weapons on Campus” report, Scuderi said the school was “mapping out the smartest way to deploy … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High security officers play multiple roles

Berkeley security officers patrol hallways. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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It was 2:10 pm on a warm Thursday afternoon and the Berkeley High detention center was hopping.

The school’s security team had done a sweep of the park across from the high school and had netted 13 students who had cut class. Now the truant teenagers sat in desks before a blank white board, quietly talking to one another as they waited for their parents to be notified.

Ardarius McDonald, the dean of students and the man who supervises the school’s security detail, came into the room, clearly not pleased – but not surprised –by the crowd. After all, it was close to 80 degrees that day, one of the first nice days after nearly two weeks of rain, and, as he pointed out, some teenagers have a hard time resisting the lure of the sun.

Just a day earlier, Berkeley High had gone on lockdown after a parent reported that she had seen a young person with a gun outside on Martin Luther King Avenue. McDonald and his team immediately rushed into action, locking all the school’s entrances, ordering students in classrooms on the west side of campus to stay away from the windows, and fanning out to prearranged spots on the 14-acre campus as Berkeley police investigated. It was the fourth gun-related incident in a week at the high school, including one on March 22 where two students shot off a gun in a bathroom.

The upsurge in violence has shone a spotlight on Berkeley High’s security detail. While no one has been hurt on campus this year, some parents have wondered if the school is adequately prepared for a serious gun event. Others contend that the school turns a blind eye to intimidation. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Matthew Golde voiced these concerns last week when he stood up at a community forum and suggested that armed robberies were common at Berkeley High and that dangerous people wandered its halls.

It’s a concern that McDonald understands – but refutes. Berkeley High is generally a safe place, he said. Sure, wallets and iPods are stolen too often, but “there are no switchblade fights in the halls.”

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Students on probation not involved in BHS gun activity

Berkeley High School. Photo: Charlotte Wayne
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None of the 35 Berkeley High School students who are on probation was involved with the recent spate of gun incidents at the school, according to Alameda County’s top probation official.

Despite the fears of some parents that those who have previously been arrested are a rogue element in the school and largely responsible for the guns, this is not the case, said officials.

“There have been no youth on probation who were arrested for gun charges at Berkeley High,” … Continue reading »

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