Berkeley School Board primer: Campus racism, Thousand Oaks portables, help for ‘high-need’ students

BUSD held a town hall in December about how to address racism on campus. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
BUSD held a town hall in December about how to address racism on campus. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

The Berkeley schools Board of Education meets tonight, Jan. 13. On the agenda: The superintendent will share his plan to address racism on campus, the board may vote to call off plans for portables at Thousand Oaks, and there will be an overview about the types of intervention help and support the district’s high-need students receive.

Plan to address racism on campus

There’s one item on the action calendar, which is a follow-up to a Berkeley Unified School District town hall meeting in early December focused on racial threats last fall directed toward black students and staff at Berkeley High. The meeting was a collaboration between the district and community group Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD).

According to the agenda item, “That meeting generated a rich array of input from the community that resulted in suggestions and requests for commitments from the District to better safeguard the physical, emotional, and educational interests of our African-American students.” 

Two days after the town hall, the Berkeley High School Black Student Union presented to the board a “list of demands designed to address the issue of racism on campus.”


BHS BSU co-presidents Nebeyat Zekaryas and Alecia Harger read the list to the board, and asked for action within six months. The demands included changes to the K-12 history curriculum to include black history, “an accurate view of colonialism,” African history up to the present day, and the history of black people in the Americas.

“Black history [should] be taught as an important and relevant piece of world history rather than its own independent subject that is relegated to a semester of ethnic studies,” Zekaryas told the board. “It is essential that black students are educated on their history in its entirety. We as black students cannot be expected to excel in an institution that gives us knowledge with which we can only see our ancestors as slaves.… It is insulting to condense all history of non-white people into an ethnic studies class.”

She said what is currently considered ethnic studies should be integrated into the A-G curriculum, and that the district should fully fund the BHS African American studies department, which she described as “a resource from which black students can learn about our history and culture in a district that rarely gives us opportunities to do so.”

Co-president Harger said the district should create an on-campus Black Resource Center, funded by the general fund, where students could “congregate and be directed to support for any issue that we may face.”

The center, she added, should be a “permanent school fixture” until the test scores and graduation rates for black students match those of white students.

She also said the district should create a committee focused on the recruitment and retention of black staff members throughout the district. Finally, she said all Berkeley High faculty and staff — including classified employees — should attend comprehensive racial sensitivity training on an ongoing basis.

“Black students cannot be expected to feel safe in our classrooms or on our campus if Berkeley High School staff is not equipped to discuss or handle issues of racism or racial bias,” Harger told the board.

Watch the video on YouTube.

According to the Jan. 13 staff report, the superintendent, board members and representatives from PCAD have reviewed and discussed both the Black Student Union’s list and the community feedback collected at the December town hall.

Tonight, Superintendent Donald Evans will “propose a clear set of efforts and commitments to the Board and the community.” No further information about what he is set to propose appeared in the packet, but Berkeleyside has requested additional information from BUSD.

Staff has asked the board to approve the short term measures he presents, and to appoint an advisory oversight committee to keep an eye on the implementation process.

See photographs from the Town Hall meeting that were posted by the district.

The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

No more portables at Thousand Oaks?

As part of the consent calendar, the superintendent has asked the board to call off its plans for the installation of portables at Thousand Oaks Elementary School because enrollment estimates indicate they will not be needed in the coming school year. Last year, the board discontinued plans for portables at John Muir Elementary for a similar reason. The board is still looking into the possibility of portables at LeConte Elementary.

In the agenda item, Evans tells the board that “Based on historic trends and ongoing enrollment estimates, our Admissions Office is confident that the District will not need portables at Thousand Oaks for the 2016-17 school year.” He writes that more specific numbers will be available in February, but says the board should stop the portable planning process now “so as to avoid incurring any more expenses.”

Evans describes the expenses associated with the process as “significant,” but no number is listed under the report’s “fiscal impact” section.

As for LeConte, Evans writes that the board should continue to plan for two portables at the elementary school: “LeConte is a more conducive and cost-effective site for portables, which the Board has approved as a ‘bridge’ to a long-term plan to address increased enrollment in the District.” The board previously approved up to four portables at LeConte but, writes Evans, “we currently believe that a maximum of two will be necessary.”

Student intervention and support efforts

The School Board is set to receive a report as part of its discussion calendar to learn about the intervention and support programs offered to secondary students in the district. In 2013, the district received extra money to provide help to low-income and English-learner students, as well as foster youth. The district says it has been reviewing its approach to these programs over the last few months.

According to the report — from Assistant Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi, Patricia Saddler, the director of programs and special projects, and Debbi D’Angelo, director of research, evaluation and assessment — “all of these efforts promote a college and career going culture and involve either comprehensive ‘wrap-around’ supports and/or an intensive compliment of academic skill building.”

These programs include the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) classes at the middle and high schools, the Bridge program at those schools, and the Berkeley High School intervention counselor.

Read more about the support programs.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27

The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The BUSD School Board in December 2015. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Meeting details

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education generally meets twice monthly on Wednesdays at 2020 Bonar St. The entrance to the board chambers is around the corner on Addison Street. There is a large parking lot around the corner from Addison Street, on Browning Street.

The regular meeting is set to begin by 7:30 p.m. Public comment is limited to 30 minutes, with a 3-minute limit per speaker. Public comment takes place at the beginning and end of the meeting, rather than in response to each item.

Meetings are televised live on Berkeley Community Media channel 33, and rebroadcast the following Thursday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Meetings are also recorded for radio and played after the meeting on KPFB 89.3 FM. They are also streamed live, and posted online after the meeting. Other BUSD-related videos are posted online at Vimeo.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage related to Berkeley schools. See the full agenda packet, and the Berkeley School Board website.

Related:
School Board gets annual bullying report (12.09.15)
School Board primer: Impact fees, class sizes, intervention efforts and the achievement gap (10.28.15)
School Board primer: Restorative justice for BHS, BSEP tax, LCAP goals, council move (09.30.15)
Berkeley Technology Academy starts semester with record low enrollment (09.24.15)
School Board Primer: Projects over budget at King and Willard, district priorities, finances (09.09.15)
School Board primer: B-Tech review, council asks to move to Bonar, more (08.28.15)

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