Name: Esfandiar Imani, 59, risk management consultant
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley School Board
What is the main reason you are running? At the age of 17 I emigrated to the U.S. by myself with not much more than a core belief in the power of education. I obtained both my bachelor and master degrees from U.C. Berkeley, where I met my wife, and subsequently raised a family shepherding all three of our daughters through the Berkeley public schools. I believe that a good education is a right and not a privilege. I am running for the School Board because I believe our school system needs a strong, progressive and committed leader to enable Berkeley to offer an innovative and inspiring K-12 learning environment that is safe, supportive and accessible to all its residents.
Why are you qualified? For over two decades I have had first-hand experience with Berkeley K-12 public schools both as an engaged parent and as a volunteer in various capacities, from representing at the BUSD Planning & Oversight Committee to delivering food and computers to families within the Berkeley schools community. I have also been active as a member on the committee for the Berkeley School Excellence Program, and help my wife who runs a nonprofit educational organization in Berkeley that provides free tutoring to mostly underprivileged students. To this I will add the type of leadership skills that draws on a decades-long professional experience in risk management the core of which has been focusing on addressing root causes as opposed to short-term fixes.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I am a first-generation immigrant who started life in the U.S. as a teenager cut off from his family at the cusp of the Iranian revolution. I put my faith and all my effort in putting myself through college. It is not just this story, one that is not so uncommon in this country, that helped me appreciate the power of education. As a middle schooler the subject I struggled with most was math. In high school, my 10th grade teacher helped me overcome my fears and taught me the beauty in the logic and science of math. It was only a few short years later that I obtained degrees from one of the top educational institutions in the world: Bachelor of Science in mathematics and Master of Science in engineering. Teachers are at the heart of the K-12 education and can turn lives around. I went on to a career in risk management leading projects with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollar in the renewable energy sector. I have no doubt that if I can turn that corner, any of our students, given the right support structure, can achieve their highest potential. It is this conviction along with my academic, professional and community experience that I believe makes me uniquely qualified to serve on the Berkeley School Board.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? In 1979 I left the country in which I grew up and landed in San Francisco at the age of 17, by myself. For any high schooler in Iran aspiring to major in mathematics or engineering, studying at U.C. Berkeley is a dream. That dream is what brought me to Berkeley. My oldest of three daughters is a PhD student at Cal, the middle one a sophomore at Cal and the third just graduated from Berkeley High. I take pride in saying that my entire family is a product of the Berkeley public schools.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? While my family and I have benefited tremendously from the Berkeley public schools, we have also experienced and witnessed first-hand some of its shortcomings. I am convinced we can do better, especially in the following areas:
-Safety — unacceptable incidents of sexual assault and harassment;
-Racial equity — unacceptable racial gap in school outcomes; and
-Climate crisis — BUSD should lead by example to bring its carbon footprint to zero.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them?
When it comes to sexual assault and harassment in our schools, I believe a zero-tolerance approach must be vigorously and consistently enforced, something that has not been the case at Berkeley High. I would advocate for a mandatory semester-long curriculum on sex education for freshmen and seniors, and, for a week-long course on consent for all grades. I would work with all stakeholders to introduce effective training for teachers and administrators on how to handle claims of sexual assault and harassment and how to best support their students with coursework at school and at home.
On racial equity, I am a true believer in a fully integrated school system. I would advocate for a mandatory curriculum on ethnic studies and, in particular, on institutional racism in the US for all students. Stereotypes associated with various Small Schools at Berkeley High have impeded the progress of some students, especially students of color. I would develop a more deliberate plan to diversify the Small Schools.
The climate crisis is here, with plenty of signs that are already impacting our daily lives. I believe this is an issue where Berkeley should take the lead. I would propose and will work to implement a plan to move BUSD to zero carbon emissions by 2024. There is no reason BUSD cannot implement policies that eliminate all plastic use. I would also explore the feasibility of powering our school facilities though solar energy, by installing solar panel systems wherever possible.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? We are fortunate to live in a city that is home to one of the top universities in the world. There are 43,000+ bright undergraduate and graduates students attending UC Berkeley. I would develop an effective partnership program with the university to enable the BUSD to tap into this great resource in order to augment K-12 teacher and student support. Modeled properly, such partnership can be mutually beneficial with little to no cost to BUSD.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I work best when there is direct communication. I will have an open-door policy, and will make myself accessible by holding regular in-person office hours. I will always be available for correspondence via emails and have my contact information on my website and other social media: www.imani4schoolboard.org; and imani4schoolboard on Instagram
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? Between $5,000 to $10,000
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I have played soccer since I was 5. It has been part of my life and my identity. There is so much I have learned and gained from playing soccer, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Yet, and this may sound tailored or cliche, but my passion is education. I have dedicated much of my personal and professional life learning and teaching whenever needed. Whether onboarding a new employee to the team, or mentoring someone through college, or hands-on volunteering in various aspect of the school system. and community. Even when I volunteer in a refugee camp in Greece in summers, aside from my main role as a translator in the emergency health clinic, I find myself helping with setting up classrooms, library and teaching.