On behalf of the many former Berkeley High School (BHS) students and BUSD staff whose lives he touched, we are saddened to report the death of former Berkeley High School principal Jim Slemp. Jim passed away on January 7, 2020 in Oregon.
In 2003, Jim left his position as an Assistant Superintendent at the Eugene School District in Oregon to assume the helm at BHS, where he served from 2003 to 2010. An advocate of small schools, Jim arrived at BHS soon after the School Board voted to split the almost 3,000-student campus into smaller themed schools. He felt that small schools allowed for a more caring experience for students while also providing additional guidance to help them succeed.
Tributes from BHS teachers and staff began pouring in after notice of Jim’s passing. “He was ridiculously positive. He could easily console, value, and challenge you simultaneously,” said Gideon Goldman, BHS Math Teacher. “He pursued a vision of equity relentlessly. He always put students over curriculum, over everything.”
“More than anything, I am struck by the sense of a larger purpose Jim brought to BHS,” said Kimberley D’Adamo, BHS Arts Teacher. She recalled that when Barack Obama was elected, Jim had the entire school watch the inauguration, in community together, witnessing history. “He told us repeatedly that we were the most dedicated team of teachers he had ever met, he really meant it, and we all worked harder because of it.”
In a message to BHS staff, Principal Erin Schweng wrote that while she had never met Jim, “the sheer amount of stories and anecdotes that still abound are an enduring testament to his personality and to the deep impression he leaves at BHS, even many years after his time here.”
Schweng and Susannah Bell, who worked with Jim throughout his tenure, wrote:
Before Mr. Slemp’s tenure, there were no small schools or learning communities – we had a comprehensive Berkeley High School, and two career academy programs: Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) and Communication Arts and Sciences Program (CAS). Before Mr. Slemp, there was no Academic Choice (AC), no Berkeley International High School (BIHS), no Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA). There was no D building – no food court, no library, no college and career center. Administrative offices were in portables on the courtyard. Many in our community credit Mr. Slemp with turning the large ship that is Berkeley High around during this period. Jim helped form programs aimed to close the equity gap and address challenges related to student support, opening opportunities for those students from underserved communities to which they previously had no access. If a program or policy was implemented to support new teachers or struggling students, he was for it and would work with staff to make it happen.
Many staff who were here during Mr. Slemp’s tenure remember him as a personable, approachable leader who favored face-to-face communication in problem solving. He was frequently in and out of classrooms, leaving positive and constructive comments on notes in teachers’ boxes whether or not he was our evaluator. He was known (and sometimes teased) for constantly telling our students that he loved them, but he really did – he was a positive spirit with laughing eyes and a sweet smile. I know that many people who knew him will mourn his passing.
Jim Slemp will be remembered fondly by many District staff. His work at BHS was transformational and his dedication unsurpassed. Our hearts go out to Jim’s partner, family, friends and community, and to all who have been affected by this loss.