After 26 years in education, including 23 years of distinguished service to the Berkeley Unified community, Maggie Riddle, Executive Director PreK-8 Schools, has announced her retirement effective July 1, 2020.
Maggie Riddle began her career as a teacher in Oakland before coming to Berkeley. She devoted ten years to teaching at Jefferson Elementary School and then another seven years as the Principal at Jefferson, before joining the District office for six years, first as Director of Schools, and then as Executive Director of Pre K-8 Schools.
As an elementary teacher, Ms. Riddle’s ensured that her classroom came alive, as students participated in hands-on experience with instructional materials that included ponds, snakes, rabbits, tortoises, fish, and lizards. Ms. Riddle was known to be a passionate, creative and undeniably fun teacher. “One of my fondest memories of working with Maggie as a classroom teacher was her fraction unit where she created a massive fruit salad to teach her students fractions and made a huge mess! It was glorious!” said Mary Cazden, a former teaching colleague and current Principal at Jefferson. “Her connections with students and families never left any in doubt of her commitment to their students’ academic and social-emotional success.”
Later, Ms. Riddle moved to teaching upper grades at Jefferson, where she began working to address the significant opportunity gaps in math education. Her teaching helped create active and engaged math learners, leading to years when all students tested as proficient in math.
Seeking to take her equity-based work school-wide, Ms. Riddle moved into the Principal role at Jefferson. Under her leadership, with deep collaboration from educators she describes as “an incredible group of teachers,” the school made significant gains for students on all state measures. During her tenure as school principal, Jefferson School was awarded the State of California’s Title One Distinguished School award.
Ms. Riddle felt that all parents and guardians must be authentically welcomed as true partners in education, in order to support students to thrive. She introduced all-school community meetings that brought together hundreds of Jefferson parents and caregivers to learn about each other’s wishes and desires for their children, reflect on the school, and address needed improvements that would make Jefferson even better. “Knowing that everyone’s voice is important brings communities together,” said Ms. Riddle. She partnered with the parent/caregiver community to build programs to support students across all learning areas from academics to the arts.
Beyond academics, Ms. Riddle loved the social environment of the schoolyard, and many students and staff will remember how engaged she was with students during recess, including races with them on Hippity Hops, bikes and scooters. The schoolyard was a place where she could get to know every child while fully enjoying their fun-loving spirits. She considered the schoolyard the biggest social emotional classroom at a school, and recess was an opportunity to connect with children, foster physical activity and fun, and help children to form respectful relationships with each other.
When Ms. Riddle made a move to the District Office to take the position of Director of PreK-8 Schools, her heart remained focused on the instructional programs in the District’s schools and working directly with principals she described as “vibrant and committed.” She estimates she made 800 visits to schools during her time at the District Office. “Best of all, I got to spend part of every day in schools,” said Ms. Riddle, describing her Director and Executive Director roles. Her work included supporting principals at their sites, visiting classrooms, spending time with students, meeting families and becoming a part of the work and life of every school. “That’s the essence of my job, said Ms. Riddle. “ I worked to keep my finger on the pulse of teaching and learning in the Berkeley school community.”
Ms. Riddle made significant improvements to curriculum and instruction during her tenure as Executive Director of Schools, including bringing in several common curriculums and programs such as RTI (now COST), Professional Learning Communities, a new English Language Arts curriculum for middle schools and a strong emphasis on early reading. According to Principal Alex Hunt “Both as a principal and as Executive Director of Schools, Maggie Riddle brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to her work. Her commitment to make sure that every student had a good education drove her.”
Equity and social justice were an overarching theme throughout her career. “I am most proud of the on-going work I led to improve outcomes for all students, particularly those who historically fell into opportunity gaps,” said Ms. Riddle. “This was my passion in all aspects of my work in BUSD.” As she worked to promote and support excellence in education, Ms. Riddle was known for her focus on dismantling practices that upheld institutional racism, implementing actionable everyday equity strategies, taking on implicit and explicit bias, and working to bring new levels of awareness and cultural competency to BUSD. Ms. Riddle worked with staff to build understanding about the impact of race, language and socio-economic status on education, and the role of institutionalized racism in the marginalization of groups of students.
In her District leadership role, Ms. Riddle emphasized the importance of understanding the impact of structural racism so that teachers, principals and the community could discuss diversity, values, and social justice issues while improving learning for students. Ms. Cazden noted that Ms. Riddle was a “tireless teacher and principal who always kept equity at the forefront, working with families and in her classroom practices.”
Maggie Riddle touched countless lives as an educator. She entered into public education as an extension of her deep commitment to her social justice activism work in Oakland and beyond. In retirement, she plans to re-enter this work by supporting local activism in housing and public education. Asked to share the lessons she had learned over the years at BUSD, Ms. Riddle did not hesitate to answer, “Always remember that all of our students, from every one of our communities, have tremendous brilliance and talent. Our job is to see and free up that brilliance and creativity as we honor all children and help them achieve to the highest levels imaginable.”