The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) community honored retiring Board of Education President Judy Appel and Director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler for their distinguished efforts and accomplishments over many years of service to the District at the December 9 School Board meeting. The meeting was attended by colleagues, dignitaries, and community members who honored the retiring School Board members, including California State Senator Nancy Skinner, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and former School Board members Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill, among others.
Senator Skinner shared that the California State Senate issued a Uniform Resolution in honor of Appel and Leyva-Cutler, something she indicated should only be considered as a partial honor, noting that both School Board members deserve much more for their service to the District.
Senator Skinner told meeting attendees that President Appel, who began serving on the Board in 2012, brought a wealth of knowledge to her position, including her background in Civil Rights Law and Criminal Justice Reform, as well as her role as the Executive Director of Our Family Coalition, an organization that played a pivotal part in the lives of LGBTQ families throughout the East Bay. Senator Skinner noted that President Appel came back to serve on the Board in 2019 after sustaining life-threatening injuries in an accident. “You persisted, survived and recovered, and then came back and gave your all to the public service that you were dedicated to,” said Senator Skinner. “You are loved and we will miss you,” she added.
Senator Skinner shared that Director Leyva-Cutler joined the School Board in 2008 and prevailed during a difficult period when the recession led to diminished funding for BUSD. “The perspective that you brought as a bilingual board member and as a Board member who had provided services to children in West Berkeley for years, and with your passion and professional training, is valuable and irreplaceable,” noted Skinner as she thanked the retiring Board Director for her “incredible work.”
Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke on behalf of the Berkeley City Council, praising both retiring Board Members for their many years of service to the Berkeley community as well as the School District, and noting that the City of Berkeley also issued a Proclamation in their honor. The Mayor stated that many of the significant accomplishments for the District occurred because of their leadership.
Mayor Arreguín shared that Director Leyva-Cutler ran on a platform to make equity a focus of the District, and that her leadership, as well as the leadership of President Appel, made a real difference and led to some of the District’s significant achievements. “You have made such a tremendous, lasting impact on not just the District, but on the City of Berkeley,” said Mayor Arreguín to Director Leyva-Cutler, adding that the work she has been committed to her entire life, including Bahia and Centro Vida, allowed her to help BUSD students, especially students receiving a bilingual education, succeed. Thanking her on Behalf of the City of Berkeley, the Mayor said, “I know you are going to continue to be involved in our community and we are so appreciative of your service”
Mayor Arreguín expressed great sadness to see President Appel leave the School Board. “The work you’ve done on the Board and outside of the Board supporting LGBT families, your work around Criminal Justice Reform and equity is really deeply appreciated,” he told President Appel. “You’ve been a real advocate for ensuring a quality education for all students with a particular focus on equity, supporting students of color, students with disabilities and English language learning students,” said the Mayor. He thanked her for her service and dedication to our kids, families and community, noting she will be missed in her School Board role, while confident President Appel will still be making a difference in the Berkeley community.
Superintendent Stephens, remarking that over the prior 18 months he had built a bond with President Appel and Director Leyva-Cutler that had been “tested by fire,” pointed to the notable number of accomplishments of both retiring Board members and expressed that he will miss both Board members very much and the District will continue to need their council and experience.
“There’s never been a time where you’ve held back on your efforts,” said the Superintendent to President Appel. “There’s never been a time when you didn’t do your homework or reach out to a family or a constituent or to a student who had something to say and whose perspective you valued,” he added. “You value clarity for the community, want full transparency, and want the District to be accessible,” he added. The Superintendent praised President Appel for making sure the Board vigorously debated the important issues before it, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for her commitment to the District during her recovery, noting she had met with him only days after being released from the hospital. The Superintendent said President Appel’s work engendered faith in the District during the pandemic and thanked her on behalf of all BUSD staff.
Superintendent Stephens said it’s how Director Leyva-Cutler does her job that makes her an extraordinary Board member. He explained she understood where the system may be falling short in supporting families and where advocacy can make a difference. He shared that Director Leyva-Cutler frequently came to him with a story about a particular family, knowing their needs and circumstances in great detail. “You know these things because you spend time in places where it matters,” he said. “This bridge from the Board into the community is of such great value and something that I value personally.” He commended and thanked Director Leyva-Cutler for her ongoing commitment to English language learners and to the immigrant community at BUSD, and her efforts to make sure that the District excludes no one.
At the event concluded, Director Leyva-Cutler thanked the Berkeley community and voters for their support, saying she was inspired by the election of the Board’s two new Directors Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo. “I tried my best to always hold in mind our students, their families, our teachers and the District,” she said of her work on the School Board. Noting she felt that in a small way she had been a champion for many things in the District. “I’ve truly been honored to serve as your School Board Director.”
President Appel appreciated everyone who came to honor her and Director Leyva-Cutler. She remarked that during her eight years on the Board, she has served with “incredible and incredibly committed people who are committed to creating a positive learning experience for all of Berkeley’s kids.” President Appel shared that she felt lucky to serve with so many talented people. “It has been a huge gift for me to be on the Board,” she stated. President Appel thanked the many who stepped up for her and held her space for her during her recovery, and she thanked everyone on the Board for being an ally for her in her work. “It was a beautiful thing,” said President Appel of her experience serving on the School Board.