April 6, 2023
Dear Berkeley Unified Community,
I write to you today to share sad news about the passing of the Hon. Karen Hemphill, a beloved member of our BUSD community. Ms. Hemphill served on the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education from 2006-2018, twice serving as School Board President. Among her many contributions to our district in this capacity, many remember Ms. Hemphill as an advocate for Career Technical Education, as well as STEM programs and facilities.
Ms. Hemphill’s service to BUSD began years before her tenure on the School Board. Her passion for BUSD and our students was evident in her many roles she played. She served as President of the Washington Elementary School Site Committee, co-President of the Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and was a member on the Longfellow Middle School Governance Council, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) Planning and Oversight Committee, the District Advisory Committee (DAC), the District’s Strategic Plan Committee, the Berkeley High Principal’s Advisory Committee and the Yes on Measure A Steering Committee. Ms. Hemphill exemplified our 4 E’s – demonstrating Excellence and Engagement in all aspects of her service, fighting for Equity and Enrichment for all BUSD students.
School Board President Laura Babitt remembers Ms. Hemphill as follows:
Karen Hemphill was truly “A Giant Among Us.” She was a fierce champion for educational justice, and the fruits of her labor can most readily be seen through the current Career Technical Education programs within BUSD. Karen’s fight for funding to develop living wage job training opportunities, such as Fire Science, Carpentry, and Robotics programs are still going strong today. Berkeley’s state of the art STEM facilities, such as the Berkeley High Fabrications Lab, can also be directly attributed to her fierce advocacy. Even as we have students headed to compete for a worldwide title in robotics, these opportunity seeds were planted under Karen Hemphill’s leadership on the Board of Education.
I was personally honored to glean from her wisdom and experience as she mentored so many parents through her partnership with Parents of Children of African Descent. She was a visionary leader that knew what it meant to stand up for what was right and what was needed, even if she felt she was standing alone. I am honored to continue to carry the torch Karen lit and maintained with boldness, integrity, and power.
We keep Ms. Hemphill’s family in our thoughts, including her husband and her two adult children who graduated from Berkeley Unified. The celebration of her life will take place on April 21, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm, with the “formal” part of the program beginning at 6:00 pm. The community is invited to watch virtually at this live feed link. Please click on “SKIP” to get to the live feed on the appropriate day and time
We can best remember Ms. Hemphill’s commitment to the BUSD community through a candidate statement she made to the League of Women Voters during the 2010 School Board election. In that statement, she shared this political philosophy:
I believe in community partnership, working together whether we are parents of children within our public schools or general community members to support our youth and foster the leaders, innovators, healers, and heads of households of tomorrow to achieve academic and personal excellence. I believe that we need to partner with our City, regional public agencies, university and community college, local non-profits, businesses, trade unions, and others to expand our resources to provide the academic, mentoring and other student services that will inspire and support our students to reach for the stars. And, I believe that our School District must be open, transparent, and welcoming to our community to foster community trust as the basis for establishing true community partnership.
As we continue our work across the district to enable and inspire our diverse student body to achieve academic excellence and make positive contributions to our world–and to reach for the stars–we do so honoring the life and legacy of Karen Hemphill.
Enikia Ford Morthel