June 13, 2014
It is just one year ago that I decided to come work in Berkeley, and I sure am glad I did! While each school is unique in its own way, the level of dedication that each and every one of you brings to your work is what makes all of our schools, and this school district, very special.
I am thrilled to be heading out shortly for my first high school graduation celebration at the Greek Theater, and to experience firsthand the “Berkeley way” of sending off our high school graduates.
Please do send me a line or two this summer as you find time to reflect on your accomplishments this year, and hopes for the year ahead.I wish you a safe and fantastic summer.
June 6, 2014
Every employee contributes to the success of our school district and is an important part of the world class service we are committed to providing to students and families. As such, the Board and I want every employee to benefit from a fair and equitable contract.
While we have settled contract negotiations with Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) and the Union of Berkeley Administrators (UBA) in the last several months, we have not been successful in resolving a few very specific items that are keeping us from agreeing to a final contract with BCCE. This is a disappointing situation for all of us, but one that the Board and I are committed to resolving as soon as possible.
I am hopeful that as we return to the negotiating table next week we can come to an agreement on the remaining issues.
May 30, 2014
As we near the end of the school year, a time when we celebrate accomplishments and look forward to next steps, it was so fitting to have the opportunity to see the movie, “First Generation”, together with others in our community this past Wednesday evening. This film chronicles the lives of four young people as they make their way through their last years of high school. They are confronted with real barriers and experience the unique challenges of many first generation college-bound students today. One of the take away messages for me was the power we have to make a positive impact on the lives of our students every day. It is incumbent upon us to use this power to remove barriers, support students in their challenges, and give them access to the knowledge and information that will make going to college a real option for more of our students.
As depicted in the film, students are always watching what we do and listening to what we say, even when it seems they are not. No matter what job we hold, we are at all times a role model to our students. Take for example our bus drivers, who are the first to welcome our students to the new school day, and often the last to bring them home safely. We must take every opportunity to build trusting relationships like these with our students.
As we prepare to send off a new set of high school graduates into the world, it is a good time to reflect on how each of us is fulfilling this responsibility to our students, and to ask ourselves if we are doing everything in our power to make a positive impact.
Here are some of the thoughts that came to me after watching the film:
What more can we do for students that will help them on the path to college and career? How can we successfully reduce the barriers that often prevent very capable students from pursuing postsecondary education? What role can each of us play as a positive change agent in the life of our struggling students?
As always, I welcome your thoughts. With your commitment and our collective expertise, I know that together we can ensure that more of our students can believe there is a place for them in college.
May 23, 2014
LA TONYA SHIVERS
RONALD AMEY, II (DEXTER)
May 9, 2014
With only five weeks of school left in the 2013-14 school year, it’s a busy and exciting time of science fairs, art shows, class picnics, final essays, and final exams. It is appropriate that it is also Teacher Appreciation Week, and I hope you’ll join me in expressing our deep gratitude to our teachers and staff for all that goes into making this time of the school year a very memorable time for our students. Thank you!
This week I’d like to also appreciate the fact that much of what we are able to do for our students is a result of the willingness of Berkeley homeowners and commercial property owners to tax themselves nearly $25 million to fund the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP).
Did you know that BSEP pays for one-third of our teachers, middle school counselors, and the entire music program for grades 4-8? BSEP funds all of our vibrant and vital school libraries, provides
To put this in perspective, when I was in Hayward, we passed an education tax that garnered less than one-tenth of that amount, $2.1 million dollars, for the local public schools educating twice as many students. We are fortunate that since 1986, the Berkeley community has strongly supported our schools – otherwise we could be like so many California public schools, with per pupil funding among the lowest in the United States.
On this past Wednesday night I had the privilege of working with the BSEP Planning & Oversight Committee, a group of dedicated parent and teacher representatives from our schools, who are committed to responsible stewardship of these precious public monies. At this particular meeting we reviewed our plans and budget proposals for Public Information and Translation, as well as Professional Development, Parent Outreach, and Technology, all distinct purposes defined by the BSEP Measure. I was struck by the very thoughtful perspectives and meaningful contributions brought to the table. The members come with the explicit intent of making sure we are doing right by our kids, and fulfilling our promises to the voters.
My predecessor, Bill Huyett, often said, “Berkeley is the place to be!” As I begin to more fully understand and appreciate this community’s level of passion and commitment to public education, and the fact that we have such as strong partnership of teachers, staff, parents, and public supporting our kids, I recognize that here in Berkeley we can make a real difference in the lives of our students.
April 25, 2014
In last week’s message I mentioned how essential it is that each of our students have an authentic experience of success, in order to fuel the ability to engage with school. Successful students often find a passion, such as music or science or history, and build motivation and confidence when they connect with teachers and staff around their interests. For many students, technology has the power to engage and motivate them to succeed.
I recently observed an elementary teacher with her students, and it was magical to watch. During a first grade math lesson, the teacher used a mirror app on the iPad, and she used it like a document camera, allowing her to wirelessly project a stream of students at work problem-solving in real time. By simply holding the iPad above a student, she was able to capture him solving a math problem, while simultaneously projecting the student’s work to the entire classroom. In this way, she was very quickly able to demonstrate each of several students’ successes in using different strategies to get to the right answer, and to do it in a visually engaging and interactive way. I am convinced that with this creative use of technology she reached most, if not all of her students. I can even imagine that over time such an exercise could provide parents easier access to the curriculum, such as the new Common Core math, to support their children at home.
Many of you are deeply involved in the Smarter Balanced Assessment program that has necessitated getting technology into more classrooms. Our teachers, principals, tech staff, and everyone in the Berkeley Evaluation and Assessment office have done a great job of leading us into uncharted territory as we try out the online testing for the first time. The students have also stepped up, and in many cases helped to smooth the transition.
Technology is not only an important instructional tool at our disposal, but also a tool for organizing our work, and increasing collaboration and communication among and between departments. I’m interested in knowing what you think would help us further these efforts.
- How do you see technology helping you to improve your performance?
- What are some of the ways that together we can support and further the use of technology?
A world class district is one where both students and employees experience success, and technology is one of the many tools we have to increase our capacities as individuals and as teams at work together.
At a Community Forum held this week on the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) a parent representing her table group shared out, “Success is motivating.” With these three words she was communicating the fact that high levels of student engagement lead to students experiencing success, and that success is motivating. In other words, success breeds success. This idea is at the center of what we must realize if we are to become a world class district. Our schools must be exciting, engaging, and excellent centers of learning where ALL of our students are engaged and experiencing success.
I now have the benefit of almost one year of many such opportunities to engage with you, our students, and the community around a vision for the Berkeley Unified School District. There is more we must do to capitalize on our strengths and to strategically address the challenges we face. As a result, I proposed, and the School Board approved, some changes to the district’s organizational structure that will be effective as of July 1, 2014.
The driving factors in my reorganization plan are to provide improved support and service to the school sites, and to increase accountability in meeting our goals for students. In the new organizational chart you will see that I have added a new position called Director of Schools in the Educational Services Division, and changed the Director of Curriculum and Instruction position to Director of Special Projects.
- The Director of Schools will supervise the preK-8 principals and be accessible to support all of our preschool, elementary and middle schools as we implement state and local reforms. I will be supervising the principals at Berkeley High, Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA), and the adult school, and working with the Assistant Superintendent to shepherd the reforms at all of our schools.
- The Director of Special Projects will ensure that we continue to meet state and federal mandates, monitor compliance with the new Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), as well as manage key projects and programs that are a high priority for the Board and our district in meeting our goals for students.
This reorganization is strategically timed around significant change for our district in terms of both education reform at the state and local level, as well as changes in district personnel. The Common Core state standards, now setting grade level expectations here and across the nation, are changing what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess student work. It comes along at the same time as a complete restructuring in the way California public schools are financed and held accountable to success for all students.
Change like this is not easy, especially when it comes at the same time as the departure of key educational leaders who have had a tremendous impact on our organization. I know that I could not have made the transition to this job without the guidance of Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith whose life’s work has been to serve our students. I also appreciate the dedication and expertise Mary Buttler brought to our Human Resources Department as Director of Certificated Personnel, and am thankful that she delayed her retirement through the end of this school year. Christina Faulkner also recently announced that, after seven years in our district as Director of Curriculum, she will be moving on at the end of this school year. There will certainly be opportunities to give proper recognition and to thank them for their work, as well as to wish Neil and Mary well in retirement.
With the four open positions already advertised and applications to be coming in very soon, I am confident that we will welcome new leaders who will be stepping forward to fill the big shoes.
April 11, 2014
I am excited to tell you that as part of the White House Call to Action to bring college opportunities to more students, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks came to Berkeley High School this week to talk with 140 students participating in college preparatory support programs. Dr. Claude Steele, the new Provost in charge of all Cal’s schools and academic programs, as well as administrators involved in college admissions, joined him to share information on how students can start planning for college now. Staff in the BHS College and Counseling Center did a fantastic job of arranging a half-day program of rich exchanges between the Cal visitors and our students.
The Chancellor’s visit was a great opportunity for our students, and it also furthered our mission as a school district. Together we can inspire and empower every student, regardless of background, to see college as a place for them. If we start by encouraging students to dream big, and then teach them what they need to know about the college path, we will begin to break down barriers that prevent equity in access to a college education. I know we can all share in the White House’s Call to Action.
The Chancellor and I are committed to strengthening the partnership between our two educational institutions. There is already so much that connects us. Many of our employees are Cal alum, including school leaders who have graduated from the Principal Leadership Institute. Our students enjoy the arts through Zellerbach Hall, mentorships through Stiles Hall, and tutors through the BUILD program, to name just a few of the many other resources benefitting our students. Cal students serve as volunteers, tutors, interns, mentors, and role models, while Cal faculty and staff send their children to our schools. And yet, there is still so much more we can do together.
As Chancellor Dirks stated, “we are just across the street,” and I’m pleased that we are working to make it easier to cross both ways. I look forward to the work ahead, and the enriching opportunities for all.
Have a great weekend!
- A defined social-emotional curriculum is essential to children feeling safe and supported in the classroom and on the school yard. I am pleased that there seems to be a growing parent awareness about the power of the “Toolbox”, and other PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) programs being used in our schools.
- Parent liaisons/advocates can help eliminate barriers to participation, and with dedicated resources, more can be done to promote parent involvement. Parents are advocating for enhanced home-school communications, and support text messaging, access to information about school programs and services, parenting education, translation/
interpretation services, and programs that develop parent leaders.
- The ethnic and cultural diversity of our students requires that we teach and collaborate in culturally relevant ways, while working to increase the diversity of our teaching staff.
March 7, 2014
First I’d like to say, I’m so jazzed about College and Career Day! I joined the John Muir community this morning and enjoyed the kids’ excitement. They peppered me with questions about my education, and of course wanted to know my age! It’s great to see the sparks that conversations about college and career light in our students’ eyes. We can help them dream big, and believe that their future is wide-open with all kinds of possibilities.
Last Saturday morning I met with over 75 parents of children of African descent who all had the future of their children on their minds. I am appreciative to PCAD (Parents of Children of African Descent) for creating the opportunity for me to engage with and hear directly from this deeply engaged parent group. We spoke honestly about the barriers and hurdles their children face, and some of the work going on in our schools to improve outcomes for our students of color.
These parents articulated what many of us know to be true:
- Our students need social and emotional tools to be successful in the classroom;
- To engage all students, schools must use culturally relevant practices and pedagogy;
- Discipline practices may result in students missing core instructional time; and
- The number of students being suspended, identified for Special Ed, not graduating from high school, and not going on to college, are disproportionately African American.
I shared my thoughts on five specific areas of focus for our students of color, which are especially critical in the lives of black males:
- High Expectations: All students must be held to the same high expectations.
- Targeted instruction: Every school must have a well functioning, highly trained RtI2 team with targeted interventions and supports, with clear goals for every student.
- Resiliency: We must expose our kids to physical and mental challenges where they can experience success and realize the benefits of their work; they must know that success lies in their attitude, not just their aptitude.
- Cultural Relevance: Our teaching and service to students must be infused with culturally relevant practices that support the achievement of all of our students.
- Partnerships with Parents: We must understand the experiences of our disenfranchised and marginalized families in order to build more fruitful partnerships.
Through our exchange of experiences and ideas, I was particularly taken by the extent of agreement in the room around these priorities, as well as a sense of urgency from our African American parents. These parents understand the challenges, and they are looking to us for effective action. They know that all children have hopes and dreams, all children want to be successful, and we all share the responsibility for the success of every child.
I appreciate all you do each day to support the children in our schools. Today I want to challenge us all to take on even more responsibility, by being a mentor to at least one child. Our kids need more caring adults to take an interest in their lives, and offer guidance to them along the way. I’d be grateful if you would take the first step to find out more by contacting Pamela Harrison-Small or Kristen Beauford at the Berkeley Alliance about getting involved in the Bridge Mentoring Program.
February 21, 2014
I appreciate the feedback I’ve received in response to the question in my last email message to you, asking how to go about promoting effective collaboration. It is so important that this kind of engagement happens at all levels of the organization, as each employee makes a valuable contribution to the success of our schools.
There is so much going on all across our district to inspire us all. I love the fact that within a short period of time I went from hearing a four year old at Hopkins Preschool excitedly list the many instruments he plays, to sitting in the audience at Yoshi’s applauding our high school musicians for an amazing set of jazz. The musical offerings in our schools are among the best in the nation, and I applaud the educators, musicians, and music lovers who have helped so many in our community develop their talent and passion.
Our talented music, visual and performing arts teachers are providing our students with skills for expressing and exploring their thoughts and feelings with words, music, drama, art, and dance. We are fortunate that BSEP funds are supporting so many of these activities in our schools. We are also grateful for our many community partners, including the Berkeley Symphony, Berkeley Repertory Theater, the University Art Museum, Cal Performances, KALA Art Institute, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, all of whom extend our students’ reach into the community beyond the classroom.
Our high school jazz performers are examples of the ways that high levels of student engagement can foster a culture of achievement, intellectual curiosity, and passion for artistic pursuits. This year we are having district-wide conversations about student engagement, as it is one of the eight state priorities to be included in our school plans. How can we ensure that all students feel connected to school, engaged in learning, and excited about opportunities to explore the world around them?
February 7, 2014
In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about the benefits of and need for strengthening collaboration, especially between our classified and certificated staff. The work of teachers, instructional aides, principals, after school staff, tutors, and the other staff providing direct service to students and families is interconnected in many ways. It can be easily likened to the relationship between our bus drivers and the mechanics who keep the buses running. Just as the bus drivers must clearly communicate with mechanics about the operation of the bus in order to ensure safe delivery of our students to and from school, certificated and classified staff must work in unison to ensure excellence for our students.
I recently visited students at our Hopkins Preschool and encountered lots of smiling faces. One of the four year olds was happy to share, “I can play the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and drums!” He was sharp as a tack and quick to share his number sense, and from what I heard, it seems he really can play all those instruments! The energy of those little ones is infectious.
The children were buzzing around stations focused on learning about the solar system and using materials to recreate the planets. The teacher and instructional staff had clearly adopted a team approach that was working to the benefit of their students. In fact, it was not immediately clear to me when I entered the classroom who was the lead teacher. Each adult was engaged in high level, high interest conversations with 4-year-olds.
Experiencing the synergy among staff, and enthusiasm in the students, prompted me to ask you several questions:
- On a school and district-wide scale, how do we create and promote the effective collaboration that was clearly behind what was at work at Hopkins?
- What would it look like for you and your department or school?
- What can the district do to encourage that kind of collaboration?
I am interested in your responses and ideas.
I’ll be the first to admit that carving out enough time for everything we need to do is challenging. And yet, I do think that if we are able to share in our goals for students, and adopt a team approach to teaching and supporting them, then the pay-offs for everyone far outweigh what we can achieve alone.
Then, we would be like the little boy at Hopkins that is able to play all the instruments, not just one.
Thank you. Enjoy your weekend!
The mid-point of the year proves to be an ideal time for the classified staff to gather for staff development. This past Monday, classified staff came together at the Adult School for updates on and conversations about the many initiatives underway, including the classification study, LCAP, Common Core, and Facilities. It is always enjoyable for me to have a chance to talk with you about our work, and to see staff re-connect with their colleagues from other sites, as well as to welcome new employees.
January 10, 2014
- We are well on our way to shifting our instructional program to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards.
- We are diversifying the delivery of curriculum and instruction for equity and cultural relevance.
- We are collaborating to ensure that effective systems and services are in place.
- We have a sustained commitment to professional development.
- We are increasing access to technology, and using it to enhance our educational program.
- We are creating systems that promote a positive school climate, and
- We understand the value of rich partnerships with families and the community.
- Each of the schools in BUSD gets the same quality of service from the service departments…without favoritism.
- It’s okay for paperwork, time-sensitive documents, and reports to be submitted a bit late every once in a while.
- At BUSD, the needs of the students are more important than the needs of the employees.
- When there is a conflict at my school site, it is my professional responsibility to resolve it.
- Can you get people trained in time to meet critical deadlines?
- Will current processes or systems work well enough to support the achievement of your priorities?
- Do you have access to the funding or budget support that you will need to accomplish your priorities?
- Do you have access to required technology for your priorities?
Some of the questions that came up include: How do we address the social-emotional challenges students face? How can we provide EL students with more than the mandated 30 minutes of English language instruction? How do we ensure that all students work to their highest potential? How can we offer more extended learning time to students?
I believe that by asking and answering these critical questions together, we create a focus on best practices that can happen in every classroom, lunchroom, and on each school campus in a way that brings the thrill of accomplishment and success to every student.
Recently I joined a Professional Learning Community of several of our school principals who are looking at effective practices that have closed the achievement gap. We took a day trip to Culver City to talk to administrators, teachers, counselors, and high school students about their improved outcomes, particularly for African-American students. What we learned on the visit, and what was evident in classrooms we observed, boils down to three community commitments they have made: high expectations for every student, building positive relationships, and a college-going culture.
As I have said before, our challenge is to really think outside the box. The new local control paradigm gives us this opportunity. We can take the discussion beyond a focus on “What do we do with the new monies?” to “What do we want public education in Berkeley to be for every student?”
Whether you are a classroom teacher, administrative staff member, program manager, food service specialist, or someone who serves in any other capacity in our school district, I hope you will join me in stepping out of our comfort zone to challenge assumptions and ask the kinds of searching questions that can bring about the positive changes we seek in our district.
Have a great weekend!
November 26, 2013
With Thanksgiving this week, I’ve been thinking about what the holiday means to me. There is a lot wrapped up in this American tradition – football, food, family, friends, and of course history. But in its essence Thanksgiving is about gratitude, and while I have so much for which to be grateful, I have to make a conscious effort to not take what’s good for granted.
Yesterday I visited the forensic science class at Berkeley High and heard Berkeley’s Fire Chief Gil Dong talking about how grateful he was to have become a firefighter. He shared with students that what he loves most about being a firefighter is the feeling he gets from knowing that he is contributing to the community.
It made me stop and think about how grateful I am to be an educator, and to be doing my work here in Berkeley. Each and everyone of us is in a position to make a positive impact on young people’s lives. How great is that?
In doing some googling about gratitude, I came across the Greater Good Science Center that’s right here in Berkeley. One of their writers used research on gratitude to offer advice on the Six Habits of Highly Grateful People. If each of us took a lesson from Fire Chief Dong’s playbook and practiced gratitude just a little bit every day, we could transform what might be obstacles into opportunities.
What I see is that we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to really think outside of the box about how we are going to create a a world-class school district that ensures equitable outcomes for all students. I have no doubt that we have what it takes, and that it will take each and every one of us working together.
Thank you for the contributions you make every day for our community.
Enjoy the break. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 22, 2013
As you likely already know by now, two new acronyms have entered our local vernacular: LCFF and LCAP. LCFF refers to the Local Control Funding Formula, California’s new model for funding K-12 public education. LCAP is the Local Control and Accountability Plan that every school district is required to develop to account for the expenditure of state funds under the new model.The LCFF reshapes school funding aimed at improving achievement for all students, with the promise of restoring funding over time that has been lost since 2008. The model underscores the importance of equitable outcomes for all students by providing supplemental funding to specifically meet the challenges high need students face. Our webpage has more information that may help you understand in more detail what’s behind these acronyms.While many of the details of what will be required in this new district-wide plan are still being developed in Sacramento, we are beginning dialogue with our community here in Berkeley in order to put a meaningful and effective plan in place. We are in the process of mapping out a multi-layered process for consultation with district staff, parents, students, and the broader community.
As a first step, Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland and I are hosting a public forum open to the entire school community on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7:00 pm at LeConte Elementary School. Please join us!
I appreciated the time that staff took to participate in the town hall meetings that I held in October, and I hope that was just the beginning of dialogue that results in positive changes we can all embrace. As a way to further share my responses to topics of interest generated at the town halls, I have written responses to key questions that will be posted Monday on my webpage.
I look forward to continuing on-going and fruitful exchanges with you.
November 15, 2013
What mindset are you?
A group of math teachers working in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) at Willard were asking themselves this very question when I visited them this week.
With the support of the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and leadership of instructional technology teacher leader Allison Krasnow, these teachers have been producing videotapes of middle school students practicing the 8 Mathematical Practices in the Common Core Standards as a way to demonstrate to other students what the practices look like. Through project-based math activities, students model the practices while showing the hard work and determination needed to meet the mathematical challenges.
This work has led to a commitment by these math teachers to coach students in their classrooms on the “growth mindset”. With the simple diagram below, based on the framework developed by Carol Dweck at Stanford, you can see how fixed and growth mindsets can impact the choices we make and the longer term outcomes. The thinking is that if we can promote the “growth mindset” in our work with students, they will come to know that abilities and talents come from their own dedication and hard work.
As educators I believe we can use the growth mindset to frame our high expectations for students. If we believe in their resilience and model perseverance, they will too. I look forward to following the progress of this work at Willard and in discovering more of the practices we are using successfully in all of our schools to foster good habits, positive attitudes, and excellence in all of our students.
It’s also true that our students benefit from the “growth mindset” of our wider community, whose generosity and support brings much needed resources and volunteers for our schools. One way we keep Berkeley residents informed about the great work happening in our schools is by producing a Berkeley Public Schools Bi-Annual Report. The latest edition was mailed to Berkeley residents this week, and includes information about Common Core, technology, and the new state funding formula. Take a look!
At the end of yet another week, I wish you well and thank you for the good work you do on behalf of our students every day.
November 1, 2013
This week a few students at Thousand Oaks tried to answer their teacher when she asked, “Does anyone know what a superintendent is?”
One of the second graders responded with, “A super person whose nickname is ‘intendent!” From what I gathered from his and other students’ answers, it seems that some of the youngest in our community think my job has something to do with having superpowers!
My visit to Thousand Oaks happened to fall on “Think Pink Day” when students, parents, and staff were wearing pink on a day chosen to bring cancer awareness to the whole community. The day was organized by Voices of the Village, T.O.’s African-American family and staff group. Events like these help students realize that they are part of a caring community and that they can make a difference. I’m so glad I was able to join the T.O. community on this special day.
The school leaders’ workshop held last Thursday is another good example of the strong community engagement in our schools. We had a great turn-out of parents, principals and staff who attended topical workshops to inform their work on school committees. (You can find some of the presentation materials on our website.) Thank you to all those who were part of making the event a big success, whether as a presenter or behind the scenes putting all the pieces together.
For those who might not know, this year we have four schools that have transitional kindergarten classes for students who turn five in the fall and will enter kindergarten next year. I visited one of these classrooms at Rosa Parks and immediately noticed the positive tone and climate set by the teacher. Students were focused and happy with their work as they cut out shapes. I loved seeing how eager they were to participate.
What I see and hear, at these and other visits, make me proud of the meaningful connections we are creating between adults and students everyday. This supportive and nurturing environment is a key part of why students want to come to school and do their best.
Next week it’s the parents’ turn to come to school. Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity to not only talk about academics, but also to share with parents the ways we are making connections with their children. These opportunities for parents and teachers to exchange insight about their students are very important for our community. Thank you.
Have a great weekend!
October 25, 2013
I appreciate the positive feedback I have been hearing about my Friday email messages to you. Many of you have replied with messages of encouragement and appreciation or have stopped to let me know that you look forward to hearing from me. Thank you for being so engaged!
I have to tell you that I was very moved by my visit last Friday to Malcolm X Elementary. I was lucky to join students in the audience for a performance by the Oakland-based Axis Dance Company, and I shared the students’ amazement at what the dancers with and without physical disabilities were able to do on the dance floor and in their wheel chairs. I could feel the students’ compassion while they showed the dancers sincere respect. The performance dramatically demonstrated a key skill that we want all of our students to develop: resilience.
Later I thought of the dance as a metaphor for what can be achieved by using the 12 tools that students and staff at Malcolm promote to develop resilience and foster a positive school climate. It was hard not to ask about the toolkit. Principal Hunt wore the contents of it on a card hanging around his neck! I like the toolkit so much that I am sharing it with you here. The tools are not just good for kids. You might even see me wearing the toolkit next time we meet!
Before I close, I do want to give a shout out to the great work of our custodians and maintenance staff who make sure that our students and employees have clean, safe, and well-maintained facilities. Each of us plays a role in building a respectful school climate, and a positive workplace.
Another weekend is almost here. Have a great one!
October 18, 2013
You probably know by now that I am a big believer in the power of on-going professional development to advance our work with students, and to build an organizational culture that embraces all of us as life-long learners. That’s why I was especially pleased to be a part of this past Monday when we were able to dedicate an entire day to learning and developing our skills together. It felt good to have time to trade places with our students!
The range of staff development offerings available reflected the specialized nature of our work. I observed teachers leading discussions about implementing the new elementary math curriculum. Others I witnessed in action worked on using rubrics and aligning how they score student work, while high school groups focused on strategies for how to help students read, write and speak meaningfully (“construct meaning”) about their classwork. Specialized trainings in cultural competence, crisis prevention, sexual harassment, asbestos and lead awareness, and mindfulness meditation were among the other offerings by department and in cross-functional groups.
As I reflect on what I learned and observed, I am convinced that strengthening and growing professional development opportunities for all employees is central to realizing our vision of a world-class district. One of the things I would like to do is to give you the opportunity to provide input on the types of learning and professional development opportunities that you feel will help you grow and improve your skills. I will be working with my staff to see how we could survey you in preparation for future staff development.
Thank you for your participation, and for choosing to be a part of our great school community.
Have a great weekend!
Whew! There is always so much that goes on in one week of school!
This week I had a chance to visit classrooms at LeConte Elementary, participate in the Board meeting at which the English Learner Master Plan was approved, meet with the Berkeley High leadership team, and hold two of the three community town halls scheduled this month.
Meeting students, and watching our dynamic principals, teachers, and staff in action, is a great way for me to experience first hand the rich learning opportunities we provide for our students. LeConte is a school community that, while in transition to a Two-Way Immersion (TWI) School and under the leadership of a new principal, is a vibrant setting where I saw great teaching going on. Principal Valerio’s expertise in professional development is a huge asset as the community builds on its vision of a world class school that embraces bilingualism and biculturalism.
LeConte’s TWI program is part of the broader district-wide plan to strengthen instructional programs and academic outcomes for our English Learners (EL). I applaud the work of all who contributed to the powerful English Learner Master Plan just approved by the School Board this week. It will serve our EL students well for many years to come.
Another site visit I made was to Berkeley High, where I met with the BHS leadership team. They are a collaborative group with great chemistry that has the diversity in expertise and experience needed to address some of the most challenging issues our students face. I had a chance to talk with the team about their strategies for ensuring all Berkeley High students are engaged, supported, and held to high standards. I look forward to supporting the meaningful work ahead so that each and every student can thrive at BHS.
This week I also began conducting Town Halls with the community to solicit answers to three questions that will inform my work:
- What are we doing well?
- What could we do better?
- Where should we focus our efforts?
In future communications, I will share with you what I have learned from our community in these forums.
Have a great weekend!
October 4, 2013
Creating a culture focused on learning requires us to pay attention to the social and emotional development of our students. We know that what is going on emotionally and socially can either support or disrupt students’ learning. That is why school is a place where we teach and model self-awareness, persistence, and self-restraint.
There are many ways students are learning to develop their social and emotional skills every day.This week I visited John Muir Elementary, and I was struck by the compassion and the thoughtful work educators there are doing to support the students’ social and emotional intelligence.
I was excited to see the school librarian, Steve Healy, running his lunchtime book club for 4th and 5th graders. They are reading, “A Friendship for Today,” a story about young girls of different races who befriend each other at school in the 1950’s. While the time and place are far from here, shared reading gives our students a chance to learn about emotional connections and social experiences in a safe space.
In another part of the school, I witnessed the patience and compassion of a 2nd grade teacher who has gone the extra mile for an extremely bright student who has a challenging home life. She demonstrated a deep understanding that in order for her student to succeed, despite the many risk factors, he needs to build his social and emotional intelligence. She knows that just telling children to “calm down” is not always enough – they must first know how to manage their emotions. Her compassion made me want to extend my support to this bright 2nd grader, and I will do my best to check in on him regularly and encourage him.
Each week as I visit schools and departments in our district, I am inspired, and thankful I have come to a place that values children’s social and emotional intelligence. I applaud the important work going in our schools and our district every day!
Thank you, and enjoy your weekend!
September 27, 2013
It’s now 90 days since I officially started as Superintendent in Berkeley, and I now feel that I have a good sense of how we can build on the strengths of this district. In preparation for my town hall meetings with the community in October, yesterday I presented some of my thinking to the Management Team. In particular I talked about what I mean when I say we can further our focus on “learning” by structuring our team work around Professional Learning Communities both in our schools and in our departments and centers of service.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is a term that was coined by educational expert Rick Dufour. He defines a PLC as:
An on going-process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the student they serve.
The idea being that we work together to seek out best practices, test them in the classroom (or in our work setting), continuously improve processes, and focus on results.
I know we have pockets of this work happening in many places. To become the world-class district that I know we can be, I believe we all need to be involved and engaged in a professional learning community with a focus on learning, collaboration, and results. Our students will reap the benefits of this greater focus on learning.
Expanding the use and effectiveness of PLCs is an important priority in our work together. I look forward to observing those already in action, and cheering on the positive outcomes that new professional learning communities will bring.
September 20, 2013
One of my priorities in these first months of school is to be out at the sites each week visiting classrooms, talking to students, and seeing their learning in action. This week, I visited Cragmont Elementary during dedicated literacy time and I saw students engaged in their reading, and teachers facilitating learning in small groups. When I arrived to one of the classrooms and was introduced to the class, a student exclaimed with a big smile to his teacher, “Oh, is he the surprise?” It made me laugh.
In addition to visiting classrooms, I also plan to observe faculty meetings/professional development so that I can learn more about what it is teachers and staff are wrestling with, and use this insight to inform me on how the district can strengthen the supports and services teachers and staff receive so everyone can be focused on student learning.
At the district level, my cabinet and I are working on developing goals for each of our departments that will include a focus on the supports and service we provide to all of our schools. We are building on the good work that has already been done around customer service through the WE CARE model.
On another note, this last weekend I attended the annual Black Family Reunion at Berkeley High, a great opportunity for families to gather, network, and learn about opportunities and services available to support their children. Kudos to Irma Parker and the team who, once again, organized this successful event.
It’s important to have a sense of the many ways we are working together to ensure our students are set up for success each step of the way. I look forward to working with and hearing from you as we move this whole school district to the next level of excellence together.
Enjoy your weekend.
September 13, 2013
There is a lot for me to learn about the Berkeley community. I have already been able to see your dedication to creating a rich learning environment, the commitment to excellence, and the pride of being part of an inclusive and diverse community.
One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I love the whole process of learning. I love the look in a child’s eye when he or she realizes, “I got it!” It energizes me when I see a student’s curiosity explode. What I have come to realize is that it is when I focused on student learning in strategic ways, that I learned how to be a better teacher, and ALL of my students reaped the benefits.
I’ve been impressed by the work that has been done in this district around creating professional learning communities. By creating a culture of learning, all of our elementary teachers have more confidence that they can and will, for example, master the new math curriculum. I visited Berkeley High School, and sensed the power of the teachers knowing they were in this together.
This week I attended the business and operational services regular meeting. I learned that they are a tight-knit team who solve problems together and have themselves formed a community of learners. I look forward to being invited back to this group because I know I can learn from them.
I believe that all of us want to be good at what we do. Even though I am out of the classroom now, I am still learning how to do my job well. I intend to send regular emails like this, so that I can share with you what I am learning, and what I hope we can work on together.
I have no doubt that, as we all commit to a focus on learning together, we will be well on our way to giving our students every opportunity they need to soar.
Have a great weekend.
August 30, 2013
A sincere thank you to everyone for making the first day of school a great experience for our kids.
I enjoyed seeing kindergarteners with new backpacks, talking to sixth graders nervous about middle school, and hearing from the many parents excited to be seeing their children off after summer.
Each and every one of you was hard at work, whether from behind the scenes, in the school offices, on bus routes, in the lunchroom, or in front of the classrooms. It’s awesome to realize how we are all role models in this work that we do, and that we have an impact on students’ lives every day.
I want you to know that while we are still enrolling students, every effort is being made to find each student a place in our schools. Thank you for your patience.
The demands are great on everyone this time of year. Those of us in the district office are especially focused on what we can do to support you at the school sites. Do call on us to help address any challenges.
Thank you again for all you did to open our schools!
Donald Evans, Ed.D.