June 12, 2015
This year we engaged in some very difficult conversations about complex issues, including racism and discrimination, sexual harassment, facility capacity/enrollment challenges, and how to ensure high achievement for all students. We held the Black Lives Matter Forum and other courageous conversations, and we committed to updating policies and practices in support of sexual harassment prevention and student safety. In doing so, we brought attention to real experiences our students face every day, not only in the classroom, but also in the community. The public’s engagement in our work has helped us better understand the needs and expectations of our community, and to bring together the best ideas to address some of our greatest challenges.
With social media as the “go to” medium for social interaction among our middle and high school students, it is more important than ever that we help our students make the connection between decisions and consequences, underscoring how impulsive actions can turn out very differently than intended, and be very hurtful to others in our community. In response, we have been expanding our capacity as professionals and mentors to guide our students to be safe, respectful, and responsible, while teaching them to be allies and active members of a supportive community.
With the aid of the “Toolbox” curriculum this year, our young students gained more tools they can use to regulate their own social-emotional well-being now and in the future. We also made headway with middle and high school students using restorative circles to resolve misunderstandings, conflicts, and problem behaviors, and we provided staff development in cultural competence. For the year ahead, we have committed new state funding to expand this focus on restorative justice, increase access to counseling for students, and do more to keep students engaged and inspired. We will all reap the benefits of this work.
On the organizational front, the growing numbers of students in our elementary schools resulted in significant changes and challenges in our use of instructional spaces. This will continue next school year as we use existing spaces to meet the need for two to three more elementary classrooms. We are also looking at how staffing and student needs differ from school to school based on facilities, enrollment, and programs, to be sure all of our schools are equitably resourced.
With our facilities plan for the coming year already in place, we have time over the next many months to monitor growth and consider facility options for 2016-17 and 2017-18. Due to a number of dynamic factors in the mix, several options to create more classroom space are still on the table, including the possibility of portable classrooms and/or the consolidation or movement of programs. Our facilities department has laid out a robust facility planning process that will include careful study of instructional and programmatic space needs at every school site. Meanwhile, we have made revisions to several policies and practices to ensure the integrity of our admissions process, which could lead to some reductions in our overall enrollment projections.
I am grateful for the passion and expertise that each of you bring to the table everyday. I’m amazed at how everything comes together — facilities and maintenance making sure schools are clean and safe, bus drivers delivering students to school safely, principals, teachers, instructional assistants, secretaries, and family engagement staff working with students and parents, food service staff preparing healthy food, and “downtown” making sure organizational and operational tasks are accomplished in support of all schools.
The way we are building stronger relationships, finding effective solutions to the problems that we face, and committing to make a difference in the lives of our students tells me we’re all in this together.
Thank you so much for your service.
March 27, 2015
I always love this time of year. Spring is when we witness a tremendous leap forward in student learning, we share culminating projects and performances with the community, and the students reap many benefits from your sustained efforts. I know it’s been a very busy few weeks leading up to Spring Break.
March 20th marked the beginning of the month-long César Chávez/Dolores Huerta Commemoration Period, a time when many schools take students outdoors in the gardens and in the community to engage in service learning. I appreciate everyone on the César Chávez/Dolores Huerta Organizing Committee who are leading this community-wide effort to teach kids about the power in each one of us to effect change.
I am proud of how our teachers and instructional staff have embraced the Common Core standards, while remaining committed to a rich curriculum that includes science, P.E., music, art, garden, and more. We made huge strides this year in strengthening staff development and providing more of our teachers and staff access to high-quality learning opportunities. Last night I learned a lot from Berkeley teachers who presented as part of Mills College’s annual “Teacher Inquiry in Action” forum, with teams of teachers using self-study and collaboration to improve teaching and learning.
Last weekend families from all schools came out to the Performing Arts Showcase. The strength and draw of our music program was evident — this year we saw our largest number ever of 5th-12th grade musicians and singers performing in this annual celebration of music in our schools. Suzanne McCulloch, who is retiring in June, has been the guiding force behind our nationally-recognized music program. Suzanne, you will be missed!
Let’s not forget that none of this would happen as smoothly as it does without all that goes on behind the scenes — healthy meals every day, safe rides to and from school, well-maintained schools and grounds, and much, much more.
With spring break almost upon us, I hope we can all enjoy a slower pace for a few days. I also hope you will join me in reflecting on the great strides we have already made together this year. With the momentum we have going, there’s no doubt we will have a strong finish to an already great year!
February 20, 2015
It’s been many busy weeks since I last wrote. Here is a brief update on some things I’d like you to know about.
Over the last few months we have been working through plans in response to the enrollment growth in our district. I appreciate the engagement of all stakeholders in the community as we have worked together to determine our short term and mid-term solutions, and to consider the best long term plan that will serve our district well in the years to come. The first enrollment numbers are coming in, and while it is still too soon to know for sure, it looks as though we will need 2, and possibly 3, new elementary school classrooms in 2015-16. If you have not had a chance to keep up with the discussions we have been having, I encourage you to read the message I recently sent to the community on this issue.
The School Board will be receiving a report on the most recent K-8 enrollment figures at our board meeting next week, and the Board is holding a special meeting on Wednesday, March 4th to further inform the community about facilities planning and enrollment.
January 26th was a great day for professional development in our district. My sincere appreciation goes out to all the active participants who demonstrated their committed to being life-long learners, and to the many experts in our own district who contributed to the rich learning environment created for us all. You can expect professional development opportunities for all employees to continue to grow.
Transitioning from one school to another is challenging at any age, and I am especially proud of the 200 African American 9th grade students I met last night, many of whom have overcome significant barriers and are demonstrating a strong commitment to their education. I reminded these students of the importance of relationships: with parents, with teachers, with staff, and with friends, and to continue to take advantage of the resources available to them at Berkeley High School.
Following the BHS celebration, I went on to Longfellow Middle School for an evening of engagement with parents, teachers, principals, staff and the community around our “LCAP” priorities and programs. We are in our first year of implementing the three-year Local Control & Accountability Plan. Here is a short summary overview of LCAP year one that we handed out last night.
Together we are making big leaps forward in our commitment to excellence for our students. Thank you.
January 9, 2015
I’ve been thinking about how the holidays and start of a new year seem to come at just the right time in the school year. Fall is a special time in our schools and district with the excitement of new classes, new colleagues, and new initiatives. It also takes an immense commitment of time and energy to manage all that is required of us. I hope you were able to spend some special time with family and friends, and celebrate all that you accomplished and experienced this past year.
The critical nature of our work with children and youth means that we are all working tirelessly in our many roles in this district to improve and expand our educational programs and services, and enhance operational efficiencies. We need to remember to restore and renew ourselves as we do this important work in service of our students.
That’s why, at this time of renewal and of new year’s resolutions, I appreciate the efforts of staff in our human resource and business service divisions who are working to bring enhanced services and programs to all district employees.
Some of the new benefit offerings for BUSD employees include:
- Kaiser’s Thrive Across America fitness challenge.
- A new corporate wellness program offered through 24 Hour Fitness, with reduced rates for BUSD employees.
- An expanded Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered through MHN, a new provider offering experts to help you achieve a work-life balance (counseling, legal services, childcare and eldercare assistance, and more). (Log-in code: busd)
In addition to improving direct services available to our employees, I look forward to 2015 being a year of expanded professional development and skill-building opportunities for classified and certificated staff.
As I did in December, I encourage you to reach out via email or in person to let me know your thoughts, goals, and ambitions for this new year.
Thank you for bringing your renewed energy and commitment to your work each day!
December 19, 2014
The holiday break is a wonderful chance for all of us to have a little more time to spend away from the schedules and pressures of our regular daily routines, with moments reserved to celebrate old traditions and make new ones. I look forward to some quiet time to reflect on all that we have accomplished together this year, and to think about our work in 2015.
I’d like to express my appreciation to our African American families and allies in the school community who came out this past Wednesday night for the Black Lives Matter Forum. There is an appropriate sense of urgency in our community to peacefully and proactively talk about how we can lead the way in our schools, and in our city, to end racism. We were fortunate to have a dynamic group of panelists who helped us think about the work ahead from different perspectives:
- Pastor Michael McBride, The Way Christian Center, Berkeley
- Reverend Theon Johnson III, associate pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
- Shelia Quintana, principal at Berkeley Technical Academy (BTA)
- Jamaica Moon, parent leader in the BUSD Black Parent Affinity Group
- Kadijah Means, BHS senior and president of the Black Student Union at Berkeley High School
- Nikki Jones, associate professor, Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley
- Darryl Moore, Berkeley City Council
At the end of the forum, we collected recommendations from parents and students, and as a first step will be compiling them in a letter to both the Berkeley City Council and Berkeley School Board. There will be more opportunities for us to continue an honest dialogue about the structural, procedural, and interpersonal changes we can make that will better serve and empower our black children and their families. I encourage you to participate.
I owe thanks to Charity DaMarto in the Office of Family Engagement & Equity, and Dr. Susan Craig in Student Services for setting the stage and opening a space to address this urgent social justice issue. We all appreciated the food donated by Willard parent Nick Breland (Uncle Willie’s) and the cakes made by BUSD staff member Lanie Kelly and Wendy Kelly (Kelly’s Kakes). Thank you so much!
I wish you and your family a very peaceful and safe holiday, and a great start in the new year.
December 12, 2014
Winter is not just knocking on the door, but arriving full force this year. Teachers, staff, and families alike will long remember this rare storm that was strong enough to close schools around the Bay Area.
The power outages and flooding reported around Berkeley yesterday caused relatively minor water issues at our school facilities. Our custodial and maintenance crews were on the job and working expertly to contain the problems. Except for in the case of one classroom at Hopkins Child Development Center (CDC) where water damage is still being assessed, all schools are fully functional today.
Please join me in applauding the expertise of our custodial and maintenance staff for their effective storm preparation and storm response, as well as the work they do every day to keep our school and district facilities well-maintained and safe. Thanks to the maintenance and custodial team’s good work, alongside the work of other staff and administrators behind the scenes, we were able to quickly open our doors to all of our students today. Student safety and well-being must always be our number one priority.
This has been an extraordinary week in our schools and in our community, with demonstrations in our streets preceding the torrential rains. I am proud of the heart that each of you brings to your work on behalf of our students. We will all benefit from a little extra time over the holiday to process what has been happening around us and contemplate renewed commitments for the new year.
November 24, 2014
Even though we have not had the same blustery weather I grew up with around this time of year in Delaware, with what’s been cooking in the district kitchen, it’s not difficult to know that the time for Thanksgiving traditions is upon us. Today our students are enjoying some traditional trimmings with turkey (or tofu), gravy, and fresh cranberry sauce, and our middle school students have the added treat of eating tamales.
Did you know that our nutrition services staff begin the work day between 5:30-6:30 a.m. every weekday morning? I made an impromptu visit a few weeks ago to the King kitchen where staff prepare, cook, and distribute 8400 breakfasts and 3400 fresh lunch meals every day. It is quite an operation to feed and serve our students, and to do so while meeting the highest standards of the fresh, healthy, and locally-produced food they deserve to eat. Imagine all that you might do when preparing a Thanksgiving meal for 10, and then multiply that by 340 and serve it in 16 different homes…and that’s about what our staff pulls off every day!
At this time of Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for the good work of our nutrition staff, for their service to our students, and for their outstanding commitment to teaching the important lessons of healthy eating that will stay with our students for a lifetime. Please join me this holiday season in thanking our chefs, cooks, and food service staff, as well as all of our staff who dedicate themselves to this mission of our nutrition services department:
“….to improve the health of the entire community by teaching students to establish and maintain life long healthy eating and physical activity habits. The mission shall be accomplished through nutrition education, physical education, garden experiences, the food served in schools, environmental restoration and core academic content in the curriculum.”
October 24, 2014
Today I would like to start by saying “Thank you!” to the leadership of BCCE and our classified employees for ratifying our new employee contract. I am extremely pleased at the outcome of the final negotiations. The new agreements reached underscore the critical contributions our classified staff make every day in service to our students, families, and each other as we work together toward a shared vision of Excellence, Equity, Engagement, and Enrichment.
As I reflect on the ratification of a new contract with BCCE and what it means to our district, I am reminded of the many hours everyone puts in each day, and that your commitment to our students is a key ingredient of our success.
We now have contracts with all bargaining units. My vision of a district focused on equity includes a commitment to fair and equitable contracts for all of our employees. As all of us move forward together, I intend to continue to strengthen the relationships we are building with one another as we continue to improve the workplace environment for all of our employees.
October 17, 2014
The best part of my job is being able to get out from behind my desk and into our schools to talk with you, and with our students and their families. Last week I started the first of many school visits scheduled over the next several months as a way to get to know you, and each school community better. Maggie Riddle, Director of Schools, is joining me on these school visits, as we work together to support best practices in every school.
So far we have met with staff and faculty at Longfellow and Malcolm X, and enjoyed a morning chat and coffee with parents at Longfellow. Our goal is to make it out for such visits to every school twice by this Spring. Although email has become a quick and effective form of communication, I certainly prefer the opportunity to dialogue in person with you, with parents, and others in our community engaged in our schools. The openness and positive tone we are experiencing is conducive to forming a shared vision, setting student-centered priorities, as well as strengthening teamwork.
During these school visits, I have been asking faculty and staff what is going well, and what areas of our work require more focus and support. We have also been talking specifically about:
- Implementation of the Common Core, and how it’s changing teaching and learning,
- The three tiers of the Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtI2) model that must be operational in every school, and
- The impact data-driven cycles of inquiry can have when used with fidelity in our Professional Learning Communities.
Director Riddle and I intend to use the constructive feedback and your valuable perspective on the student experience in our schools to inform this systemic work and reforms happening on a district-wide level.
I know that I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Together we can!
Enjoy the weekend!
September 26, 2014
This week I was struck again by the fact that so many in our community are doing so much for the benefit of our students. Our students are indeed very lucky!On Wednesday I spoke to the Berkeley Rotary about the state of our school district, education innovation, and my belief that we have all the ingredients to be a world class school district. I told them that together we can educate every student for success. I also thanked them for their commitment to our youth. In addition to their partnership with several local youth organizations, they deliver a brand new, personal dictionary to every BUSD third grade student. They also donate time and money toward enriching programs in our schools, and provide scholarships and mentors for college bound students.I’d also like to acknowledge the Berkeley Public Schools Fund for their commitment to furthering best practices and promoting education innovation in strategic ways that impact the quality of our educational program. If you haven’t heard, they just launched the Friends & Family Grants website (with the help of tech savvy UC Berkeley students) that offers small ways to make a big difference. I encourage you to check it out and spread the word!
So many of you go above and beyond the responsibilities of your work day to make our Berkeley schools a great place for kids. While I can not list here all of our partners, or all of the opportunities we are able to provide for students, I can tell you that the caring and positive relationships you form with our students do not go unnoticed. In fact, these relationships are at the core of what motivates our students to excel.
I encourage you to stay connected and stay invested in our students lives! It truly makes a difference.
Have a great weekend!
September 12, 2014
What a great Back-to-School Night event at Longfellow Middle School last night! There was a fantastic turnout of parents and families, and new Longfellow Principal Marcos Garcia, teachers, counselors, and staff were clearly excited about the year ahead. I had planned to make it to King and Willard as well, but after talking to so many parents, it was 7:45 pm before I knew it. From what staff reported back to me, there was a great turnout at those schools as well. So kudos to the incredible teams at all three schools!
In visiting schools at the recent Back-to-School Nights, I was asked a few times about the status of negotiations with our classified union – Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE). I want to be very clear, we will not negotiate in public and we are committed to achieving a fair and responsible contract. However, I can report that a Fact-finding Panel has been appointed and a hearing is now set for the end of September. A side-by-side listing of the last, best and final offers is now also public. In order to keep our public and parents informed and to promote transparency, feel free to refer parents to our negotiations update webpage on the district website at https://berkeleyschools.net/negotiations-update. This is where we will continue to post information on the current status of negotiations and the fact-finding phase, as well as our efforts to reach agreement.
September 5, 2014
I always love the excitement around the start of school, and this year was no exception. I commend you all, and thank you for all the creative problem solving, teamwork, and positive attitudes that saw us through the first seven days of this school year. It’s been a great start to what is going to be a great year!
Throughout the summer, and right up to the start of school, our custodial and maintenance staff worked each day to ensure clean, organized schools awaited our students, teachers, and staff at the end of summer. The entire facilities, maintenance, and custodial team definitely deserve our sincere appreciation and recognition – To Lew Jones, Steve Collins, Greg Williams, Chanita Stevenson, and the rest of the team: Thank you!
As I am sure you know, our schools are quite full, and we have been expanding the capacity of some schools to accommodate a growth trend that we have been experiencing for the last six years. We now have almost 9,700 students attending our K-12 schools. Factors that influence enrollment growth are not always easily predictable or linear, but there are several conditions that I believe are contributing to our current enrollment numbers:
- You – our teachers, principals and staff – are rock stars!
- Our families are involved, and our community is very supportive.
- As a result, many young families are choosing to move to Berkeley, and enroll in our public schools.
- Our K-8 schools are relatively small in comparison to many other school districts, and we have maintained small class sizes, especially in grades K-3, still at 20:1.
- The state now requires us to offer a transitional kindergarten program.
- Private schools in California have experienced declining enrollment over the last decade.
We do have some new classrooms, and readying them for the start of school includes ensuring there is a functioning technology infrastructure. Our Tech Team worked long hours to be sure all classrooms, especially the newly placed portables at Washington and Berkeley Art Magnet, were connected on the first day of school.
Last night our elementary schools welcomed parents and guardians in for the first of our three Back to School Nights to kick off the school year for parents and families. Thank you for initiating a positive and productive dialogue with parents and families. It goes a long way in helping our kids succeed.
I look forward to hearing from you, whether by email or in person, and staying connected with the good work that is happening to ensure the success of every student.
August 25, 2014
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
Welcome to the 2014-15 school year! The start of a new school year is an exciting time for all of us. We are fortunate to be in a position to positively affect the lives and futures of the more than 9,600 students that are entrusted in our care every day. Furthermore, we work in a community that places a high value on public education and provides the kind of financial resources and personal engagement that makes it possible for us to offer every child an excellent education.
Together we can build out the five essential dimensions of a world class school district:
- 21st Century Educational Program
- Relevant and Creative Professional Learning
- Safe, Welcoming, and Inclusive School Climate
- Responsive and Effective Operational Supports and Services
- Strong Family and Community Partnerships
Our success will be dependent on our ability to promote an organizational culture that is aligned with our mission of providing an excellent education for all students ensuring they have the knowledge, skills and tools to succeed. This year I intend to intensify our focus on becoming a highly effective Professional Learning Community (PLC). We all need on-going opportunities to learn and improve our practice, whether in the classroom, supporting the classroom, or as part of an operational team. A team that is able to question, reflect, experiment and innovate develops a powerful set of tools and skills that create the optimal conditions for student learning.
Enrollment is up
As many of you know, the number of families choosing to live in Berkeley and enroll in our public schools is growing. In the last six years we have seen our annual kindergarten enrollment grow from around 600 new kindergartners a year to more than 700 across the district. The state-mandated transitional kindergarten program for students turning five years old in the fall has also contributed to the increasing enrollment. I appreciate the willingness of every staff member to be supportive as we create short-term and proactively develop long-term solutions. We want all of our new students and families to feel welcome.
Every employee contributes to the vibrant and productive environment our students need to learn and grow. In the spring we settled contracts with the three bargaining units representing our teachers, our administrators, and our classified managers. As we enter the final phase of negotiations with our fourth bargaining unit, the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE), we hope to be able to finalize a contract in the fall that includes our best salary increase offer.
I value the on-going exchange of ideas and best practices with you and intend to regularly visit schools, classrooms, and departments to learn from you and stay connected with daily life at our schools and sites. I look forward to seeking out creative ways to overcome the challenges we face and celebrating our successes along the way.
Together we can.