On Wednesday, August 24, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened, discussing topics including staff shortages within the Bridge Program, mask enforcement, new contracts for teachers, and the new tardy policy at Berkeley High School.
During the public comment section of the meeting, BHS student Jonathan Schwartz brought up the new tardy policy in which all entrances close immediately after the first bell. Students must then enter through the main office and show their school ID, receiving a pass to their next class.
“This doesn’t sound too bad, except for that last step of going to the front desk. There have been lines of 20 to 30 minutes,” said Schwartz, also mentioning that the new plan was meant to discourage students from being tardy, yet often made them significantly later to class. Schwartz added that the new policy would disproportionately affect students who rely on public transit to get to school.
“My idea is just to open the gates 10 to 15 minutes after first period class time,” Schwartz later shared, as this policy wouldn’t unnecessarily hold back students who may have only been minutes late.
Throughout public comment, parents of BUSD students expressed their concerns about staff shortages in the Bridge Program at BHS. The Bridge Program, which has existed for over a decade, was founded to help close the achievement gap and uplift students who may be struggling academically. Currently, the program lacks a full time teacher.
“When we found out about Bridge, we were really excited about the opportunity to join a program that was going to offer my daughter academic support,” one parent shared. “We’ve been pretty dismayed to find out that there still isn’t a teacher.”
Later in the meeting, School Board Director Julie Sinai expressed support for hiring a permanent teacher for the program. She also mentioned that the LEARNS program was facing similar staffing challenges.
“Just to clarify, the challenge with the Bridge Program is not an issue of funding,” Sinai said. “The school board made it very clear that we’re funding the program. The challenge right now is staff, it’s finding a qualified teacher.”
A BUSD parent also shared a letter he wrote to the board and superintendent about masking and COVID-19. He explained that multiple school locations still have signs up about masking that don’t follow current BUSD COVID-19 protocols, which state that masks are required, despite protocols saying that masks are now strongly recommended.
At another point, a video from Matt Meyer, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, was presented to the board. Meyer started by welcoming the new superintendent, Enikia Ford Morthel. In the presentation, he requested improved wages and better compensation for teachers and staff, and also said that the district needed to lower class sizes.
“All of our proposals fall in line with current budget realities. They recognize cost of living increases never experienced in many of our lifetimes,” Meyer said. He also added that nearby districts with previously settled contracts were receiving near or more than what the union was asking for.
Ian Segall, student school board representative, addressed the issue of teachers not being financially compensated for writing letters of recommendation for students applying to college. Segall mentioned that teachers at BHS can expect to be asked a wide range of five to 65 letters of recommendation per year.
“The time spent on these letters is extra to their normal teaching time,” Segall said. “Compensation for this is usually distributed individually by each of the small schools, and unfortunately, this year, many of these provisions are being taken away.”
He continued, describing how these changes have caused many teachers to opt not to write letters of recommendation.
Superintendent Ford Morthel also shared her 90 Day Plan, focusing on listening and learning. She said that she wanted to visit each school location in BUSD by the end of the school year to engage principals, teachers, and other staff.
“Particularly, over the 90 days, it’s my intention to really understand the culture, history, and current experiences in BUSD,” Morthel said.
Morthel also shared that BUSD will continue to strongly recommend masks but not require them.