School board: Literacy program update, two members retire


On Wednesday, November 30, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board meeting included an update on the recent dyslexia settlement, speeches by two board members who are stepping down this year, and recognition of Berkeley High School’s partnership with the Berkeley Fire Department (BFD).

At the beginning of the meeting, the board spoke about the close relations between the BFD and BHS.

“The Berkeley Fire Department has been a long-standing member of BUSD’s Career Technical Education Board, playing a leadership role in guiding the program,” Board Director Julie Saini said. “As a result of this deep partnership, many of our students go on to very rewarding careers in fire, emergency response, nursing, and related healthcare fields.”

Saini continued, thanking the department and describing the effects of this partnership in shaping similar programs.

“As a result of the deep commitment for this program by BFD and IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters), local 1227, the B-STEP (Berkeley Safety Technical Emergency Program) CTE (Career Tech Education) pathway at Berkeley High School not only became a model for other career tech education Pathways at Berkeley High, but it is now a model for other School Districts and Fire Departments across the state,” Saini said.

Later in the meeting, a presentation was given by George Ellis, the program monitor in charge of overseeing the implementation of new policy driven by the recent dyslexia settlement. He gave his first report regarding the district’s progress in terms of a collaboration on the literacy improvement program.

“Before July … the structures for capturing progress on the literacy improvement program were limited. I did not see much cooperation across different departments and there seemed to be just a general lack of urgency in this work,” Ellis said. “Superintendent Ford Morthel came in, this work definitely got prioritized, and I saw the connection between the different departments was starting.”

Ellis also recommended the addition of a new position to help support the corrections being made to the curriculum.

“It would benefit this district to have a position dedicated to literacy. Most school districts your size have either a director of curriculum and instruction who would carry this work, or a director of illiteracy,” Ellis said. “Berkeley prioritizes equity, so you have a director of equity. Berkeley prioritizes research evaluation and assessment, so you have a director of BREA. If we don’t have a director of literacy or curriculum, what does that say about how it’s being prioritized at a district level?”

The literacy program was also discussed during the public comment section with Eva Levenson, a BHS student. She discussed her personal experience with literacy education.

“Please do everything you can to improve teaching instruction in our elementary schools,” Levenson said. “Every kid deserves the best science-based reading help.”

Finally, expressions of appreciation and heartfelt goodbyes were given to the two outgoing board directors, Sinai and Ty Alper.

“I want to thank both of you again for your commitment and your dedication to our community,” said Student Director Ian Segall. He continued, describing how Alper is a role model to students pursuing careers in law, working as a University of California, Berkeley law professor and running a clinic that represents death row inmates.

Sinai also commented on her time on the board, tackling educational inequities. 

“My goal was to work with my colleagues to reverse the pervasive, persistent, and predictable opportunity gap in our district,” Sinai said. “I saw it as a time to do more than just move the needle incrementally on student achievement. I wanted to accelerate change for our district’s African American and Latinx students.”