When Berkeley High School junior Lenka Simon ran for the Berkeley High School Site Council (SSC) at the end of their freshman year, they said they weren’t entirely sure what they were running for. “I think the only students (who) know what the School Site Council does are the students on the School Site Council, and maybe not even that,” said Simon.
The SSC is a council of BHS-elected student, staff, and parent representatives, which meets regularly in the first half of the school year to discuss the quality of education that students receive at BHS and the ways in which they can improve it. The council does so by setting a Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), meant to “create a cycle of continuous improvement of student performance,” according to the bylaws set by BUSD. The council notes problems within the school
and sets goals to improve on them, then works with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) to assess itself on the progress of these goals.
In the second half of the year, the same council is tasked with the separate responsibility of overseeing the distribution of over a million dollars allocated by the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP). BSEP is a citywide tax that raises money for the success of Berkeley schools and students, and the money is meant to promote excellence in BUSD schools through small class sizes, student support, technology, and libraries, among others resources.
School Site Councils are regular in all schools and state-mandated in order to have equal representation in financial matters from the school community. At BHS, the SSC is combined with BSEP under one committee which oversees both roles.
According to Simon, who is beginning their second year as a student representative on the SSC, the council can fall short on its duties. “We don’t get to do all of the things that we’re supposed to do,” Simon said. “And it should be a bigger deal than it is, but it isn’t really because usually it just means that the principal picks up the slack or something.”
Simon said that to their knowledge, over the past two years, the council hasn’t completed all of its duties, and they were surprised that a bigger deal wasn’t made of the fault. They blamed the lack of visibility for the council, as most students at BHS are completely unaware of the SSC.
“I knew very little about what (the position) was,” said Sami Khayatei Houssaini, another student representative on the council, regarding his process in running for the position. “I had a vague idea of what they were supposed to do, but it wasn’t clear,” he added.
This lack of visibility means that once students are elected, they may be unaware of the duties they are meant to fulfill. “As a student last year, it felt like I was just saying yes to a lot of things because I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” Simon said.“If I had more knowledge about the council, I think I could have made a bigger impact and actually been a good representative of our school.” Simon said that they had felt overshadowed at times by administrators who are more knowledgeable about the council’s role in the overall school community.
Sifora Kahsay, another student on the council, said that although she and other students have much less experience than the staff on the council, she still feels respected. “They don’t treat us as students,” Kahsay said, “They actually treat us as part of the committee and that we have got voices, and our voices should be heard.”
One of the main reasons for the lack of visibility regarding the council can be traced to the image of the council that some students see as simply a layer of bureaucracy and a part of administration, according to Kahsay. Although most of the roles of the council fall under finances and other matters of administration, Kahsay, among other students on the SSC, said that being aware and reaching out are first steps to being fully represented and having your voice heard, even with bureaucratic issues.
One of the main goals of the SSC, as set by state law, is to provide representation for various facets of the BHS community by allowing students, parents, and staff to have representation and input when it comes to funding decisions and setting goals for the school.
“I think that if (students) knew about these kinds of more specialized or more hidden decision-making bodies on campus, that they would probably be more understanding of how certain things go about at the school,” said Khayatei Houssiani. “That understanding might create will and possibility to actually model the school in the way that they want the school to be. Knowing about (councils such as the SSC) and being able to participate in it gives more agency to students.”