On April 26, an online ballot was released to elect the student representatives for Berkeley Schools Excellence Program/School Site Council (BSEP/SCC). BSEP is a local tax in Berkeley that funds things such as smaller class sizes, technology, music programs, and libraries, among many other services for Berkeley schools. The SSC is a committee that oversees the education and achievement of Berkeley students. They also work on the Berkeley High School Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), which is a set of goals and plans to help improve student experience and outcomes. The council is generally made up of eight staff members, four students, and four guardians.
Lenka Simon, a sophomore in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) and a current student representative in BSEP/SSC, discussed the relative obscurity of the position, with many students not knowing much about what it was or even that it existed at all. Without a clear definition for the role, misconceptions can be easily drawn even by those running.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t know what (BSEP/SSC) is. And I definitely did not know what I was running for (last year)… I thought I had an idea, but it’s actually something completely different,” said Simon. “I think a lot of people go into it thinking it’s like school board, (deciding the) bell schedule or something like that, but it’s really a whole separate thing… there’s just a lack of information.”
Sami Khayatei Houssaini, a junior in BIHS who ran in the recent election to be a BSEP/SSC representative for next year, also spoke on the deficit of information regarding the duties of one holding the position. Similar to the situation Simon was in last year, Khayatei Houssaini was unclear on the parameters and details of the position he was vying to inhabit.
“At the present moment, I’m not exactly sure my responsibilities, like what the jurisdiction is or my role is at the moment. So I’m going to take it step by step,” Khayati Houssaini said.
Simon brought up the correlation between the volume of applications for funds and the publicity given to the funds. Many teachers and students do not know that these funds are available to them, and this reality renders them incapable of taking advantage of the resources provided by BSEP.
“A lot of members on the SSC or on the BSEP committee are pushing for more publicized applications because we have fewer. If we accepted all of the applications that we got for BSEP money this year, we would still have leftover money,” said Simon, “We’re just not getting enough admission or applications.”
Khayatei Houssaini spoke on how the lack of applications compelled him to run and that the importance of representation made it essential that students are present in these meetings.
“I chose to run because it seemed like nobody was running before. Somebody needed to run…. Also, I think it’s important that we have students being represented at every decision level at the school,” Khayatei Houssaini said.
Simon talked about the importance of student voice in these meetings and the value it brings. Students see the side of BHS that the council is trying to improve, and this gives them the opportunity to bring issues that students care about to the committee.
“Students on the committee are there to give a perspective on what would actually help them and what would actually be useful and (answer) What do the students need? What are their problems?” Simon said.
Emma Kittredge, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC) and current BSEP/SSC student representative, brought up the layers of difficulty brought by the pandemic, with the meetings being moved to a virtual space. However, she also expressed an expectation that this difficulty will be mitigated by the return to a more regular format.
“Online meetings are a struggle, but I’m pretty sure next year they’re moving to in-person meetings, so that should be solved,” Kittredge said.
Skyler Rockmael, a senior in AC and current BSEP/SSC alternate, elaborated on the struggles that the pandemic brought to their council, specifically with the disconnect it created between the representatives and the school they were advocating for. Similar to Kittredge, she expects the effects to lessen in the coming year, with the next representatives being less separated from the school.
“The seniors coming in next year who had not gone through COVID have a full high school experience. I think they will be able to represent the stuff a little bit better than our team,” said Rockmael.
“We really tried our best, but you know, we have not had a full experience at Berkeley High, and that’s definitely limited our perspective and our opinion on Berkeley High … (the representatives next year) are going to be able to have a little bit of a stronger opinion, because they’ve been going there for four years. They haven’t been interrupted by the pandemic,” Rockmael added.