On February 1, 2023, the Berkeley Unified School District Board Meeting was held in person for the first time since 2020. The directors gathered on the dais in front of the podium, and the meeting began with the usual roll call.
In addition to the directors of previous meetings, Tiairra Brown, a student at Berkeley Technology Academy, joined the board. Ian Segall, a fellow student director of the board, welcomed her.
“I am very happy to no longer be the only student on the board,” Segall said. “I can’t wait to collaborate with you and share the student perspective.”
Near the beginning of the meeting, there was a performance by Young Gifted and Black (YGB) in honor of Black History Month.
“As they learn of Black History through spoken word, song and speech, they educate the greater community and demonstrate what it means to be black and proud,” said School Board President Laura Babbitt.
During the public comment section, BHS senior Yair Naftalin-Kelman spoke about his experience as a Jewish student in BUSD. One concern that he raised was about graduation, and his ability to participate in the ceremony with his classmates, which is planned to take place during the Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat.
“I might not be able to attend my own high school graduation,” Naftalin-Kelman said. “I’m an observant Jew, and Berkeley High graduation is held on a Saturday. The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat falls every week from sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. On Shabbat, we do not drive, we don’t use electricity, we don’t cook or light fires, and we don’t use technology… I hope that you will change the day of graduation and recognize my commitment to the school community.” He adds.
Later in the public comment portion of the meeting, five English Language Development (ELD) teachers took the podium to speak about the shortcomings of the current ELD system.
“The state of California mandates we give instruction five days a week, 30 minutes per day for all multilingual students,” said Amy Cottle, the ELD site coordinator for Malcolm X Elementary. “This is an impossible task, given the majority of the ELD coordinators are only zero point four percent FTE (full-time equivalent) at each site. Therefore, we are out of compliance with providing ELD services to our students. We are asked to do a job that requires a full time position, but only given a part time percentage.”
Chronic absenteeism, which is classified as missing more than 10% of the days in a school year, was listed as an issue on the meeting agenda. The presenters explained that they use the data from student attendance to identify specific groups or students that are approaching chronic absenteeism and develop methods to help them.
During that presentation, chronic absenteeism was shown to have decreased in every listed student group, which included homeless, african american, and socioeconomically disadvantaged youth.
BUSD used a new program, called EduClimber, to collect data for the report.
“For the first time, we actually have real time access to important information including daily attendance… which will allow our schools to pull up individual students, or groups of students.” Jill Hoogendyk said, the associate superintendent. “We can actually ask the program to identify students that are close to being chronically absent… so we have real time access to that data to be able to intervene earlier.” She adds.