On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) school board approved changes to the BUSD curriculum and heard complaints about teachers’ sick leave policy during a meeting.
The new curriculum was developed by the BUSD’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction with the intention to engage the diverse student body to achieve academic excellence. The department’s director, Chris Albeck, said one of the goals is “to disrupt patterns of predictability for communities who have been historically underserved.”
The changes will affect subjects including ethnic studies, science, literature, and multilingual learning and will be rolled out over the next three years. Teachers have already begun training to teach the new curriculum.
“Overwhelmingly, the teacher responses have been very positive with reports of students feeling affirmed by the curriculum, excited and engaged, with teachers telling me, this is what they want to be teaching,” said Joemy Ito-Gates, a Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) for ethnic studies. “Ethnic studies matters because it is rooted in teaching our children a culturally affirming curriculum that uplifts historically marginalized communities in Berkeley and because it has been proven to have multiple academic benefits.”
Ethnic studies’ third-grade curriculum will be split into four “Ripples”. Ripple One is focused on students’ self-identity, while Ripple Two is about connecting to the school community. Ripple Three is about the Ohlone community, and Ripple Four is aimed toward Berkeley role models.
Literacy education within BUSD will now include a reading academy for Kindergarten through fifth grade, involving over 200 elementary educators and 22 hours of in-person and online learning. Many teachers have been working tirelessly to start to implement these lessons, going through 30 hours worth of training sessions.
After two years of piloting three curricula, the new science curriculum will be Full Option Science System (FOSS) Pathways, which is a newer curriculum that is being developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science. It is based on the content of the FOSS Science Program and it aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, which have been adopted in all of California as well as Berkeley. It will address core science content, highlighting certain science practices such as analyzing data or cause and effect.
“The main purpose of all of these professional development opportunities is to provide access to the common core standards, to increase reclassified fluent English proficiency rates, and to enable our multilingual learners to achieve academic excellence,” said Kathleen Marte, a TSA for multilingual learning. The professional development opportunities have over 40 teachers attending the training.
Another topic of discussion was the Mental Health Needs Assessment Update with Rosina Keren and Dr. Phillip Shelley. “This was a very thorough evaluation of what’s going on in our district with the need assessment, we interviewed over 200 people with (an) eye for equity the whole way,” said Keren. “We had a focus group specifically for families with children of African descent, we had a focus group for families who spoke Spanish, we had another focus group for general families.”
This update has worked to have teachers use a trauma-informed lens in providing services to students, with a lot of teachers also having a strong social-emotional curriculum built into their teaching. And for kids with a need for counseling, the educators have been switched over to their own school psychologists, therefore making them more integrated.
One of the main topics on public comment was the sick leave policy. “I got COVID for the first time this school year on the eighth day of school, and because I needed to take Paxlovid, I experienced very common rebound effects and basically had COVID twice in one go. After seven days of testing positive with mild symptoms, I had a few days of testing negative and feeling fine, going back to work,” said Zia Manekin-Hrdy, a teacher at Malcolm X Elementary.
“Then I tested positive again with much worse symptoms. This meant I was required to isolate for five days two separate times and missed two weeks of work. Out of my eleven PTO (Paid Time Off) days, I’ve already used nine of them this year due to COVID.” Manekin-Hrdy added.
Manekin-Hrdy advocated for five added paid COVID days because, while this would still wouldn’t cover the number of days she missed, it would have helped her greatly. Many other educators have also experienced this feeling and share the same desire for this to be solved.