On December 14, the Berkeley Unified School District held their last board meeting of the year. The meeting included the welcoming of two new members, as well as presentations on ethnic studies classes, the superintendent’s future plans, the Multilingual Master program, and the district’s budget allocations.
At the beginning of the meeting, Jennifer Shanoski and Mike Chang were sworn in as new directors of the board. Laura Babbitt, former vice president, took over as president, and Ka’Dijah Brown, former president, was reelected as vice president.
The board also held an equity showcase of ethnic studies classes in elementary schools, presented by Joemy Ito-Gates, a BUSD teacher for the past 19 years.
“Our long term goal is to have ethnic studies in all of our schools, even for our younger children, because this is what they deserve, and because ethnic studies is not something that can be taught in a single semester,” Gates said. Gates added that he is working alongside the Berkeley High School Ethnic Studies Peer Mentoring Program, bringing ethnic studies presentations to elementary students.
“I think it’s important to bring ethnic background to elementary school students, to even introduce it to them around that time, because it’s very important to navigate life when you’re older,” said an anonymous BHS student, who is a part of the peer mentoring program. “It was a very good experience. Overall, it was very helpful.”
During the public comment section of the meeting, the construction of a new parking garage for BHS was debated, with some suggesting the district invest the funds in other projects.
“We have a great opportunity right now to steer the district to a more sustainable future both economically and environmentally, and make a teachable moment out of it,” said Tom Lint, father of a BUSD graduate and e-bike project coordinator of Walk Bike Berkeley. “Let’s put the proposed parking garage on hold and first take a careful professional look at district staff and student transportation needs and how best to meet them. … We have the chance to save millions of dollars to put them in real student needs while dramatically reducing the district climate footprint.”
Denis Foreman, parent of two students in BUSD elementary schools, expressed his hopes that the board implement the new multilingual learners plan, with a new curriculum to replace the current 10 year old one. The plan was approved later in the meeting.
“On one hand … we are very engaged by the district (new multilingual plan),” said Foreman. “On the other hand, some are tired of repeating what was uncovered in previous years (of the curriculum not working). These families are hoping that the plan presented today will be implemented with fidelity and under an ongoing review instead of being put on a shelf.”
Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel also presented her 90-day plan, which she called the “900-day plan,” explaining that the district always needs to allow time and room for improvement. She planned to listen to the community and reflect on what action needs to be taken by the school board. She heard from over 300 members of the Berkeley community, including students and parents from a diverse range of backgrounds, along with Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
She described the district’s primary goals, which were to ensure all school sites are welcoming, safe, and have a high quality curriculum, as well as to increase access for students experiencing homelessness, provide academic interventions, and use local and state measures to assess student progress.
“Berkeley really is diverse and we see that as a strength … but Berkeley is also really clear and honest about the fact that we have inequalities in our system,” Ford Morthel said.
At the end of the meeting, the First Interim Budget presentation was given, which involved a budget summary of the 2021-22 school year and a description of future expenditures, such as 13.3 million in general funds and a 5.9 million arts and music grant. The budget team went over Prop 28 funding, which would provide $1 billion each year for Californian public schools, adding that another goal is to find new sources of school funding.