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Berkeley School Board Director-Elect Profile: Julie Sinai

Photograph by Braelyn Wekwerth

Julie Sinai was elected to the Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) school board this November. She is currently the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of LifeLong Medical Care (LLMC) and has an expansive background in public and private community organizing.

Sinai never attended Berkeley High School (BHS) because she grew up in Sonoma County, but both of her children attended BHS. She has been a Berkeley resident on and off for thirty years.

 “When my kids were little, I was working on childcare planning,” said Sinai. After that, Sinai worked for the school district for four years in the late 1990s, where she focused on school-community partnerships. Sinai has worked internationally and ran the statewide consortium of after school programs after returning to the Bay Area. Sinai facilitated proposal planning for multiple schools in the district and wrote a proposal that won the district state grant funding for three years. The proposal Sinai wrote won the district about $500 million, according to Career Technical Education (CTE) coordinator Stephanie Allan. 

“Most of my career, I have been working on strategic planning, community development, all around the issues of children and families,” said Sinai. She has worked at offsetting income-based barriers to students’ aspirations. Sinai worked for former Mayor Tom Bates as a senior advisor on children and youth from 2003 until 2007, she then served as his Chief of Staff until 2011. Bates said he “recruited” Sinai because she “shared my vision and … was eminently qualified.” She left the mayor’s office to work at University of California (UC) Berkeley as the Director of Local Government and Community affairs. “I worked to get UC Berkeley into more partnerships with the City of Berkeley and the City of Richmond … so that the university is more of a partner in the local community,” she said. She made sure the university was working with the workforce system, which works with the K-12 system to make sure BHS students have places to continue their education or career training after graduation.

Sinai applied to fill a vacancy on the school board when one of its directors resigned with eighteen months left in his term in 2013, and the sitting directors unanimously appointed her to finish the term. She ran for election to the board in 2014 and lost. 

After she finished her time on the school board, she joined a commission to pass the soda tax. Sinai became an unpaid volunteer on the Children, Youth and Recreation Commission at Councilmember Susan Wengraf’s request in 2015; she still serves on the commission. Sinai chaired the commission for her first three years on it. She said the thread in her career is policy change and partnership development.

As the CSO of LLMC, which guarantees people who are on MediCal or are uninsured the provision of healthcare, Sinai works with the Chief Executive Officer of LLMC and different community stakeholders to improve community members’ health by developing healthcare implementation plans. LLMC operates school-based health clinics throughout the Bay Area. Sinai develops strategies to expand access to health care for homeless people, low-income people, and undocumented immigrants in the area. 

Sinai’s goals as a school board director include addressing the high fail rate in Berkeley High School (BHS) math, expanding CTE and partnerships with the public and private sectors, making sure the board’s budget cut process is transparent, and raising teacher salaries.  Sinai believes partnerships with the city college, vocational schools, the Labor Council, and businesses in the East Bay show students options other than four year colleges. She believes internships for students and externships for teachers, particularly those in science and technology, would also improve the district’s CTE. Sinai, who helped develop the 2020 Vision Plan to eliminate the racial achievement gap, thinks that bringing in professionals with experience in empowering underserved communities is key to closing achievement gaps. She also thinks that BUSD should evaluate programs targeting these achievement gaps so they know which ones need adjustments.

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