Friday, December 21, 2012

4 Simple Ways to Give to Underprivileged Children and their Families this Holiday Season

There are many ways in which a small action can make a big impact on underprivileged children and their families in Berkeley this holiday season. Here are 4 of the ways in which my family and I have decided to give back- we hope that you'll join us!
  • Donate a new toy to a child who would otherwise not receive a gift this holiday. Drop your new, unwrapped toy off at any police of fire station in Berkeley and they'll deliver the gift for you. The address for the main station in Berkeley is 2100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Berkeley, and there is a Toys for Tots bin in front. 
  • Donate new baby and children's clothes and toys to children at Children's Hospital in Oakland
      • To donate toys and children's clothes, you can drop them off at the welcome desk at 747 52nd Street, Oakland 
    • Safeway stores Safeway stores are making giving easy this year with a bag pre-packed with some of our most in-demand items for just $10.

  • Donate new adult men's tube socks to homeless men and women in the area- until December 31, 2012. This is being organized by EveryOne Home of Alameda County.
    • Berkeley Food & Housing Project's North County Women's Center
      • 2140 Dwight Way in Berkeley
      • Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri   9:00 am - 7:30 pm    Wed  9:00 am - 6:00 pm
    • Resources for Community Development
      • 2220 Oxford Street in Berkeley
      • Monday - Friday  9:00 am - 5:00 pm

        How have you decided to give to the community this holiday season? Please share below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

School Safety Procedures

I've received many questions this week about what the Berkeley schools are doing to keep our students safe. As mentioned by co-Superintendents Neil Smith and Javetta Clevelend, every school has a safety plan that's updated each year. 

I feel strongly that every parent with a child in school should be familiar with that school's safety plans. The likelihood of a tragedy like the one in Newtown occurring here is very low, but that doesn't negate the importance of having strong plans in place, ranging from earthquakes to robberies. As I've discussed before, bullying is a severe impediment to a child's sense of safety and well-being at school. If children aren't safe, they can't learn, excel and reach their full potential. 

If you have a child in school, I encourage you to: 
  • Read the school's safety policy (If this isn't available online or a handbook, call the principal and/or the president of the PTA).
  • Connect with the school's principal and head of the safety committee with any questions or suggestions you may have.
  • Get involved! Join the PTA or safety committee and let your voice be heard.   

You can find the Berkeley High Safety Plan for 2012-13 online, which includes the goals and strategies. Below I've pulled out the goals:

Goal #1-- Highest priority: Reduce Robberies and Thefts. Communicate with BHS community regarding crime and other incidents affecting the school community.

Goal #2-- Highest priority:  Raise staff, student, and public awareness of bullying and harassment issues, and clarify and communicate district and school policies for bullying and harassment

Goal #3-- Highest priority: Train Berkeley High Administration, staff and students in the emergency/disaster plan

Goal #4:  Reduce alcohol and marijuana use as reflected in California Healthy Kids Survey data

Goal #5:  Help provide a safe and secure learning environment by ensuring there is effective and appropriate communication and information flow among BHS security, BHS staff, BHS teachers, Berkeley Student Services, and courts, juvenile justice agencies, police, district attorneys, community-based organizations, and parents consistent with California law.
Goal #6: Strengthen the relationship between the BHS community and the surrounding Berkeley community, focused on fostering a clean, safe and healthy environment. Address concerns raised by the community.

Goal #7: Strengthen the Safety Committee as an effective, transparent, and visible institution at BHS, including increasing student and teacher participation 

For more information

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

BHS Holiday Meal for the Homeless a Huge Success!

From John Villavicencio, Director of Student Activities at Berkeley High School

Friends of Berkeley High School,

A huge thank you needs to be sent out to all of the volunteers and contributors for the Berkeley High 2012 Holiday Meal. It was impressive to see so many people come together to make this event a rousing success. How do I know that it was a success?

Photo credit: Mark Coplan, BUSD Public Information Officer
Let's check the numbers:
  • estimated 351 guests dined on a warm meal
  • estimated 336 volunteers for one of three shifts logging at the minimum 800 service hours 
  • estimated 25 turkeys, hams, and chickens donated for the meal as well as countless side dishes, drinks, gravy trays, cranberry sauce, etc 

We owe a huge thank you to numerous businesses that stepped up to donate as well. The local Walgreen's donated $660 worth of toiletries that were assembled into kits for people to take. ACME Bread Co. gave a substantial amount of bread. The Peet's Coffee on Shattuck provided some of our coffee. Paper Plus Outlet also donated some decorations.

Students on the Student Senate Leadership team are planning a service project to benefit homeless youth as a result of their participation in the Holiday Meal.

Here are some photos and a 10 minute video of the event from Mark Coplan, BUSD Public Information Officer
BHS Holiday Dinner 2012 Photos on Flickr

Thank you again Berkeley!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Responses from Berkeley Education Leaders to the Newtown Tragedy

Many people are feeling vulnerable and asking questions about the safety of our students here in Berkeley.  Here are some excerpts from local and state education leaders' responses to the Newtown tragedy last week.

Today seems like a day to hug our kids a little harder’- Berkeleyside: A letter from BHS Pasquale Scuderi to the BHS community, which includes guidance he sent to staff on how to address the tragedy in class.  Excerpt: "While we will not overreact to the situation and turbocharge any anxieties students may be feeling in light of this news by somehow implying that this morning’s deeply tragic and appalling events constitute a threat at BHS, we will increase visibility of safety staff and administrative staff throughout the afternoon to hopefully provide some indirect reassurance to staff and students with lots of adult presence in the hallways." 

Review of California School Safety Urged in Wake of Newtown Tragedy- Berkeley Patch: A letter from Tom Torlakson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Mark Ghilarducci, Secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, urging schools to review their safety policies.

Do you think Berkeley Schools are Safe? A discussion on Berkeley Patch and an opportunity to share your questions, comments, observations and concerns.

This letter went out to Berkeley school families from co-superintendents Neil Smith and Javetta Cleveland. You can subscribe to the A+ news mailing list on the BUSD website.

What additional information, questions or comments do you have? Please comment below, email me or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, December 17, 2012


If you'd like to hear the song and take moment to send peace into the world, you may watch it here:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holding Newtown in our hearts

I am so devastated by the tragic shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, CT today. I have no words - just raw emotions and heartache. In case you haven't seen it, below is a video of President Obama's address following the shooting. Also, here is a link to talking about devastating news with our kids.

California receives a D on K-12 Achievement

We've looked at how the US compares with other countries on educational attainment. Let's take a quick look at how California compares with other states. In future posts, we'll zoom in further on Berkeley, but this is to give us a sense of the larger educational landscape in which we're working.

This graphic comes from The Atlantic. The K-12 Achievement grade index is based on Education Week's state report cards. California is given a D grade.

According to Education Week's media release of the results, "the report’s K-12 Achievement Index evaluates the overall strength of a state’s public schools against 18 individual indicators that capture: current achievement, improvements over time, and poverty-based disparities or gaps. Massachusetts emerges as the top-achieving state this year, with New Jersey and Maryland finishing second and third, respectively. These states—each earning a B in this year’s report—have been the nation’s top three scorers since the index was first graded in 2008. A wide gulf separates the leaders from the rest of the pack, with the average state earning a C-minus on K-12 Achievement, a slight improvement over last year. Three states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia receive grades of F on the index." 

What questions or concerns does this raise for you?  Please share them below, email me or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

U.S. Achievement Gap Evident in International Assessments

On Tuesday, we took a look at how 4th and 8th graders in the US compare to other countries in educational attainment (on one specific measure each for reading, math and science). While I have some questions about the extent to which these assessments measure a representative population of the U.S. (and I'm in the process of hopefully finding that answer), I think it's significant to note that the achievement gap is prevalent across our country as a whole.

This data most likely doesn't come as a huge surprise to many readers of this blog. However, I'm including it to highlight that the challenges we face with closing the achievement gap in Berkeley exist throughout our country. The unique situation about Berkeley is that we have the achievement gap existing WITHIN THE SAME SCHOOLS, rather than between different schools in the same city or district (which is the case for the vast majority of schools in our country).

As you can see, Black and Hispanic students are performing lower than their white and Asian peers.


There is also a DIRECT correlation between the number of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch at a school and that school's overall performance on the reading assessment:

The charts for reading scores are found in the report Highlights from PIRLS 2011 from the National Center for Educational Statistics. The charts for math and science scores are found in the report Highlights from TIMSS 2011 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.  

The good news is that we have incredible leaders working together to figure out how to solve this problem- both in Berkeley and across our nation (and internationally). We must leverage what works so that we can accelerate the change that needs to take place so that the students in our city are ALL receiving an excellent education. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Overcoming adversity: Lessons from an ex-paratrooper

Have you seen the incredibly inspiring video on You Tube about the ex-paratrooper from the Gulf War? He became obese and physically challenged. For 15 years, many doctors and specialists said he’d never walk unassisted again. He finally found one yoga instructor who believed in him and...well, you really should just watch the video: 

When I watched this video for the 2nd (and 3rd) time, I felt incredibly moved- to tears. I was so touched by his resilience and his ability to overcome these challenges. I’m sure there were many, many times when he wanted to give up, but he didn’t. So this raises the following questions for me:
  • What does it take to truly believe in someone?
  • What does it take for someone to develop that level of internal grit and perseverance?
If these “character traits” are such determining factors of success, (which they are, according to Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed, on which I wrote this previous post), then we MUST help students build them- so that they can overcome barriers and live to their fullest potential. 

There are many challenges that the students in our city of Berkeley face. We have students who are homeless, in foster care, who face the threat of drugs and violence on a daily basis. These are serious obstacles in their path. But if they can develop the skills they need to overcome this adversity, they will succeed. We, as a community, must ensure that happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How do 4th and 8th graders perform in the US compared to other countries?

Hot off the presses! International results have just been released for 4th grade reading and 8th grade reading, math and science. Let's take a look at how the US performed compared to other countries. The International Study Center at Boston College has released the results for the 2011 PIRLS (Progress In International Reading Literacy Study) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).

According to the Commissioner's presentation of the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 results  from the Institute of Education Sciences, there were 53 and 74 educational systems participating in the reading and math/science assessments, respectively. Here's a snapshot of the countries:


The U.S. reading average (556) was lower than 5 other education systems (Hong Kong, Russian Federation, Finland, Singapore and Florida), not measurably different than 7 other education systems and higher than 40 education systems. This chart is found in the Highlights from PIRLS 2011 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

According to the New York Times, "Although the average scores among American students were not significantly lower than the top performers, several nations far outstripped the United States in the proportion of students who scored at the highest levels on the math and science tests.

"In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern."  

 Here is a table I put together with an overview of how the U.S. compares with other countries on the 4th and 8th grade math and science assessments. 

 I have several questions pertaining to these results, including:
  • What are the demographics of the students who completed the test and how were they chosen?
  • How rigorous are the assessments and to what degree do they meaningfully measure a student's ability to solve complex problems and think critically?
  • What is the potential impact of this data in the context of Berkeley education?
For more information, including the the types of assessment questions and how they're scored, visit the Institute of Educational Sciences pages on TIMSS and PIRLS.

If you have reactions, questions or comments, please share them below, email me or comment on Facebook or Twitter

Monday, December 10, 2012

School Board Meeting this week: Achievement of African-American Students

Javetta Cleveland and Neil Smith at "2020 in Action" photo courtesy of Berkeleyside

This Wednesday marks the final BUSD school board meeting for 2012. Judy Appel, our newest school board member, will be sworn in. The topic that most interests me can be found on pages 52-53 of the packet for the meeting. There is a memo from Co-Superintendents Javetta Cleveland and Neil Smith to the Board of Education on a Plan to Accelerate the Achievement of African-American Students.

Here is an excerpt: (Emphasis has been added)
"(A)ll groups of students, including English learners, socio-economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities, as well as all ethnic and racial groups, demonstrated improved performance on the 2012 California Standards Tests, with African- American students demonstrating greater gains than any other group at both the elementary and middle schools. However, even at our high performing schools, the African-American student group is the lowest performing group. Staff is proposing a more targeted and aggressive plan to address the plight of African-American students (and, in particular, the needs of African-American boys). 
"A Work Group of BUSD staff and community representatives will be convened in order to develop a district-wide plan to accelerate the achievement of African-American students. The need for this plan is based on the persistent gaps in attendance, truancy, suspensions and expulsions, health, court involvement, employment, and other measures of general well-being...
"The development of the plan is expected to take approximately three months (January-March 2013) and include an analysis of multiple forms of data, the identification of root causes of low achievement, and the development of a multi-year action plan...
"...The final phase of this process will include the creation of a draft plan which will be shared with key parent and community groups in Berkeley in order to solicit feedback. Feedback will be incorporated into a final version of the plan to be approved by the board in April 2013."
You can download the full packet, along with all other School Board Meeting agendas, materials and updates (which include video links to previous board meetings) here.  

I am thrilled to see that addressing the needs of our African American students remains a priority for our district. As I discussed in an earlier post on the Achievement Gap, African American students in Berkeley are performing 142 points BELOW the state target of 800 on the API (Academic Performance Index, which measures performance on statewide tests), while white students in Berkeley are performing 122 points ABOVE the state target of 800.  

It will take critical analysis, creative thinking and strong collaboration to provide all students in our district with the same opportunity to succeed. It won't be easy, but it's our moral imperative. I give huge credit to Javetta Cleveland and Neil Smith for putting this before the board. We're moving in the right direction.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Vote in the Stop Bullying Video Challenge

There are 7 inspiring videos for the video challenge. Each of them are short (about 1 minute or less)- and have a powerful message from strong teenagers who were willing to stand up against bullying and have their voices heard. While anyone can be a victim bullying (not just those who are negatively impacted by the achievement gap), I'm posting this here for several reasons:
  • EVERYONE can play a role in combating bullying (as you can see from the videos, it just takes one person to stand up and stop it)
  •  Just like anyone who has serious challenges (like living in poverty, physical or emotional abuse at home, serious illness), students who are victims of bullying face enormous battles which often take the place of excelling in school. By supporting the WHOLE child, we can help these students reach their full potential.
You can watch all of the videos here- click on your favorite one and select "vote."

Here are my two favorites. They both brought tears to my eyes and left me feeling empowered by what I can do to stand up for someone being bullied:

Which is your favorite?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A great way to give back to the community

BHS students are putting on an annual holiday meal for 300-500 homeless or low income families in Berkeley this Saturday! They're looking for donations. Please consider helping them out. This is an easy way to have a very positive impact on our community.

Photos courtesy of Berkeleyside 

Alameda County's Homeless Count

Thank you to Laurie Capitelli, District 5 Councilmember, for sharing the following information on how we can be involved in Alameda County's Homeless Count. This is a great opportunity to hear directly from homeless service users, the vast majority of whom are negatively impacted by the achievement gap on a daily basis.  I just signed up to volunteer on January 30- will you join me?

2013 Homeless Assessment:
Volunteers Needed

What:EveryOne Counts 2013: Alameda County’s Homeless Count
When:Wednesday, January 30, 2012
Where:Alameda County
Every two years EveryOne Home conducts Alameda County’s Homeless Count to measure our community's progress towards ending homelessness and to maintain crucial funding for homeless services. EveryOne Home needs 250 community volunteers to interview homeless service users. Participation is anonymous and voluntary for the interviewees. EveryOne Home will do its best to match volunteers’ time and location preferences with site operating hours. Volunteers will be stationed at over 30 locations across Alameda County.
People interested in volunteering can register here.
Questions? Contact EveryOne Home at 510-670-9796 or

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Please spread the word to anyone interested in the achievement gap in Berkeley.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Achievement Gap in Fitness Test Results for Berkeley 5th and 7th graders

Thank you to Berkeleyside for their article today on the CA Fitness Test results for Berkeley. At the bottom of the article, they pull out the discrepancy in results for students who are economically disadvantaged compared to those who aren't, as well as the disparity along racial lines.

Here are two infographics to illustrate the results. Below, there is a description of the fitness standards and how they're scored.

"'Socioeconomically Disadvantaged' is defined as:
  • A student neither of whose parents have received a high school diploma.


  • A student who is eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program, also known as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)"
Source: CA Department of Education

What are the fitness standards and how are they scored?
"The California State Board of Education designated the FITNESSGRAM® in 1996 as the required Physical Fitness Test that local educational agencies administer to students annually in grades five, seven, and nine. State law requires all public schools in California to report these results in their School Accountability Report Cards (SARC) and provide students with their individual results.
"The FITNESSGRAM® assesses six fitness areas: (1) aerobic capacity, (2) body composition, (3) abdominal strength, (4) trunk extensor strength, (5) upper body strength, and (6) flexibility. For aerobic capacity and body composition, students may be classified in the "Healthy Fitness Zone® (HFZ)," "Needs Improvement," or "Needs Improvement—High Risk." In the other four areas, students are classified more generally as either being in the HFZ or needing improvement."
Source: CA Department of Education

Monday, December 3, 2012

You are here---What Will Your Legacy Be?

Every once in awhile we have an opportunity to meet someone who awes us- with their courage, humility, strength and wisdom. Woody Roseland is one of those people. In the past five years, since he was a senior in high school, Woody has survived cancer 5 times and has had his left calf amputated.  I have the privilege of spending three days this week with Woody at LifeBound's Academic Coaches' Training in Denver. "Woody is a highly motivated individual who passionately pursues a variety of ventures. He is a speaker, five-time cancer survivor, standup comedian, podcaster, student and Denver's best looking amputee."

I want to share with you Woody's 8 minute talk from Tedx Mile High from this past summer. Be forewarned: this viewer was not dry eyed, but I was also incredibly moved and inspired.

This is one (of the many) segments that really resonated with me:
"If you can achieve all of your goals, dreams and ambitions in your lifetime, then believe me when I say you're not thinking big enough. What if we made it our singular mission to help others and improve this world? Is there risk involved with helping others? Putting yourself out there? Donating your time and your money? Absolutely. But, it's gotten to the point where the risk associated with not helping anyone is so much monumentally greater than any possible risk of action. So much so that to not make a conscious effort to help others and to make this world a better place is morally reprehensible."

While this video isn't directly related to the achievement gap in Berkeley, that's actually EXACTLY what it's about (for me). It's reminding me about the importance of this fight- of providing every child with an excellent education- and the reality that WE CAN NOT STOP until it's been achieved. 

What's Woody's message about for you?

Woody gets the last word for today: "You are here. What are you going to do about it?"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Oakland groups working to close the achievement gap

When thinking about Bright Spots, there’s a lot we can learn from our neighbors to the south. There are many things happening in Oakland to address the achievement gap. In the past week, I’ve attended events pertaining to three very inspiring groups that I’d like to share:

    1.  Camp Phoenix “empowers low-income children to overcome the summer learning gap through joyful academic learning, enrichment, and community building.” Summer 2013 will be the pilot summer for the camp. They’ll be bringing a group of rising 6th graders from the same school in Oakland to the camp for three weeks.

     2.     Oakland Schools Foundation (OSF) “is a local education fund that secures and manages resources for Oakland public schools in order to support our vision of equity: that all students have the opportunity to achieve excellence.” I attended a student fishbowl sponsored by OSF the other night, where we got to hear from a handful of middle and high school students from Oakland about what’s working in their schools and what else can be done to empower them to excel. 

        3.     Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools is a “a coalition of parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders from the hills and flatlands, East, West, and North Oakland, charter and district public schools who share a vision of an Oakland where all children receive the schooling and support they need to live successful, fulfilling lives.”  GO works on a variety of issues, including supporting effective teaching, making school board issues more accessible to the general public and supporting local candidates in the recent election.

Many of the issues that these three organization are working to address also impact the students in Berkeley. The achievement gap is a reality for our students- but there are momentous things happening to close it. Let’s continue to learn from the Bright Spots of our neighbors!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Placing blame doesn't help in the fight for educational equity

It often amazes how easily people will place blame on each other in this fight for educational equity. How to close the achievement gap is one of the most most important debates we could be having- yet the polarization and finger-pointing sometimes seem to get in the way of collaboration and progress. Parents are often scapegoats for the problems we face in school. While there is no doubt that parents play a HUGE role in the education that children receive, they should be viewed as partners with educators and members of the community.

Today there was a live discussion on Berkeley Patch with Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource, about the impact that Prop 30 will have on California's 6 million public school students. While the interview was interesting (and you can watch it in full here), I was most compelled by the  lively discussion amongst the viewers at the bottom of the page.  I found myself disagreeing with several people on assumptions they seemed to be making about parents and I wanted to share some of the interactions here.

Excerpts from our discussion
(Names are given by the posters and are not necessarily their true identities; I have shortened some responses for brevity, but the full responses are available on the Patch discussion; Any emphasis has been added here):
Giorgio C.: Everyone knows that many of the causes of poor results start at home, so why are we holding schools accountable for these problems that parents and communities should be addressing? Individual parents do not care about the "achievement gap." What parents want to know is if they do their part as parents, will the school do its part to provide an education for their child? That is all the school is responsible for. The school is not a baby-sitter or surrogate parent. If necessary, there are social services for such.

Jenny from Berkeley Schools Report: Georgio, I disagree with what you said here: "Everyone knows that many of the causes of poor results start at home, so why are we holding schools accountable for these problems that parents and communities should be addressing? Individual parents do not care about the "achievement gap.""
There is no question that there is a correlation between socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic background and the achievement gap. However, your comment suggests that this is the parents' fault and that they don't care about their child's education. If that's not what you meant, please correct me. I strongly believe that all parents have the best intentions for their kids and want them to succeed. Sometimes, they don't always have the resources and support they need to ensure that happens- and that's where schools can play a pivotal role. If someone's children are at the low-end of the achievement gap, then OF COURSE they care about that achievement gap- because their children are suffering as a result! And, for parents whose children are on the high end of the achievement gap (as I was and my daughter and nieces and nephews are), I think many of us care deeply that this inequality must change- and there is much work that can and needs to be done at the school level.

Kei:  Jenny...As for the assumption that all parents care: hmm... The one year that I taught at a school in East Oakland, for Open House I had just four parents even bother to show up (in a 28-student classroom). It could be they had jobs; it could be they were otherwise occupied; but to me it did seem indicative. That entire year, I had just one parent insist that keep her informed about her daughter's progress.
As I said, I was not a good teacher-- I was simultaneously a first-year and last-year teacher-- and it's possible they felt it was not worth the trouble. But it did make me wonder.
I do believe that if parents truly care and SHOW that education is a value, rather than an 'add-on' to a lifestyle, then their kids will absorb this as a value, and will then be serious themselves about their education.

Jenny at Berkeley Schools Report: Kei, I appreciate that you recognize your limited perspective from having only taught for 1 year. I think we have to be very careful about the assumptions we make - and we'll get much further if we operate with asset-based thinking. Let's consider WHY parents might not be more involved in school- you mention work, which is huge (many people work several jobs, including night shifts and can't make it to open houses), language barriers (not all schools translate memos home to multiple languages), prior experiences with school that could leave parents not feeling welcome or respected...the list goes on and on. I think we're doing a major disservice to our students and communities if we assume that just because parents aren't present that means they don't care. We'll make much greater headway if we're able to reach out, forge relationships and work together on what we ALL care about- which is ensuring that all students receive an excellent education.

I welcome any comments below or emailed to me at 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BUSD Superintendent Search

One of the BUSD school board's most pressing responsibilities this year is to find a strong superintendent for our district. We need an instructional leader who can bring our community together, build on the progress that's been made and make rapid progress to closing the achievement gap and reaching our 2020 vision.

Judy Appel 
Judy Appel, the newest member to be elected to our school board, is the Executive Director of Our Family Coalition, which "promotes the equality and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families with children."

In their Fall 2012 newsletter, the Director's note addressed the recent final candidate for Berkeley's superintendent, Dr. Edmond Heatley, who subsequently withdrew his application after an uproar from the Berkeley community.  When serving as the Superintendent of Chino Valley School District, Dr. Heatley issued a memo in favor of Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative which provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized in California. 

Here is an excerpt from Judy (emphasis is mine):
"(The memo) goes on to state that 'the ideal learning environment for children is within a nurturing home governed jointly by a mother and a father.' It also states that the defeat of Prop. 8 would force schools to 'inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum' in response to a redefinition of marriage. These arguments were based on and promoted fear and anti-gay bias. Someone with these values should not lead the schools where our children learn." 

Fortunately, we've moved past Heatley.  There are many things for the board to consider in the superintendent search- not least of which is finding a strong leader who will represent all families in Berkeley so that EVERY child can achieve an excellent education.  While the board will work together to do just that, it is also our responsibility as members of the community to be involved and make sure our voices are heard. 

Here are two ways in which you can be involved in the superintendent search:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Supporting Berkeley Education for Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is a refreshing change from Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. When I read Bill Gates' description of Giving Tuesday, I felt energized and grateful.

Here are my three choices for donations for Giving Tuesday:
  1. Writer Coach Connection (WCC): I started volunteering with WCC this fall. I've had the privilege of working directly with two eighth grade students at King Middle School, who regularly amaze and inspire me with their ideas, reflections and powerful voices.  WCC places trained writing coaches in middle and high schools in Berkeley (at Berkeley High School, King Middle School, Longfellow Middle School and Willard Middle School), Oakland, Richmond, Albany and El Cerrito.   Learn more in this video produced by students at Media College Prep High School in Oakland:
"Writer Coach Connection helps address the achievement gap. By serving every student in a given classroom, the Writer Coach Connection helps eliminate the stigma associated with remedial programs and gives the struggling writers who might otherwise fall through the cracks much needed, individualized help." 

2. Berkeley Public Education Foundation (BPEF):

This fall, I've also had the opportunity to volunteer in the High Fives program at Washington Elementary. I was incredibly impressed with the organization and efficiency of the BPEF School Volunteers program to get many dedicated volunteers into all Berkeley public schools.

"BPEF is proud to be the sole organization operating in every Berkeley public school as a catalyst for innovation and student success.  We do this through grants, volunteerism, and advocacy, linking our schools to one another, and to the community."

Here's an overview of the difference that BPEF is making for Berkeley Schools:

3.  Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS): BOSS helps homeless families and individuals move out of homelessness in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward. Many of the students in Berkeley public schools are homeless and require services from programs like BOSS to help them overcome the adversity they face on a daily basis.

"The BOSS Children's Learning Center (CLC) is a specialized after-school program located on-site at Ursula Sherman Village in West Berkeley. It provides daily after-school services and a nurturing place for the homeless children who live there, most of whom have experienced homelessness, domestic violence, family substance abuse, and other crises. On-site services include daily help with homework, one-on-one tutoring by staff and community volunteers, access to computers, books, and school supplies, educational games, arts and music activities, sports and outdoor play, nutritious meals and snacks, family activities, and more."

 Here's an overview of the BOSS Village Program in West Berkeley (you can hear from some children in the Children's Learning Center at 3 minutes in)

To which programs are you donating on this Giving Tuesday? Please share in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Won't Back Down: A look at Parent Trigger Laws

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I saw the movie Won't Back Down, based on the actual events of two mothers, one a teacher, who fight to take over their failing school.

Here's the trailer for the film:

The plot is based on Parent Trigger Laws, which exist in a handful of states, including California, in which parents can transform failing public schools.

Here's a quick overview of Parent Trigger Laws in California (from the National Conference of State Legislatures): 
  • Qualifying Schools: Must have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for 3 consecutive years and been in 'corrective action' status under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for at least one year
  • % Signature Required: At least 50% of parents parents either with children enrolled in the targeted school or with children in lower grades that matriculate into the school
  • Intervention options include:
    • replace all staff and faculty relevant to low-performance
    • convert to a charter schools
    • close the school  
There's no question that the movie is one-sided and it has understandably been accused of union-bashing. Here are two contrasting opinions about Parent Trigger Laws from US News:
  •  Michelle Rhee, CEO of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools: Communities Need Parent Trigger Laws 
    • "Far too often, chronically failing schools—the ones that are subject to parent-trigger laws—serve poor and minority communities. These schools, if left unchanged, will perpetuate achievement gaps between minority students and their wealthier, white peers. No child should have to attend such a school, and as concerned citizens we have a special responsibility to close the unconscionably large learning gaps in our country. Poverty can present huge challenges in our schools—I've seen this firsthand—but with the right supports in place, all children can learn at high levels."
  • Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers: Parent Trigger Laws a False Choice
    • "Real parent engagement means establishing meaningful ways for parents to be partners in their children's public education from the beginning—not just when a school is failing. The goal should be to never let a school get to that point. Unfortunately, that's where many of the parent-trigger proposals start, offering parents a false choice: You can either live with a low-performing school or take dramatic, disruptive action to shut a school down."

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Paul Tough helped me appreciate Berkeley (even more)

I feel as proud as ever to be a resident of Berkeley. This morning, I had the privilege of hearing PaulTough speak, the author of How ChildrenSucceed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.  Leaving the talk, there are a few reflections that remind me how fortunate I am to live in a community that’s as committed to education as Berkeley.

2020 vision:

Tough’s book takes a look at character traits that research has shown have a direct impact on a person’s ability to succeed in life.  (And by success, he means having a rich, meaningful, happy, productive life for the long-term). These character traits include optimism, gratitude, self-control, curiosity, and grit. The beauty of Tough’s book is that he illustrates that these characteristics are learned traits, which one can develop over time, regardless of the barriers in their path, such as growing up in poverty.  This research supports what I deeply believe: that ALL individuals have the potential to succeed in life, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, their socio-economic status or the educational attainment of the people in their family.

Many leaders in Berkeley believe that this is true- as is demonstrated through the creation and implementation of our 2020 vision.  Our community has come together, committed to erasing race-based predictability of student achievement. The city of Berkeley, BUSD, UC Berkeley and community partners are all working together to close the achievement gap in BUSD by 2020. To many, it’s a daunting task. But, it must be done. And we are so fortunate to have leaders at every sector of our community fighting to make sure:

“That all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, and income, who enter Berkeley Schools beginning in 2007 (and remain in the district) will achieve equitable outcomes with no proficiency differences by the time they graduate in June, 2020; and that all children born in Berkeley in 2007 and beyond, receive a healthy start and are equally ready to learn and succeed in Berkeley Public Schools.”

You can read more about the 2020 vision and Berkeley Alliance.

Diversity: When Tough signed my book after his talk, I asked him what districts or schools he’s familiar with that have a similar achievement gap to BUSD and if there are any success models he would recommend we learn from. He gave me a few names, but he also said that in general, American schools are so segregated that we often don’t have diverse schools. Instead, we tend to have schools that are high performing, high income, with predominantly white students and another subset of schools that are lower performing, lower income, with predominately students of color. This certainly isn’t always the case, but it reminded me how fortunate I feel to live in a community that IS diverse- racially, socio-economically, and religiously (to name a few).  Simply being diverse doesn’t mean we’re meeting the needs of all of our students, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Public Enrollment by race/ethnicity, 2011, for BUSD: 
 Source: BUSD Information sheet found here

Source: Kidsdata

Local support for our schools:
Tough closed his talk with the following remarks about the important role that we can all play. Here, he is referring to a student from his book, Kewauna, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago , who was involved with gangs and drugs and on the verge of failing out of school when she turned her life around, earned straight As and went on to college (where she is today): 

“So I hope in the end that this research doesn’t make us complacent. I hope it makes us want to help. You know, when I meet kids like her, who grew up in poverty and went on to success, they all share two things. One is character. They all have lots and lots of grit, perseverance, and resilience. But the other is that they all share the phenomenon of having received significant amounts of help. Help at some point in their lives. Often a family member, often a teacher, but not always, sometimes a mentor, a hairdresser, a coach, a neighbor. So, I think that gives us a way to think about our own role in the lives of kids like Kewauna. There’s lots of help that we can give them.  There’s help we can give in terms of policy, by talking to our leaders about ways to develop systems that would give kids growing up in circumstances like hers a better opportunity to succeed. There’s the help we can give by supporting organizations that are working with kids like her, to help them. And then there’s also the help that we can give one-on-one. It’s really striking to me how often, when I hear those stories, the kids who have made it out of poverty, what they describe as being the turning point was this one connection they had with one adult. And often it was a teacher or family member, but not always.  Often, it is just someone they encounter and so that someone then can be us.

“I think these often feel like two very different conversations. It’s the conversation about our own kids and the conversation about the kids across town. But I think the messaging in this book is that these two conversations should be and really are one conversation. That kids need the same thing, whether they’re growing up in Pacific Heights or Bayview Hunters Point. They need love. They need support. They need connection. And then they need just a little bit of adversity. “

We can't have an “us vs. them” mentality when approaching the challenge of closing the achievement gap in Berkeley. It is imperative that change comes from within and that everyone is fighting for the same destination- to provide ALL of our children with an extraordinary education.  But the crux of what Tough is saying is just that- we all have a role to play. Berkeley residents are already doing so much- from consistently voting for local taxes that support our school district, such as the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP), which has been in place since 1986 and the Facilities Bonds (2002 and 2010) and the Maintenance Parcel Tax (2010) to volunteering in schools through the Berkeley Public Education Foundation.  You can learn more about howto get involved here.

Thank you, Berkeley. Let’s keep the momentum going.