Berkeley Unified School District board outlines educational priorities for school year

Originally published on October 7, 2016 for The Daily Californian

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education reviewed the district’s priorities on professional development and the curriculum for the current academic year Wednesday night.

After about two hours of public comment regarding the administrative leave of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca, the board recessed for closed session until the protesting crowd subsided. The board then returned to open session to review the district priorities of the school year of 2016-17.

“While members of the public are welcome to address any BUSD-related topic during public comment sessions, confidentiality rules and California law generally prevent Board members from discussing personnel issues in open session,” said Superintendent Donald Evans and Board of Education President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler in a statement regarding Felarca’s administrative leave.

Evans presented the results from implementing academic goals last year with a team focused on developing, coordinating and arranging all the professional development for teachers throughout the district.

“We saw tremendous amount of growth, more growth than we’ve seen in the past,” Evans said in his presentation. “I attribute all of this to the fidelity to the curriculum.”

One area of focus was professional development. Last year the school board emphasized focus on Professional Learning Communities programs, in which teachers reflect on their teaching methods, look at data and discuss students’ progress.

According to Evans, one of the overarching themes that was important to the board was the elimination of “racial predictability of students.” As described in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, the board hopes to end racial predictability in academic achievement “by ensuring that all systems are culturally and linguistically responsive to the needs of our students.”

During his presentation, Evans said African American students have made “double-digit” growth in academic achievement, and the district was able to make strides in efforts to hire more teachers of color through the Anti-Racist Task Force, which was established last year. The task force also looks at whether there is a disproportionality in suspensions based on race.

“I think that (district priorities) really demonstrate the district’s commitment to equity,” said school board member Karen Hemphill. “And to bridging the opportunity gap as well as continued improvement in terms of teaching through the professional development.”

Hemphill asked many questions to Evans’ team after they presented the new curriculum and goals, interested particularly in ways to motivate students of color to not only meet minimum standards but also to excel in school.

“The call isn’t for minimum standards,” Hemphill said during the meeting. “The call is for students to have the opportunities to excel.”

During the meeting, district Instructional Technology Coordinator Allison Krasnow discussed integrating the use of technology into the classroom as a main part of professional development efforts.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve really made a concerted effort to equalize the opportunity for all students, in terms of their access to technology in schools and in terms of their ability to be taught to use technology to deepen their learning,” Krasnow said.

The new academic year’s priorities are framed around the district’s three LCAP goals. Aside from ending racial predictability, the district aims for classroom instruction that promotes college and career readiness. The last goal is to ensure a “safe, welcoming and inclusive climates for all students and their families.”

“When I came on the board 10 years ago … there was no talk of equity and no understanding of being systematic about making sure that every student is having opportunity, looking at teacher practice as well as institutional barriers,” Hemphill said. “Now I see that throughout all the priority areas.”

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