Rosa Parks Elementary School Principal Rebecca Wheat says that over three decades as an educator in Berkeley have simply sailed by.
“It doesn’t really seem possible I’ve been doing it that long,” she said.
After 32 years as an teacher, principal and director of the early childhood education program for the Berkeley Unified School District, Wheat is retiring. She says that commitment to literacy and the embracing of diversity by the community has been her secret to longevity.
“I consider it very exciting to work in a district like the BUSD that really does appreciate diversity,” she said. “The community is always trying to make things better.”
She began her career with the district as a substitute in 1968 when she was an undergrad at UC Berkeley.
She went on to get her Master’s in Early Childhood Education and her doctorate in Educational Psychology from UC Berkeley before becoming a first and second grade teacher at LeConte Elementary School.
In 1985, she became the principal at Arts Magnet Elementary School where she served for five years. She then took over as head of the district’s Early Education Program.
In the fall of 1997, she was asked to head Columbus Elementary School, which was re-built in 1997 with school bond funds. The name was changed to Rosa Parks Elementary in March.
Because of her extensive work in early childhood education, she was a natural selection for the school that was chosen to offer a medley of before and after school programs.
“She was my choice,” said Superintendent Jack McLaughlin. “She has a great skill in bringing people together. She was involved from the very beginning and helped in getting the school up and running.”
Under Wheat’s guidance, Rosa Parks now offers child care, and offers specialty classes in science adventure and puppetry. And the school has a Title 7 grant to support Spanish language classes.
It also has a social service component that includes individual and family counseling, dental care and health referrals for the students. “School starts at 7:30 a.m. and goes to 6 p.m.,” she said. “It’s really an exciting school, I’ve been very fortunate.” Wheat is going back to early childhood education at the collegiate level. She’s going to
teach part -time at San
“Being a principal is very tough,” she said. “But it’s also very rewarding.”
During her career she said that she’s been focused on early childhood education, especially in getting children to read at an early age.
“The taxpayers in Berkeley are great. The community has made a strong commitment to literacy,” she said. “It’s a wonderful investment. If you can teach a child to read early on... the better their education will be.”
She said that the district’s early childhood program that she headed begins teaching children to read before they are three years old.
She said she’ll miss the children, her colleagues and the families that she’s worked with.
“But there’s a lot I won’t miss,” she said. “I live in the community so I still get a chance to see the kids and families around the neighborhood.”
Ever the educator, she
was at the school
morning.“Oh I’ve just come in to help get set up,” she said. “There are a few things that just can’t wait.”