Celebrating public education: BPEF raises $25,000 at annual lunch

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday May 11, 2002

Donors stuffed envelopes with a record $25,000 for the Berkeley Public Education Foundation Friday afternoon at the organization’s 16th Annual Spring Luncheon.  

The foundation, which poured almost $700,000 and 46,000 hours of volunteer time into the Berkeley schools last year, collected over $100,000 prior to the event in ticket sales, sponsorships and in-kind donations for the lunch. 

The event, held at H’s Lordship’s Restaurant at the Berkeley Marina, drew dozens of business leaders, school officials, city officials and parent activists. 

“This was a wonderful event,” said Mary Friedman, executive director of the foundation. “It’s an opportunity for people from many different parts of the community...to really come together and re-dedicate themselves to a strong public school system and a just society.” 

The foundation offered three awards during the event, including a “distinguished educator” award for Carol Olson, who has taught in the Berkeley schools for 33 years. 

“Carol Olson has sustained my family’s hope in the education system,” said Kate Ulansky, a former Olson student, during introductory remarks. 

Ulansky praised Olson for aggressively pushing her students to succeed. 

“Mrs. Olson was Al Capone and I was one of her lieutenants,” Ulansky said, drawing laughs from the crowd. 

“I don’t know if it could get any better than this,” said Olson, who will retire at the end of the year.  

“I’ve survived nine superintendents and 11 site administrators...Apparently, however, there haven’t been enough business managers or financial geniuses around,” she joked, making reference to the district’s financial woes. 

Olson, who has made use of numerous Education Fund grants throughout her career, was quick to put in a word for the foundation. 

“In today’s test-driven society...it’s this group that stands out, saying, ‘go ahead – dream, teach,’” she said. 

Every year, the foundation doles out dozens of grants to Berkeley teachers for special projects, sponsors specialized fundraising campaigns initiated by community groups, teachers or the foundation itself, and orchestrates the Berkeley School Volunteers program. 

The foundation also honored a group of Fourth Street merchants Friday for organizing an annual event to benefit the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble. That event, a fair including live music, will take place May 19 on Fourth Street from noon to 5 p.m. this year. 

Six students in the BHS Jazz Ensemble, part of a larger group called the San Francisco All-Star Band, set out Friday for a national high school competition in New York City focused on Duke Ellington’s music. 

The band was one of 15 chosen from 149 entries to participate in the “Essentially Ellington” contest at the Lincoln Center. The groups will compete for $11,000 in prizes for school jazz programs. 

The foundation also honored the Hills Project, an arts program that targets at-risk youth. The program, which began in San Francisco, expanded to Malcolm X Elementary School and Longfellow Middle School four years ago.