Page One

Maio seeks diverse Ed. Board

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Friday May 17, 2002

City Councilmember Linda Maio waded into school politics last week, moderating a meeting of high-powered activists — predominately African-American and Latino — intent on fielding more minority candidates for the November Board of Education race. 

“It was designed to be a starting point for a more diverse board,” Maio said. “If (the board) reflects the community, then what you bring to the table is a first-hand account of what the issues are for the community.” 

The meeting, held at the Emergency Operations Center at Cedar and Ninth streets, took place May 8 as the school board convened its bi-weekly meeting across town. 

The gathering drew about 25 activists, including representatives from the Parents of Children of African Descent, or PCAD, and Latinos Unidos. UC Berkeley researchers who studied issues of racial identity and performance at Berkeley High School in the late-90s through the Diversity Project also attended the meeting. 

Michael Miller, a member of PCAD, said the group agreed that the school system is not adequately educating African-American and Latino youth. 

“It’s no secret that the (high) school and the district are not serving all students,” he said. 

Irma Parker, PCAD member and coordinator of the high school’s Parent Resource Center, said the group wants to find candidates who are commited to closing the “achievement gap” separating white and Asian-American students from African-Americans and Latinos. 

“We’d like to see people of color,” she said, discussing the group’s candidate preferences. “A lot of the concerns of African-American and Latino parents, they’re not the concerns of white parents.” 

But Parker made it clear that the group would be open to white candidates who share a passion for “educational equity.” 

Parker said the group discussed several potential candidates, including some of the people present at the meeting, but did not get any commitments to run. 

Parker said the group will meet with two African-American candidates who have already declared, BHS student Sean Dugar and African-American Studies department chair and discipline dean Robert McKnight, at a May 23 meeting. 

PCAD has been a major voice in the movement to divide Berkeley High School into a series of compact, themed schools, in part to address the achievement gap. Some PCAD members have expressed reservations about McKnight’s candidacy, given his acknowledged support for small schools. 

But Miller said he is open to McKnight’s candidacy. 

“He seems like a very wise individual to me,” Miller said, arguing that McKnight has deep roots in the community and a solid knowledge of the school system.  

Miller said he hopes to speak with McKnight to get a better understanding for his positions on specific issues like small schools. 

Parker said she would be willing to meet with candidates other than McKnight and Dugar. Incumbents Shirley Issel and Terry Doran, and community activists Derick Miller and Nancy Riddle have also declared. Nutrition activist Joy Moore has expressed interest in running. Three slots on the five-member board are up for election in November. 

Maio said her involvement in school politics is appropriate. 

“I think the Council has to be involved,” she said, noting that the city funds several programs in the schools and that her constituents often contact her about school issues. 

Issel and Doran said they have no objection to Maio’s participation. 

“If this group wanted her help, then it seems considerate of her to provide it,” Issel said. “She’s just doing her job for her constituents and her city and the people who live in it.” 

Both incumbents said they agree with the group’s goal of diversifying the board. 

“If the board reflects the racial composition of your community, it has greater credibility,” Doran said. “It may provide avenues for greater communication between the diverse communities we have in Berkeley.” 

Maio said the group, as yet unnamed, agreed on several goals during the meeting, including: a diverse board, diverse schools, higher quality education, and full accreditation for the high school by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a regional accrediting group which has threatened to remove its seal of approval if BHS does not improve in 11 problem areas. 

Maio said she was pleased to use her office to get the group started, and will remain active, but has handed facilitation duties for the next meeting to Miller. 

Parker was reluctant to name individuals who attended the May 8 meeting, but said the group was composed of “distinguished” people. 

“This will become a very powerful group,” she said.