Berkeley School Board Candidate Statements, Karen Hemphill

Tuesday October 19, 2004

I have seen firsthand that while the current board is well intentioned—the board has not been able to engage our community in the open, inclusive, and interest-based dialogue necessary to address student achievement from kindergarten through grade 12 in a comprehensive, effective and sustainable way. After more than ten years, the district has yet to develop a district-wide student achievement plan that addresses students at every academic level and need. Over the years, school communities have been forced to develop plans on their own, without clear district guidelines, data-driven research, training on how to develop adequate plans, or set evaluation standards, which has resulted in a piecemeal, hit or miss approach in addressing the success of our schools and students. 

And the result is staggering, despite the incumbent’s public statements that “progress is being made”—an increasing number of our elementary schools, all of our middle schools, and the Alternative High School are failing federal education standards and last year many schools and specific student communities did not advance in state-based standards. Last year 25-40 percent of Berkeley High students taking core classes needed for college admission were in danger of failing by the end of the first semester and only 66 percent of African American students passed the high school exit exam by the end of the year. Special education, vocational and alternative education, and programs for academically gifted students have been ignored. And, the board has been absolutely unable to deal with the “elephant in the room” which is that the district is failing African American children (30 percent of the district’s students) and that many African American families become disillusioned, disconnected, and feel disenfranchised from the district. 

The role of the School Board in developing a district-wide student achievement plan must be to lead and facilitate the school community as well as the university, community colleges, city, non-profit and the wider Berkeley community in a unified, not divisive process that can tackle the complex and sensitive issues that must be addressed to achieve academic excellence for all students. This requires board members that have or can forge relationships with Berkeley’s many diverse communities and interest groups—within and without the School District—something the incumbents have not done well, especially when it comes to communities of color. The plan must develop initiatives for core subjects, set guidelines for individual school sites to develop specific achievement plans, focus on academic excellence—for students at all academic levels—from struggling students to those ready to achieve at the highest levels, include participation in the arts and athletics as a way of developing student self-esteem, discipline, and joy of learning, and stress the importance of home-school partnerships. 

I am an African American parent of two sons in Berkeley public schools and am a graduate of public schools, Brown University, and U.C. Berkeley. I have been actively involved in the School District for over eight years both at the school site and district-wide levels. I have served on the Washington Elementary School Site Council and African American Unity Council, the Longfellow Middle School Governance Council and Extended Day Program Committee and the District-wide Berkeley School Excellence Program Planning and Oversight and District Advisory Committees. In addition, I have successfully written school grants for teacher training, literacy and garden programs and I am an active member of the PTA. I work as the assistant to the Emeryville City Manager and serve as city clerk, which has provided me with extensive experience in budget, policymaking, organization skills, staff development, facilitating community-based planning efforts and interest based negotiations. And as part of my job, I have been responsible for securing millions of dollars in outside private and public funds and work with various public agencies as well as the business community. Through my position in Emeryville and as a former Berkeley City Council aide, I also have established relationships with our city, county, state and federal elected representatives. All of these experiences, relationships and expertise will greatly aid my ability to be a leader as a School Board Director, if elected and will help the district to successful partner with outside agencies and organizations to bring in needed outside resources available to help our children succeed. 

Please join Congresswoman Barbara Lee, many local and regional elected officials, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, National Women’s Political Caucus: N.A., the Alameda County Democratic Party, former School Board member Pedro Noguera and a host of parents, community/political organizations and neighborhood leaders who believe in my skills and abilities. For more information and a full list of my endorsers, please view my website at www.karenhemphill.home.comcast. 

net or call 467-3049. Thank you. 

—Karen Hemphill