2007 in the Berkeley Unified School District

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday December 28, 2007

2007, a year of many good-byes for the Berkeley Unified School District, ended with one notable welcome: the hiring of a new superintendent who is expected to take over the helm in Feburary. 


The Queen of Berkeley 

Denise Brown, teacher, dean and mother to students at Berkeley High, passed away on Feb. 2 from complications during knee surgery, leaving the entire district stunned and grieving. Students wore purple—Brown’s favorite color—to school for weeks and created a mural in the administrative building to remember her bright smile and warm hugs. 

Perhaps best remembered for scripting original plays such as “Vegetable Coup” and “The Biz” during her years as kindergarten teacher at LeConte Elementary School, Brown later became vice principal and dean of discipline at Berkeley High, where she was known as the “Queen of Berkeley” to many. 

She leaves behind two children, Justin, who recently graduated from the University of Oregon, and Sarah, who is pursuing a career in ance in New York. 


Coach Nak retires from Berkeley High 

Donahue Gym will never be the same again. When Coach Gene “Nak” Nakamura, who had coached the Berkeley High girls’ basketball team for the last 25 years, retired on Feb. 16, hundreds turned up to applaud the man who had led the high school to victory in the First Division state championship twice and the First Division Northern California championship seven times. 

An alumnus of the Berkeley High School Class of ’62, Nakamura dedicated 37 years of his life as a teacher and an administrator in the Berkeley Unified School District. 

He was named the 1997 NCS Honor Coach and 2006 BUSD educator of the year and has a record of 550 career wins. 

Occasionally, Coach Nak can still be spotted dunking the ball with his team at the basketball court. 


BUSD sued over warm water pool EIR 

Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources sued the Berkeley Unified School District in March for an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the Old Gym and its warm water pool in the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence informed city officials at a meeting in mid-December that the district was still fighting the lawsuit. 

The gym—recently landmarked by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission—is scheduled to be demolished in the summer of 2010. 

The warm pool is a lifeline for hundreds of seniors, disabled adults and students, as well as athletes recovering from sports injuries and rehabilitation patients who use the pool for physical therapy. 

The City of Berkeley has proposed relocating the warm water pool to the high school’s Milvia Street site, scheduled for completion in 2010. Architects have estimated the cost of a new warm water pool to be around $15 million, which the city hopes to raise with the help of a proposed bond measure next Novemeber. 


Sixth grade eliminated from  

Berkeley Arts Magnet 

Parents and students bade farewell to the sixth grade at Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) in March. The only elementary school in the district to offer the option of sixth grade to its students, BAM sought to provide a smoother transition to students specializing in the arts. 

District officials reported that the number of students requesting the sixth grade had fallen from 43 to 12 percent in 2007. 


Emerson, Jefferson Schools turn 100 

Emerson and Jefferson elementary schools celebrated their 100th year in May. The two schools were born in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. 

Jefferson principal Betty Delaney, who has been at the school for the past 12 years, retired in June, leaving behind a strong legacy and fond memories.  

Emerson, which started as ten rooms built on the corner of Piedmont and Forest avenues, has now become a full-fledged school with classrooms, offices, an auditorium and a playground as well as a very committed PTA and a strong academic program. 


Athletic Hall of Fame unveiled at  

Berkeley High 

Berkeley High School alums who went on to excel in sports in the last century were honored at the opening of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in June. This sports hall of fame is distinct from the already existing Berkeley High Hall of Fame, which recognizes alumni who have excelled in all fields. 

The reception at the Donahue Gym inducted Billy Martin (baseball), Glenn Burke (baseball, football and basketball), Steve Odom (football), Hannibal Navies (football and track and field), John Lambert (basketball) and 41 others who will have their names, graduation year, and varsity sports played displayed on banners in the Donahue Gym. 

“We were such a classy team,” reminisced Doug Kagawa, a 1968 graduate who helped the school win the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League and the Tournament of Champions in the late ’60s. “When we walked onto the basketball court, we already had a lead over the other teams ... There was none of that on-court bickering or bragging. Our game did all the talking for us.” 

The youngest inductee—Anthony Lee Franklin—is a 2001 Berkeley High graduate who played baseball, football and basketball in high school. Diagnosed with leukemia at 13, Franklin’s story made headlines when San Francisco Giants left-fielder Barry Bonds visited him at the Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Bonds and Franklin campaigned to raise awareness of bone-marrow donation. Franklin died last year. 


BUSD wins discrimination lawsuit 

The district emerged victorious in American Civil Rights Foundation vs. Berkeley Unified School District in April. 

The lawsuit, filed by Sacramento based Pacific Legal Foundation in October 2006, charged the district with violating California’s Proposition 209 by racially discriminating among students during placements at elementary schools and at programs at Berkeley High. 

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the district’s integration system was fair and legal. 

“I hope Pacific Legal Foundation will now leave Berkeley alone,” Superintendent Lawrence told the Planet in an interview in May. 

A provision of the California Constitution, Proposition 209 was enacted by California voters in 1996 and “prohibits discrimination or preferences based on race or sex in public education, employment, and contracting.” 

Although a recent U.S. Supreme Court hearing limiting the consideration of race in school integration plans poses a new challenge for Berkeley Unified, district officials continue to defend the assignment system and have called it a model for other schools. 


The murder of Canon Christian Jones II  

Berkeley High alum Canon Jones, an 18-year-old Tuskegee University freshman, had planned to spend the summer with his family in Pinole starting as a volunteer with the Berkeley Boosters. Instead, he was robbed, beaten and shot to death outside his college campus in Tuskegee on the night of April 29. 

An interdistrict transfer to the Berkeley public schools at the age of 10, Canon’s death sent shock waves through the Richmond and Berkeley communities where he had grown up. 

An active member of the Youth Director Council and the Police Activity League Berkeley Boosters, Canon left behind a legacy of social service in Berkeley.  


Berkeley High and military recruiters 

Under threat of losing millions of dollars in federal funds, Berkeley High School administrators informed students in May about a change in board policy that required all juniors and seniors who do not want their names and addresses released to the U.S. military for recruitment purposes to sign an “opt-out” form. 

Prior to this, Berkeley High had simply handed over names and addresses of only the students who had “opted in” or wanted to receive information from recruiters. 

According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school districts must provide the military with the names and addresses of all juniors and seniors for recruiting purposes unless there is a signed letter from the parents or the student indicating that they are “opting out” and do not want information released. 

Berkeley High was the last high school in the country to acquiesce to this policy. 


Washington Elementary tries going solar 

Long debates at school board meetings about turning Washington Elementary School solar resulted in an agreement with Kyoto USA to carry out the design work for the proposed project in May. 

Estimated to cost $1.25 million, the HELiOS project—which proposes to put photovoltaic cells on the roof of Washington Elementary—is expected to cover 100 percent of the main building’s electricity needs. If the plan works, Washington will become the first school in the district to turn solar.  


Emerson mourns the death of Amir Hassan 

Friends of Amir Hassan turned the Emerson Elementary School library into a memorial for him after the fourth-grader was found dead inside his Shattuck Avenue apartment in October. 

As the trial to determine whether Amir’s mother was responsible for his death goes on, the school continues to mourn the loss of the 8-year-old boy. 


Berkeley High API scores 

Some Berkeley school board members expressed concern that Berkeley High School (BHS) did not meet the benchmark for the 2007 Academic Performance Index (API) scores. 

Berkeley Unified School District’s API for 2006-07 was 747, five points less than the previous year. Ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000, the API reflects a school’s or district’s performance level based on the results of statewide testing. The statewide API performance level goal for all schools is 800. 

This year’s performance index was based on scores from 6,017 students, a participation rate of approximately 97 percent for elementary and middle schools and 84 percent for high school students. 

School officials said Berkeley High’s California standardized testing participation rates had decreased in 2006-07 in spite of efforts to increase student participation. 


Berkeley High Historic District nominated to National Register  

The State Historical Resources Commission unanimously approved the nomination for the Berkeley High School campus to be listed on the National Register as a historic district in November. 

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote to nominate the campus to the National Register earlier this month was tempered with the acknowledgment that the old gym on the campus, itself the subject of a landmarking battle and now slated by the Berkeley Unified School District for demolition, had been neglected and altered, and that a number of non-historic structures occupy the southern part of the campus. 

Located on four consolidated city blocks in downtown Berkeley, Berkeley High was the first high school in California to be built according to a campus plan and is the only collection of school buildings in Berkeley which comprises different architectural styles of early 20th-century school designs. 

In the event that the campus is nationally landmarked, the school district can still go ahead with the demolition. 

Marie Bowman, a member of Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources, the group responsible for writing the historic district nomination, said that the school district had sent a letter asking the state to exclude the old gym since it lacked the integrity needed to belong in the historic district. 

“I am proud that it’s finally happened after all this time,” she said. “The school district had the chance to work with the community to preserve the building, but they didn’t. Hopefully, they will have more respect for the community now.” 


BUSD picks a new superintendent 

The district embarked on a process to select a new superintendent after superintendent Michele Lawrence announced her retirement in September effective Feb. 1 

“Even though I have a deep and abiding role for public education, my role as superintendent, with the long hours and time commitment, have afforded me little time for myself,” Lawrence, 60, said. “So, while I am still young and healthy enough, I want to explore other life interests.” 

Reactions to Lawrence’s departure were mixed. Her critics have often painted her as unresponsive and elusive while her supporters continue to praise her for her determination and high standards. 

After taking over a troubled school district from former superintendent Jack McLaughlin in 2001, Lawrence spent four of her six years as district superintendent trying to balance the district’s staggering budget deficit. 

She leaves behind a legacy of stronger facilities and academic programs and an attempt to defend the BUSD student assignment and integration plan. 

As 2007 drew to a close, the school board hired Bill Huyett, superintendent of the Lodi Unified School District, as the new Berkeley school superintendent to replace Lawrence when she retires on Feb. 1.