Public Comment

School District Poised at a Time of Opportunity

By John Selawsky
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 10:10:00 AM

Berkeley Unified School District has renewed its efforts to address the achievement gap in our public schools. With City of Berkeley, community, and Alliance (a partnership of UC, the City of Berkeley, and BUSD) support, the district is in the early stages of drafting a proposal that will go to the school board before our summer break, and pending the result at the school board go to the City Council for their feedback and consideration. 

There are many aspects of our achievement gap that have been vexing and frustrating for many in our community, much of our staff, and the board. We have put structures and systems in place that have attempted to address many of the issues that are factors in the achievement gap, such as reading recovery and more focused language/arts instruction in our elementary schools, universal breakfast, a realignment of resources and energies in our special education program, bringing small learning communities (small schools) and the International Baccalaureate program to Berkeley High School, mentoring/tutoring opportunities for our middle and high school students, improving attendance and truancy systems in our schools, developing school safety plans, the Y Scholars, improving data gathering and assessment, strengthening our school library program, and discussions about focusing our professional development, for both teachers and principals, around best practices and successful instructional practices. These are only some of the many programs we have put in place to address the needs of all our students, at all levels, in our Berkeley public schools. There are many areas where improvement is needed, or we have only begun to scratch the surface, and I would be the first to admit and acknowledge these areas. However, much work and collective energy has gone into this issue, and every Boardmember has placed it high on our list of priorities. 

We are actually poised at a time of opportunity. The budget and systems problems of my first few years on the board are largely (knock on wood) behind us. The board hired William Huyett as the district’s Superintendent, with the explicit goal of addressing the achievement gap, of picking up where recently retired Superintendent Lawrence left off. Superintendent Huyett comes to Berkeley with a track record of success in his former districts. We have a new data assessment department, admittedly new and still “under construction,” that is a key to instructional and curricula improvements. We have a board and a community committed to tackling the achievement of all our students in a concerted, long-term effort, and partners that will support us. We are galvanizing the will that will get us the results we want. I believe we will see improvements in many areas. 

None of this will be easy, or come about in a short period of time. We will have to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our programs and practices, we will have to align curriculum and instructional practices and staff development, the board will consider aligning the district’s Mission Statement and goals and objectives with this refocused initiative. At the 2 x 2 meeting last week (the Mayor and Councilmembers with two School boardmembers, Nancy Riddle and myself), there was general consensus and positive energy about moving forward, together, to build capacity, systems, and structures that will help us address the achievement gap. I pledge my support of that effort, and my continued involvement. 

Please contact me at if you have comments or suggestions. Please support your school boardmembers and your city government in this unified endeavor. Also please consider making a donation (part or your entire “economic stimulus” check from the IRS?) to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, another essential partner with the district. You can call the BPEF at 644-6244 or go to their website at for information about tax-deductible donations. 


John Selawsky is president of the school board.