BUSD Aims for Education Equity with ‘2020 Vision’

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 19, 2008 - 09:44:00 AM

The Berkeley Board of Education, looking for ways to close the achievement gap in the city’s public schools, approved a resolution last week to affirm the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth, which aims to remove barriers to educational equity for African Americans and Latinos by 2020. 

More than 30 community activists, educators and community members joined school board members, Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett and Mayor Tom Bates to embark upon a “total community approach” to eliminate racial and ethnic inequalities in educational achievement. 

It takes more than schools to close the achievement gap, the mayor said, and he urged the community to support the resolution which binds the district, the city, the multi-cultural coalition United in Action, and other community members into a partnership for the effort. 

During the district’s search for a new superintendent last year, the community pressed the school board to select someone dedicated to the cause of closing the achievement gap. 

“When I interviewed, this was what the board grilled me on,” Huyett told the crowd. “As a newcomer to this district, I have never felt more support for children anywhere else. As an educator for 34 years, I have never seen a community that loved its children so much. I believe that many communities will look back at this resolution and say this is a model not only for Berkeley, but for other cities as well.” 

According to a January report by the recently established Office of Assessment, Evaluation and Research, African American and Latino students continued to lag behind their white and Asian counterparts. African American and Latino students also scored significantly lower than white and Asian students on multiple assessment measures, a gap that widens with each year at school, the report said. 

Berkeley Unified attempted to address the achievement gap under former Superintendent Michele Lawrence, the report stated, but while this has met with some success, the absence of a system-wide strategy that makes raising the achievement level of all students its top priority has been a persistent weakness. 

Thus, under the board’s direction, the district staff developed a comprehensive strategic plan, which included the 2020 Vision.The plan will be implemented once the City Council approves it, paving the way for the formation of an “all-city equity taskforce.” 

The resolution is scheduled to go before the City Council on June 25. 

The taskforce will advise the superintendent, school board, city manager, City Council and community members on goals and strategies for the 2020 Vision and monitor and review its progress. 

“Vision 2020 has a double meaning,” United in Action member Santiago Casal told the Planet. “A clear-sighted vision of the future, and that is the year when students who began kindergarten in 2007-2008 will graduate from Berkeley’s three high school programs.” 

Casal said mobilizing resources such as UC Berkeley, Berkeley City College, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the business and philanthropic community, parents, teachers and students was the key to achievement. 

“It’s a big step, but it’s the morally right thing to do,” he said. 

“We can’t have some students going to Harvard and others not graduating from high school,” said school board member Karen Hemphill. “This is not the Berkeley I came to live in.” 

“It’s time to take a deep breath and get to work,” school board president John Selawsky said. 

United in Action member Michael Miller spoke to a visual presentation which included pictures of smiling Berkeley public school kindergartners. 

“These are some of the young people who represent the 2020 Vision,” Miller said. “For years Berkeley Unified has seen a significant gap in achievement. If we work collaboratively, we can eliminate educational disparities by 2020. This is aggressive work we are talking about doing, we need our collective arms around each child in Berkeley.” 

The city spends $8 million on youth services and leverages another $12 million from federal, state and philanthropic funds, the mayor said. 

“We are spending millions of dollars in youth services but are we helping those who are struggling at school?” the mayor’s chief of staff Julie Sinai asked. “I hate to say it, but we are not San Francisco with 65,000 students in the school district. We are Berkeley, and we have less than 10,000 students in our district. We should be able to get a handle on this.” 

The 2020 Vision states: “That all children, regardless of race, ethnicity and income, who enter Berkeley public schools beginning in 2007 (and remain in the district) will achieve equitable outcomes with no proficiency differences by the time they graduate in June 2020; and that all children born in Berkeley in 2007 and beyond, receive a healthy start and are equally ready to learn and succeed in the Berkeley public schools.” 

United in Action member Beatrice Leyva Cutler called the plan the result of years of frustration. 

“So many great programs have existed and exist in our district and we are still not doing well,” she said at the meeting. “Everyone has been working far too long in isolation. This is an opportunity not only for African American and Latino students, but for all our children.”