Revamped classrooms, management changes and a record enrollment rate for kindergartners marked the first day of Berkeley Unified School District’s new school year on Wednesday.
District officials are projecting that around 720 students will be starting kindergarten this year, up from the 627 in 2007-08.
According to the district’s manager of admissions and assessment, Francisco Martinez, ultimately 640 students enrolled in kindergarten last year.
“I went around to several kindergartens and saw bright cheery faces,” said district Superintendent Bill Huyett. “It was amazing to see the enthusiam of all the new moms and teachers.”
In order to make room for the record number of kindergartners expected to join school this year, Berkeley Unified converted four classrooms—two at Malcolm X Elementary and one each at Rosa Parks and Cragmont elementaries—into kindergartens, increasing the total number of kindergartens in the district to 36.
“We needed the space because we have more students,” Martinez said, adding that the district had not yet carried out an investigation about what prompted the sudden rise in enrollment.
“We don’t have the time right now,” he said. “Maybe in the next couple of weeks.”
Some parents said they enrolled their children into the Berkeley public schools because they preferred them over private institutions.
“I chose to put my child in Berkeley Unified primarily because that’s where we live,” said Jill Herschman, whose son will be attending first grade at Berkeley Arts Magnet this year. “I am a strong supporter of public schools and would not consider private school unless there were some extreme circumstances.”
Berkeley Unified also added a first-grade class at Berkeley Arts Magnet this year, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Neil Smith said.
“We were overcrowded last year in our kindergarten classes at Berkeley Arts Magnet and expect a few more new first graders this year,” he said. “We have opened classes before during summer, so this is not unusual.”
The district also has a new dining commons at King Middle School, which will serve as a cafeteria for King students and the district’s central kitchen.
Other constructions carried out over the summer include rehabilitation of the King gymnasium, solar panels at Washington Elementary, King and Franklin CDCs and new classrooms at Berkeley High School.
The list for improvements to school site includes new stage curtains at King and the Berkeley High Little Theater, new grass at Malcolm X, Longfellow and LeConte, sanded stage floors at Washington, Emerson, the Little Theater and the Community Theater at Berkeley High and painting of John Muir and Le Conte schools.
Berkeley High without 11 teachers
In his back-to-school e-tree message, Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp informed parents that the school was short 11 permanent teachers as of Wednesday.
“I am very disappointed to report to you that we have 11 teaching positions that have not been filled by our district Human Resources Department thus far and we will, unfortunately, have substitutes in these classes until the Human Resources Department can hire acceptable teachers,” he wrote.
Calls to Slemp and the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lisa Udell were not returned immediately.
Huyett said the district was working hard to fill the open positions.
“Sometimes when openings come up late in the school year it takes some time,” he said. “We have to make sure people are credentialed and fingerprinted and that their references are checked. We want to assure the public that we are doing our best to hire the most reliable teachers.”
Berkeley High lost one of its teachers, Kalpna Mistry, who taught global studies at the Berkeley International High School, when she died in the Philippines earlier this month.
Berkeley Unified staff changes
Rory Bled retires as vice principal at Berkeley High School after 40 years of service with Berkeley Unified. Dianna Penney and Jimette Anderson are retiring as vice principals from King Middle School. Alan Joy retires as program supervisor for special education having served in Berkeley Unified since 2002.
Rebecca Cheung, former middle-school principal and principal on special assignment, has completed her doctorate and has been promoted to director of evaluation and assessment.
Pasquale Scuderi has been promoted from vice principal at Berkeley High School to director of personnel services.
Francisco Martinez has been promoted from manager of enrollment and attendance to director of classified personnel.
Pat Saddler is the new principal at Longfellow Middle School. Saddler was the principal at Rosa Parks Elementary.
Kathy Hatzke leaves her position of program supervisor of special education to assume the position of principal at Rosa Parks Elementary.
Evelyn Tamondong-Bradley has been promoted from coordinator of Independent Studies to principal at Cragmont Elementary School.
Leslie Stenger is being promoted from teacher to vice principal at King Middle School.
Kristin Glenchur moves up from athletic director to vice principal at Berkeley High School.
New administrative hires:
Julianna Sikes, the new principal at Thousand Oaks Elementary school, was most recently curriculum specialist in San Leandro Unified.
Lori O’Connor is the new coordinator of Independent Studies and comes from a charter school in the Vallejo City Unified School District.
Zachary Pless is the new program supervisor of Extended Day Programs, having taught high school social science in the Fairfield Suisun District.
Mary Jackson comes to Willard Middle School as the vice principal. Jackson has been the vice principal at Tennyson High School in Hayward for eight years.
Uri Skowronski, the new vice principal at Berkeley High School, leaves his position at Contra Costa Jewish Day School to join Berkeley Unified.