Berkeley School Board Race is Underway

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Sunday August 31, 2008 - 02:52:00 PM

With two months left to go for the November municipal elections, candidates for the Berkeley Board of Education are pushing for endorsements and mobilizing supporters through fundraisers, campaign kick-offs and websites. 

One incumbent and three newcomers will compete for the two available seats on the five member school board.  

John Selawsky 

Born in Brooklyn, two-term incumbent and school board Chair John Selawsky graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a B.A. in urban education. 

Selawsky, a writer and editor, works at the downtown Berkeley YMCA and supervises the youth program Childwatch. 

Married to Berkeley rent board commissioner Pam Webster, Selawsky has lived in Berkeley for 21 years and has a son, Peter, who attended the Berkeley public schools and is currently at Occidental College in Los Angeles. 

Selawsky was appointed to the Community Environmental Commission in 1995 by the late councilmember Dona Spring, serving until 2000, and subsequently elected its chair for two terms. 

He has also served as co-chair of the Planning and Oversight Committee, co-chair of People’s Park Advisory Board and been a member the Audit Committee, the Policy Subcommittee, the 2x2 Committee with the City of Berkeley and the music and arts committees for the Berkeley Unified School District. 

A familiar face at community meetings, Selawsky also defended Berkeley Unified’s student assignment plan in the California Superior Court, pushed for the solarization of Washington Elementary School, co-founded the Safe Routes to Schools Committee in 2003 and worked with the LGBTQ community to include LGBTQ students and their families in Berkeley Unified’s non-discrimination policy. 

Selawsky also worked with the district’s East Campus neighbors and Berkeley High to find a solution for the contentious Derby Street baseball field plan and was part of the district team that successfully gained International Baccalaureate certification for Berkeley High School. 

During his first term as school board member, Selawsky helped to improved the district’s budget and later went on to guide the Berkeley Adult School’s move to San Pablo Avenue. 

“I’m running for re-election because I have energy and enthusiasm, and I believe I have been an effective boardmember,” Selawsky said. “I bring a lot of experience, skills, and knowledge to the board, and particularly now in tight economic times and the uncertainty of state and other funding my fiscal and operational experience is essential in maintaining financial solvency and systems and operational integrity for the district. I have many accomplishments and much work still to be done.” 

Selawsky, recently endorsed by the Sierra Club, County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan and school boardmembers Shirley Issel, Nancy Riddle and Joaquin Rivera, said he hopes to focus on improvements and reforms throughout the district, particularly closing the student achievement gap and build safe and secure school campuses. 

He also wants to solarize half the district’s schools over the next five years and strengthen the district’s arts and music programs.  

Selawsky will be sharing his campaign headquarters at 2030 University Ave. with City Council candidate Jesse Arreguin and is in the process of updating his website. 

Priscilla Myrick 

An active mother of two, Myrick is a longterm Berkeley resident and has worked in the Bay Area biotech industry for four years 

After graduating in religious studies from UC Berkeley, Myrick obtained her MBA in finance and accounting from Columbia University. 

She is a founding committee member of the Association of Bioscience Financial Officers and has served on the Berkeley High School Governance Council and School Site Council, the Berkeley High School Site Plan Subcommittee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for Small Schools.  

Myrick described herself as the proud parent of two Berkeley High graduates who decided to apply her financial management skills to the non profit and education worlds. 

She helped establish a nonprofit that brought a writing coach program to Berkeley secondary school students and volunteers as a literacy coach at Berkeley High, King and Longfellow middle schools. 

As a board member and treasurer with Building Opportunities for Self-sufficiency (BOSS) from 1999 to 2003, Myrick helped local homeless families and youth. 

“I first became involved in Berkeley public schools years ago, when I was invited to join the Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee for the Berkeley Unified School District,” Myrick said. “But volunteering in the classroom taught me more about the needs of students than any finance committee. It’s hard to see teachers pay for pencils out of their own pockets while district resources often aren’t well managed. That experience, coupled with the never-ending budget crunch for public schools across California, has convinced me of the need for someone with fiscal management strength on our school board.” 

If elected, Myrick hopes to make significant gains in closing the achievement gap by supporting and strengthening programs that work to raising literacy and math proficiency levels for all students., constructing adequate classrooms—especially at Berkeley High—and improving school board accountability for spending decisions and fiscal management among other things. 

Myrick’s list of endorsements include councilmembers Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak, former City of Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean, former school board president Elizabeth Shaughnessy and Susan P. Helmrich, co-president, Berkeley High School Development Group. 

Her website:  

Beatrice Leyva-Cutler 

An outspoken parent and community leader, Leyva-Cutler was born and raised in San Francisco and has been the executive director of the Bay Area Hispanic Institute for Advancement (BAHIA) for the past 20 years. 

Leyva-Cutler received her Master of Arts in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College and has lived in West Berkeley for 15 years  

She has worked at BAHIA, which provides bilingual care to a diverse community of families in Berkeley, for 28 years and has taught child development in Spanish at local community colleges to help more Latinos find jobs in education. 

“I have seen through my involvement with BAHIA, Latinos Unidos de Berkeley and United in Action that the only way we can improve the quality of education for all of Berkeley’s children is to be on the Berkeley school board,” said Leyva-Cutler, who works primarily with children and families in Berkeley. 

Leyva-Cutler described herself as a proud Latino mother and stepmother of two children and an energetic grandmother. 

“My accomplishments are simple,” she said. “My parents and many generations of my family members never finished elementary school. I am very proud that my daughter is now a second generation college graduate in our family, and that I have a son who is a senior and looking ahead to college. I am proud of who my children are considering that I have raised my children as a single mom for most of their lives. I have always put family first—even with my demanding work schedule and community work.” 

According to Leyva-Cutler, her children have always seen her engaged, active, involved and committed to education, children, youth and families. 

“They find me going to demonstrations, late night meetings, mentoring, being part of organizations and grassroots progressive groups that prioritize children and youth,” she said. 

“And they have heard themselves what a difference I have made in the community, what a difference BAHIA has made in the lives of many children now adults, and those who are now parents. I share the pride of many early childhood educators that embrace a child at a young age and never ever forget them—and take special pride, when they come back to their child care center, and want only our teachers to care for their children. This speaks volumes about early memories and the impact quality early care and education makes in the lives of children.” 

Leyva-Cutler wants to see the 2020 Vision, recently adopted by both Berkeley Unified and the City of Berkeley, implemented to address the achievement gap. 

She said she also wants to create open communication between homes and schools, teachers and parents and build opportunities for professional and educational advancement for youth, teachers, parents and taxpayers. 

Leyva-Cutlers endorsers include the sole endorsements of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and United in Action, the John George Democratic Club, Mayor Tom Bates, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, and councilmembers Lauri Capitelli, Max Anderson and Linda Maio. 

Her website:  

Toya Groves 

The mother of three young children who attend the Berkeley public schools, Groves is a south Berkeley resident and works as a case manager for teens at Berkeley Youth Alternatives, which serves at-risk youth in South and West Berkeley. 

A graduate of UC Berkeley in African American Studies, Groves majored in Woman’s Studies at the New College of California. 

Groves studied in Barbados under former school board member Pedro Noguera, where she learned about the vast differences in literacy rates among the Caribbean countries and the United States. 

She is the author of the book Don’t give it up!, a handbook for students and parents, and owns Cleva Clothes Boutique in Berkeley. 

Groves also taught seventh-grade language arts and social studies to primarily English language learners and at-risk youth from the Latin and African American communities at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland. 

“Being a teacher in Oakland allowed me to see first hand the plight of students who do not meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind while also forcing me to use clever teaching methods that were always changing to engage students and inspire them to learn,” she said. “I also became familiar with the low teaching wages and the struggle between maintaining a quality family life and pursuing a career that I loved. My experience in community organizing stems from the desire to preserve traditional values and hard working communities often uprooted by gentrification.” 

Groves also formed the Four Corners Association to save Kandy’s Car Wash, a black-owned business in South Berkeley and lent an active voice at Berkeley’s zoning commission meetings to talk about the issue. 

“Using the South Berkeley Area plan empowered our efforts,” she said. “However, we lost and the car wash closed. I am a community advocate who stands for the past, present, and the future. I value tremendously the idealistic and revolutionary ways that Berkeley was built upon by supporting the true meaning of diversity and community upliftment via government and education.” 

Groves said her community work highlighted current problems such as educational retention and deficiency, rising juvenile crime rates, fair treatment of blue collar workers, and affordable housing.  

“The work we do today directly reflects the future,” she said. “I am open to all new and innovative ideas that support our youth to grow into future world contributors.”