The Berkeley Unified School District bade farewell to the longest-serving member on the current Berkeley Board of Education amidst a lot of happy memories, applause and laughter at a public meeting in the City Hall chambers last Wednesday.
Joaquin Rivera stepped down from his role as a school board director after 12 years, following his decision earlier this year not to run for re-election.
Community leader and activist Beatriz Leyva-Cutler—who won one of the two school board seats in the Nov. 4 election—will replace Rivera at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 10.
Rivera, who teaches chemistry at Skyline College, was first elected to the board in November 1996 and went on to be reelected in 2000 and 2004, serving a total of three terms on the board.
A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Rivera received his masters in chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1990.
He has served as school board president on three occasions, the most recent being last year, and has also been a delegate to the California School Boards Association.
School board members and Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett thanked Rivera at the meeting for his work on improving student achievement in the Berkeley public schools and for leaving the district in better shape financially and fiscally than before.
School board President John Selawsky described him as a “solid” board director who always steered his peers toward the right track.
“I prefer to stay in denial that this is going to be your last meeting,” said fellow board member Shirley Issel, who has served along with Rivera since 1998. “You have taught me a lot about how to be a good board member and have made enormous contributions. I will miss you.”
Rivera said that although he had debated running for a fourth term, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to cut state education funds made him change his mind.
“I thought, I have been there, done that. Maybe again in the future, but right now I want to enjoy,” he said, thanking his colleagues and all three superintendents he had worked with over the last decade.
“It’s been 12 good years,” he said. “During my tenure I have had the opportunity to work with some great people and three wonderful superintendents, Jack McLaughlin, Michele Lawrence and Bill Huyett. I know Bill is going to be great for Berkeley. I have had the opportunity to work with great school board members such as Pamela Doolan, Lloyd Lee and Miriam Rokeach and members of this board.”
McLaughlin was present at the meeting Wednesday when the board presented Rivera with a resolution honoring his achievements.
Rivera said that during his time on the school board, he had been successful in his efforts to create a single plan for student achievement and desegregating the district.
“I am not going to be watching the school board meetings on TV but I might turn up in my robe with a wine glass in hand to watch you guys in action,” he said, smiling, adding that he would be chipping in to help when the district was ready to introduce bond measures to Berkeley voters in a couple of years.
“I have some regrets that I didn’t have a better relationship with the unions. I think it’s a two-way thing. Since I am leaving now, I can tell the unions that this is a very good board. We have to play with the cards given to us by Sacramento. Sacramento doesn’t give us a lot of money and we should be screaming at them more often.”
Rivera also thanked his family for standing behind him like a rock during his stint in the district, especially his husband, and his former partner, who had been with him for most of his 12 years on the board.
At the last school board meeting on Nov. 12, Rivera expressed his disappointment at the passing of Prop. 8 in California, which took away the right for gay couples to marry.
“Personally it touches me very closely,” he said at the meeting last Wednesday.
“At this point my marriage may or may not be valid. This is really a civil rights struggle. It is like having to sit at the back of the bus or having to drink water from a different fountain because of who you are. I know the board has always been very supportive and hopefully it will be supportive of these struggles.”