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State, PG&E Pick Berkeley High for Green Energy Program

By Riya Bhattacharjee By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:09:00 AM
State Superintendent Jack O'Connell, state Sen. Loni Hancock, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
Riya Bhattacharjee
State Superintendent Jack O'Connell, state Sen. Loni Hancock, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell was in Berkeley Wednesday to announce the names of five California public high schools—including Berkeley High—selected for a new “green energy” partnership academy pilot program that seeks to train students in clean energy technologies. 

A partnership between the California Department of Education and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the three-year program seeks to effectively prepare students for job opportunities in the rapidly expanding energy sector as well as provide them with an academically rigorous learning experience that has a “real-world” focus. 

O’Connell was joined in the Berkeley High School Library around 10:30 a.m. by California Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey, PG&E Vice President Ophelia Basgal, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and his wife, Sen. Loni Hancock, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett and Berkeley Board of Education President Nancy Riddle. 

Representatives from the four other schools selected—Edison High School in Fresno, Foothill High School in Sacramento, Independence High School in Bakersfield and Venture Academy in Stockton—were also present at the event. 

The New Energy Academy is designed to provide energy career education to at-risk students who might otherwise not have the opportunity.  

The green energy academy, which is also being supported by the non-profit CaliforniaALL, will be Berkeley High’s seventh small school. 

Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp told the Daily Planet that the state Department of Education and PG&E had approached the school last spring about the program. 

Slemp said the new academy would have an entirely different curriculum from the School for Social Justice and Economy, a Berkeley High small school that focuses on justice issues surrounding the environment. 

“It fits with what we have been doing,” Slemp said. “The fact that the state department [of education] and PG&E came to us is a compliment for us. Now we have lots of work to do.” 

Slemp said that although a few parents had expressed concern about the corporate nature of the partnership, the feedback from the community had been positive so far. 

“Green energy is a growing field that is critical to turn the tide on climate change,” said O’Connell, who has sponsored legislation supporting the partnership between schools and different philanthropic organizations and corporations. “I am excited that California students in these programs will be learning about technologies that can help the entire planet.”  

O’Connell, who mingled with the crowd before and after the event, had almost a rock star effect on students, with some of them pressing him for pictures. The Berkeley High School student newspaper, The Jacket, interviewed O’Connell for their online video segment, a new feature student editor Charlotte Wayne said the paper was trying out this year. 

“I take credit for all your great test scores when they come out in Sacramento,” O’Connell told students smiling.  

Addressing the audience later, he said “This is a cause for celebration—career technology academies create not just jobs but careers for the rest of your life. They offer cutting-edge curriculum and innovation for new technology along with problem-solving skills. California needs a well-skilled well-educated problem solving workforce.” 

O’Connell said more students were becoming eligible for admission to colleges and universities, making it pertinent for school districts to prepare them for the future. 

“The entire community has a responsibility to prepare students,” he said. “We have the statistics that prove that career partnership academies work—it’s like a school within a school. They include the three new R’s: rigor, relevance and relationship with the business community. These days there’s not much difference between career preparation and college preparation. The two are not mutually exclusive.” 

Fifty percent of students in career partnership academies are at risk students and 96 percent graduate from high school. 

Out of that, 70 percent are college-bound, O’Connell said. 

“Given the rise of technology in California, this is great news,” said Ophelia Basgal, PG&E Vice President of Civic Partnership and Community initiatives. 

“It will link young people to academic curriculum,” said Loni Hancock. “So whether they install or invent the next generation of solar panels, they know what they are giving to the world. We are facing many challenges. We need to turn around global warming, protect the planet and keep this beautiful state we live in safe for our children and grandchildren. Our challenge is to conserve, install and invent and to have a million solar panels.” 

Bates, who is a staunch supporter of solar energy, called the green energy academy a wonderful addition to the East Bay Green Corridor, which he said already had four other career technology academies funded by the state Department of Education. 

The Berkeley Board of Education approved the planning grant for the green energy academy and will vote on whether to approve the curriculum and concept at a future date, Berkeley Unified spokesperson Mark Coplan said.  

Schools are eligible to receive up to $40,000 during the planning year, which includes $25,000 from PG&E and $15,000 from the state education department. 

PG&E will help to craft the curriculum, but Berkeley High will ultimately be responsible for its governance.  

The program will begin in the 2009 academic year with curriculum planning and teacher development. Educators selected to teach its courses will spend almost a year evaluating, contributing and studying course content.  

Teachers will be selected based on their interest, expertise and willingness to join the program.  

The five schools will also receive grants and access to professional development workshops and industry experts. The new academy is scheduled to open next fall. 

Approximately 60 to 70 students will be enrolled in the sophomore year and the number will increase to 150 to 200 students when the program gets implemented eventually. 

At least half of the students who enroll in the green energy academy must meet specific “at-risk” criteria as defined in the education code.  

PG&E, which provides energy to 15 million people in northern and central California, plans to spend $19 million this year on various charitable programs 

Berkeley High senior class president Brandon Lucky told the Planet that students were very excited about the new school. 

“It’s a great opportunity for students to help the economy,” said Lucky, who will be entering Hampton University in the fall. “Students will understand better what the business field is like. I wish it had been available when I joined Berkeley High.” 


The community is invited to a forum disucss the new small school from 7–9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Berkeley High School Library. Those who cannot attend are invited to send their comments to