Four candidates to run for two seats on Berkeley school board

Pictured clockwise from left: Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Judy Appel, Norma J.F. Harrison, and Tracy Hollander.

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Four candidates have registered to compete in the upcoming November election for two director positions on the Berkeley Unified School District School Board.

Berkeley residents Judy Appel, Norma J.F. Harrison and Tracy Hollander are challenging incumbent School Board Director and Clerk Beatriz Leyva-Cutler in an election for two seats, including the seat vacated by current School Board Director and President John T. Selawsky, who will be retiring when his term expires after the election.

In Berkeley, the school board is composed of five elected directors who serve staggered four-year terms, one student director elected annually from Berkeley High School and the district superintendent — currently Bill Huyett, who plans on retiring once a suitable replacement is found — who serves as the secretary.

The first to file candidacy was Appel, a mother of two who served as the Oxford Elementary School PTA president for two terms, on Oxford’s Site Council for four years and as a community representative to Huyett’s budget advisory committee, according to her website. Appel currently serves as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, an organization working to promote the equality and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families with children.

“School should be challenging and nurturing for all students. We need to continue to provide access to opportunity by closing the academic achievement gap so that all students can succeed,” Appel said on her website, which lists her priorities as equity in education for all students, smart spending aligned with district goals, fostering a positive school climate and strengthening family and community ties.

Appel has been endorsed by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the entire Berkeley City Council, including Mayor Tom Bates, and three current school board members, including Leyva-Cutler.

Leyva-Cutler, who was elected to the school board in 2008 and appointed by the other board members to the clerk position, is the executive director of the Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement in Berkeley, a bilingual child-development program that provides support Hispanic families in the school system. She has won multiple awards for her work in the Berkeley area.

Leyva-Cutler was not available when reached for comment.

Hollander, a former teacher in San Francisco and New York, is an active Berkeley PTA council member and a representative on Huyett’s Budget Advisory Committee. She said she hopes to provide a unique teacher perspective to a school board that she said is currently without any professional teachers.

Hollander — who has been endorsed by Selawsky, City Council members Laurie Capitelli and Susan Wengraf and 11 former and current PTA members across the district — also said she is running not as a politician who seeks any higher office but as an educator.

“One of my main priorities is to be very accessible and remain connected to our school community and the community at large,” Hollander said. “I would commit to visiting all schools on a regular basis as well as holding office hours at cafes throughout the city where the regular community can have the opportunity to meet and speak with me about their concerns.”

Also among her priorities, Hollander said, is closing the achievement gap by following the district’s 2020 Vision plan and supporting teachers by giving them the resources they need to reach every student.

The final candidate, Harrison — who also ran for school board in the November 2010 general municipal election — has a significantly different message than her opponents in the election.

“I’d like us to come to the recognition that we don’t need compulsory education,” said Harrison, a self-described advocate for a socialist or communist revolution. “We need people to be able to be doing things in our world that fulfill our desires, tastes, ambitions and to have people doing that together outside of school and not segregated by age.”

In November, city residents will have the ability to vote for any school board candidate, unlike in the City Council election, which limits residents to voting within their city districts.

“City Council members only have to focus on their specific districts, whereas the school board members have to run their campaigns citywide,” said district spokesperson Mark Coplan. “It’s a much more daunting task for them.”