10 Berkeley residents apply for vacant school board position

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The Berkeley Unified School District School Board released the names of 10 city residents who applied to fill the board’s current opening on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the board will release and then vote on the names of finalists for the position, which was vacated by Leah Wilson, former board president. Wilson resigned on March 31 after taking a position with the Alameda County Superior Court, the first time a school board member has resigned since 1909.

The applicants include two campus professors, the campus director of local government and community relations, and a scientist and former deputy director of the Nuclear Science Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, among others.

The candidates are Ty Alper, Peter Bloomsburgh, Michael Bolgatz, Meleah Hall, Spencer Klein, Dan Lindheim, Satish Rao, Margit Roos-Collins, Julie Sinai and Mark Zoidis.

Because the new board member will serve a partial term — until Nov. 30, 2014 — he or she needs to be able to “hit the ground running” and “immediately be an integral and contributing member of the board,” said board president Karen Hemphill.

In the coming months, the board will be learning to work with a new superintendent, “all while focusing on bridging the opportunity gap that exists along racial lines in our district,” Hemphill said in an email, referencing the city’s 2020 Vision program, which aims to close the city’s achievement gap by the year 2020.

Alper, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, has seen this gap himself, as both he and his wife went through Berkeley public schools as children.

“I know firsthand how important it is for all children in this city to get the educational opportunities that will enable them to thrive,” Alper said, echoing many of the sentiments of his fellow candidates.

Many candidates who come from analytical backgrounds, such as computer science and financial advising, plan to bring their analytical minds to the job to address the numbers of the achievement gap in Berkeley public schools as well as those of the district’s budget.

Other applicants stressed the importance of maintaining solid and open relationships with the community.

“We need to be meeting the needs of our kids and families in relation to a positive education outcome,” Sinai, campus director of local government and community relations, said. “We as a community need to come together to provide coordinated support.”

The board has 60 days from the time Wilson’s resignation was submitted to fill the vacancy, according to the Berkeley city charter. It plans to fill the seat nine days before the deadline at its May 8 board meeting at the latest.

Megan Messerly covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @meganmesserly.