Berkeley Unified School District board president Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and clerk Judy Appel are running for reelection this year as members of the board.
Currently the only candidates for the two board seats up for reelection, Appel and Leyva-Cutler, filed their intent to run on Jan. 15 and Jan. 29, respectively. Terms of the five elected school board members last four years.
Leyva-Cutler said she has been working in the Berkeley community for 35 years and is running for a third term, having been a member of the school board for the past eight years. She is also the executive director of the Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement, which provides bilingual education to children.
“I’ve made a very strong focus on our students, on improving our schools — including the academic performance of our students — and I’ve been a board member who’s been accessible,” Leyva-Cutler said.
Appel, first elected in 2012, is running for her second term and has been involved with the school district for the past 12 years as a parent. She previously served as the president of the school board in 2015 and has been the executive director of Our Family Coalition — which advocates equity for LGBT families with children — for the past 11 years.
“(The school board wants to) build young people who are thoughtful and engaged,” Appel said. “We have high expectations for their success, and then we help them reach those high expectations.”
Both candidates emphasized the importance of focusing on students and improving their academic performance. Appel said she has been working to create a support system wherein each student has an adult to talk to about academic or other needs. Similarly, Leyva-Cutler said that students need to feel both safe and academically engaged at school.
School board member Karen Hemphill said both Appel and Leyva-Cutler have their individual strengths and achievements as board members. She cited Appel’s work with restorative justice and handling sexual harassment incidents, and Leyva-Cutler’s experience as a bilingual educator and support for the English language program.
“I think they have continued to lead the way in working on making sure that our board is effective,” Hemphill said.
Hemphill also noted that both candidates have an interest in reviewing the needs of special education students.
According to the candidates, a key November ballot item will be the renewal of the Berkeley School Excellence Project, or BSEP, a city parcel tax that has provided about $25 million a year in funding to the Berkeley Unified School District for class-size reduction, music programs and technology, among other things.
The school district also faces an opportunity gap, according to Appel and Leyva-Cutler. Both candidates expressed the need for the school district to better support black students and English-language learners.
No other candidates have filed their intent to run for the school board positions yet, but according to school district spokesperson Mark Coplan, “it’s only February — it’s way, way early.”
Election Day will take place Nov. 8.
Contact Alex Fang at [email protected].