Incumbents Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Judy Appel re-elected to Board of Education

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Incumbents Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Judy Appel won the two open Board of Education director positions for the Berkeley Unified School District on Tuesday, defeating their sole challenger Abdur Sikder.

Appel received 51 percent of the vote while Leyva-Cutler received 38 percent.

The Berkeley school district’s board is made up of five directors who serve staggered four-year terms with elections held every two years, two student directors elected from the high schools annually and the superintendent, who serves as the board’s secretary.

Appel said she wants to support Berkeley High School students exploring careers in technical education.

“Honestly, a lot of what I feel is that we’re doing a great job already, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to dig deeper,” Appel said.

Appel was first elected in 2012. Before her time in office, she worked as a civil rights attorney at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and the Drug Policy Alliance. She has also worked as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. A mother of two children in the district, she decided to run because, as a queer parent, she felt that family diversity was not being properly represented in the school district’s schools.

Appel says on her website that she feels it is her life’s duty to stand up for groups that have no voice, which she will continue to do as a member of the school board.

During her time in office, she has stressed eliminating the racial opportunity gap in the district through staff training and research-based equity strategies. Additionally, she wants to continue to work toward building a positive school environment through programs such as the district’s new Restorative Justice plan. She was instrumental in fostering this plan, which helped bring Berkeley High School’s expulsion rate to zero for the first time last year.

Appel is also the executive director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, which aims to improve students’ health by providing health care through schools. These services would include mental health services, dental care and school nurse programs, among other things.

Leyva-Cutler, a bilingual Latina, has worked to reduce racial inequities in the school district since she was elected to the school board in 2008. She has worked at BAHIA, Inc. — a nonprofit day care for bilingual students — for decades and is now the executive director.

The day care program aims to foster a love of learning in students while acknowledging their multicultural upbringing by teaching them about their heritage. Additionally, the program helps foster positive collaborations between students, their families and the rest of the community to promote student success.

As a member of the board of directors, Leyva-Cutler has helped create a master plan for teaching English Language Learners and has worked to better integrate students’ families into the school board’s conversations.

In 2002, Leyva-Cutler helped to form United in Action, a multi-ethnic-community-driven organization that aims to close the racial achievement gap. After her involvement with the organization, she realized that in order to make more concrete improvements, there needed to be changes made from inside the school board.

Sikder, who has never served on the school board, ran with the intention of giving Berkeley Unified School District students an equal opportunity to receive high-quality education and creating a safe environment for all students, including those with special needs.

Ashley Wong contributed to this report.

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @presslypratt.