Berkeley school board approves lease with REALM Charter School at West Campus site

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The Berkeley Unified School District School Board unanimously passed a motion at its meeting Wednesday evening that will allow REALM Charter School to continue using facilities at 1222 University Ave.

REALM’s lease with the district at the West Campus site was set to expire at the end of June, but REALM requested a yearlong extension of the lease last month, while it searched for an alternative location. At the March 8 meeting, board members expressed concerns about extending the lease as REALM had violated conditions of its charter petition renewal and the district had previously provided REALM with financial assistance and a yearlong extension of its lease.

The lease approved Wednesday allows REALM to continue to use space at 1222 University Ave., allocating eight classrooms in Building A for its middle school during the 2017-18 school year. REALM’s middle school is currently located at a private facility not owned by BUSD, while REALM High School occupies the West Campus site.

The conditions of the lease require that REALM not request another extension and that this condition be communicated to the REALM community.

“It’s our understanding at this point … that we’ve come a long way, that we have a plan that’s workable,” said Pablo Paredes, a parent of REALM students, during the meeting. “The moment we got the hint that the board was on board with the facilities question, we started shifting gears to really start to think of next year and do the next step work that we promised you we would do.”

During the meeting, the board was also presented with an update on the district’s restorative justice practices. Current school climate initiatives in place at the district’s elementary schools include Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, individual and small group counseling and behavior specialists, among other initiatives.

An initiative proposed for consideration would create school climate teacher leaders, who would help to coordinate the various school climate initiatives, such as PBIS and restorative practices at the elementary schools.

The district’s high schools include restorative justice coordinators, intervention counselors at Berkeley High School and the Green Dot Initiative, an anti-bullying and anti-violence program adopted this year at BHS that will continue to be implemented over the next few years.

“The majority of the work that we’re doing is really centered on the implementation of community building services and practices within classrooms,” said Eddie Estrada, the restorative practices coordinator for BHS, during the meeting. “We’re focusing on working with teachers and collaborating with them on these restorative practices that really strengthens relationships.”

Intervention counselors at BHS indicated that they measure the effectiveness of their practices by tracking students’ grades and attendance, as well as by assessing student improvements individually.

Board member Karen Hemphill stated during the meeting that restorative justice can often be misunderstood by the larger community as not implementing consequences for students.

“A student has to accept responsibility that they did what they did before restorative justice can even start,”  Hemphill said during the meeting. “I think that that’s something that people don’t understand.”

Board president Ty Alper indicated during the meeting that the district is seeking increased state funding for restorative justice work.

Sydney Fix is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.