Berkeley school district spokesperson set to retire after nearly 3 years

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Charles Burress, public information officer, or PIO, for Berkeley Unified School District, is set to retire this summer after serving the district for nearly three years.

According to BUSD board Director Ty Alper, the board is currently in the process of determining when the search for a successor will begin.

As the PIO, Burress undertakes responsibilities such as district-level internal and external communications, district website development, public and community engagement and special events. The PIO is also the primary source of contact for the community and prepares news releases for local media about Berkeley events.

“I’ve found inspiration for my job in the belief that I am contributing in some way to equipping our youth with a broad education, self-confidence, an enduring appreciation for diverse cultures … and a knowledge of the value of being kind and helpful to others,” Burress said in an email. “I believe such a mission is needed especially at a time when some political leaders and violent extremists exploit public ignorance, prejudice and xenophobia.”

Prior to becoming PIO, Burress worked for the San Francisco Chronicle as a staff writer for 25 years. In 1998, Burress was awarded the Abe Fellowship for his work discussing U.S. media coverage of Japan.

Burress also served as communications director for former Berkeley mayor Tom Bates for 2.5 years. According to Burress, once Bates retired, he wanted to find a job in Berkeley, specifically one where he could use his communications experience.

“Prompt, responsive communication is critical for any public school district, and members of the BUSD community have been able to rely on (Burress) to get accurate information,” Alper said in an email. “(Burress) is a true public servant and the entire city is in his debt.”

Alper added that during his time on the board, Burress has remained “unflappable” in times of crisis and has a “reporter’s sense” of how to inform the public about the district’s current events. According to Alper, the board is looking for someone who is responsive to requests and who actively ensures community awareness in the next PIO.

Burress commented that his work in the district has been “eye-opening” and that he has found his colleagues are “extraordinarily dedicated” and “committed” to students’ futures. Burress hopes that the new PIO will have communications experience and will have the ability to work well with others, handle many responsibilities at once and adapt to new demands.

“I’ve reached what is widely considered retirement age and would like to explore other possibilities that were not financially feasible before,” Burress said in an email. “I am looking forward to the freedom … to give flight to whatever interest or fancy grabs me at the moment, whether it be fleeting or the first step in a new and sustained pursuit.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ClaraRodas10.