Berkeley High School Principal Erin Schweng announces decision to step down

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After working in the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, for 22 years, Erin Schweng announced April 20 she is stepping down as principal of Berkeley High School, or BHS.

The announcement was made in a letter to the school community and included separate statements from Schweng and BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens. Vice Principal Juan Raygoza said in an email that he will step in July 1 as interim principal for the 2020-2021 school year.

“Being the principal of BHS is the hardest job in the district,” said Mimi Pulich, president of the BHS PTA. “There are over 3,000 kids. Things are happening constantly throughout the day, some minor, some major.”

Schweng held many roles during her time at BUSD. Beginning in 1998, she taught at Rosa Parks Elementary School and then at Longfellow Middle School, where she was a mathematics and Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, teacher.

Schweng said in an email that she has decided to enter a “new chapter” in her life, though she is still unsure what the new chapter holds for her. 

According to Pulich, Schweng’s strength is leading “under fire.” In February, BHS students protested against sexual assault on campus grounds after a student filed a lawsuit against BUSD. Now, BHS is navigating distance learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pulich said Schweng has been a positive light during these “tumultuous times.”

“Erin has had a tremendously positive impact on so many of our students, families, and staff members,” Raygoza said in an email. “She approaches every situation with a compassion for the people involved and holds all of us to the highest professional standards. She listens, asks questions, and makes decisions that are always well-informed and in support of our students.”

BHS senior Abigail Sanchez added that throughout students’ activism, Schweng was supportive and gave students the space to organize. According to Sanchez, Schweng held weekly office hours and expressed support and love for her students.

Raygoza, who became BHS vice principal at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, said in the email that his top priority as interim principal will be to “lead with compassion and support for the basic human needs and safety.”

Pulich said the administration made the right decision in having an interim principal instead of rushing into finding a new permanent principal. According to Stephens’ letter, the district will begin the process of finding a principal in January 2021.

“In the coming months and beyond we will listen to, learn from, and dialogue with public health experts; this will drive the decision-making amongst state, district, and school leaders,” Raygoza said in the email. “I am honored to step in to the Interim Principal role.”

Julie Madsen is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.