Berkeley school board discusses reopening, graduation plans

photo of Berkeley high school
Sunny Shen/File
The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education met Wednesday go over school reopening plans and graduation plans. The Office of Family Engagement and Equity provided an update as well.

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education met Wednesday to hear public comments, go over school reopening and graduation plans and receive an update from its Office of Family Engagement and Equity, or OFEE.

During public comment, fifth-grader Samya Van Valer and sixth-grader Violet Kessler encouraged the board to support clean water funds and utilize reusable resources rather than single-use plastics in BUSD schools.

Furthermore, three current students at Berkeley High School — Shayla Avery, Serena Thomas and Alex Villacruz and alumnus Jason Vilchez urged the board to expand the Bridge Program, sharing their personal experiences with the program and its importance. According to the Berkeley Public Schools website, the goal of the Bridge Program is to help students of color and low-income students transition from middle school to high school and help them get into college.

“The Bridge Program benefited me so much throughout my high school experience,Avery, who will be attending UCLA next year, said during the meeting. “I do hope that the Bridge Program expands and continues to be this amazing program that bridges the gap for Black and Brown students to go to great colleges like I did.”

Later, Berkeley Federation of Teachers president Matt Meyer expressed excitement at the pending approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children older than 12, saying it will change the course of the pandemic and potentially allow for a return to normal schedules.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens then presented an update on school reopening plans, including a return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall. In addition, BUSD is planning in-person graduations for fifth and eighth grades, and high school graduation will be staggered over three days, according to Stephens.

Next, BUSD Executive Director of Facilities John Calise presented an update on housing for staff and teachers, which he hopes will allow BUSD to “recruit and retain quality educators.” As housing affordability is a concern for many BUSD employees, Calise said the district plans to build a five-story building with an estimated 108 units on the parking lot of Berkeley Adult School.

OFEE supervisor Ann Callegari later provided an update on the office’s work over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. OFEE completed more than 2,500 wellness checks on families in BUSD, which provided information on how many families were dealing with isolation as well as loss of income and housing, according to Callegari.

From there, Callegari said OFEE connected families with resources to help them meet their basic needs.

“We called our families, and we listened,” Callegari said during the meeting. “Our staff and social workers were friends, family and school staff. Then, we jumped at meeting the needs they had.”

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.