Berkeley school district board meeting discusses initiatives for Black students

Photo of Emerson Elementary School
William Webster/File
At its Wednesday meeting, Berkeley Unified School District's Board of Education discussed the Concerned Parents Alliance’s College Bound Program, which recently joined the district.

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The Berkeley Unified School District’s, or BUSD, Board of Education broached a variety of topics related to success in schools for Black students at its Wednesday meeting.

BUSD invited the Concerned Parents Alliance’s College Bound Program into the school district. During the public comment section, Darlene Willis, executive director and co-founder of the program spoke about its merits.

“What makes our program different than others is that we work with the scholars and their parents, guardians, caregivers, etc.,” Willis said at the meeting. “We focus on academic excellence and self-esteem building, racial equity and inclusion and customized college tours.”

BUSD parent Nate Wallace also spoke highly about the College Bound Program during the public comment section, calling it the “best program” he has seen as a parent. His daughter Mariah Wallace, also on the call, added that the College Bound Program has been beneficial for students of color at her school, Berkeley High School.

Former deputy probation officer Darryl Bartlow noted having initiatives such as the College Bound Program helps keep students in school. Speaking from experience, Bartlow said he thinks the performance of children at school is a serious issue.

“I have seen, firsthand, children who fell through the cracks of the school system, and I see where they end up,” Bartlow said at the meeting. “It’s unfortunate that they end up there because oftentimes it’s a springboard to the prison industrial complex in America.”

Also at the meeting was BUSD employee Paula Phillips, who congratulated President Ka’Dijah Brown, Vice President Laura Babitt and Clerk Ana Vasudeo for being the first three women of color to hold their positions within the school board. Phillips called their simultaneous tenure “a historic moment.”

During union comments, the school board aired a recorded message from Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, President Matt Meyer.

According to Meyer, BFT believes that the district is overspending on contractors and should bring certain services in-house instead. BFT would rather BUSD hire employees so they would be given contracts and treated as existing BUSD employees who do the same work, rather than outsourcing to those without a BFT union contract.

Meyer also reminded the school board that the contracts for all four unions under BUSD will expire this year and that the school board should prepare for negotiations.

Later in the meeting, board members reviewed a presentation on the African American Success Initiative, or AASI. The initiative refers to the district’s overall efforts to support African American students and their families.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens noted during the presentation that disciplinary action toward Black students is still disproportionate, with Black students more likely to be suspended or expelled than any other group. AASI seeks to fix this issue, as well as increase the number of African American students in gifted programs and advanced placement courses, among other goals.

The project manager for AASI, Kamar O’Guinn, told the board that this initiative is just another in a long line of successful projects to better serve African American students.

“We know that there have been historical efforts to right the ship and remedy the wrongs that have happened for our students in this district,” O’Guinn said. “We have to be mission-minded. In order to stay on task, we have to have a foundation.”

Contact Lance Roberts at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.