Berkeley school district continues to develop African American Success Initiative

Photo of students at Berkeley High School
Gabriel Nuer/Staff
As part of Berkeley Unified School District’s efforts to suppoirt Black students, the district is working on the development of its African American Success Initiative, which includes meetings and researching programs.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, is continuing to develop its African American Success Initiative, or AASI, during the spring 2022 semester.

The AASI refers to BUSD’s varied efforts to improve outcomes for Black students, including programs that will be implemented in schools, as well as the African American Success Framework, or AASF, according to a presentation given at a school board meeting in December.

“Our African American students in Berkeley are less likely to graduate college ready; they’re more likely to get suspensions,” said BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens. “These are all patterns we must disrupt in the interest of a more equitable experience.”

Out of BUSD’s 9,410 students, about 1,200 are Black. These students are more likely to face suspensions and expulsions and be identified for special education than students from other student groups, according to Berkeley Public Schools.

Berkeley Public Schools added that African American students are least likely to complete the A-G requirements needed for admission into the UC and CSU systems. They are also least likely to reach reading proficiency by the third grade, be identified for Gifted and Talented Educational programs and complete an Advanced Placement class.

The AASF is a three-year plan that will summarize the needs of Black students and document the district’s plans to create equitable opportunities for student success, according to the December presentation.

“We’ve been describing our approach as both plan and build,” Stephens said. “For many years, the district has both made many achievements with respect to African American students and families, and we have a lot of work to do.”

Currently, BUSD is compiling ideas from community stakeholders in order to develop the initiative, according to Stephens. This includes holding community meetings, researching programs from other districts and working with organizations such as Young, Gifted and Black and College Bound.

At the same time, BUSD is implementing new programs based on its ongoing needs assessments, according to the presentation. The board plans to gather feedback from the community and partner organizations as the AASF and its programs are developed.

“We hope to engage our community to help us think about support for African American students and their families in the coming years,” Stephens said. “(We want) to develop a new framework, which we hope the district boards into the future to look at strategic investment.”

The AASI is being funded by budget provisions laid out in the board’s Black Lives Matter Resolution and the AASF itself, according to Berkeley Public Schools. Currently, the board plans to invest $660,000 toward the initiative.

Currently, the AASF recommends BUSD use social, emotional and academic interventions to better support African American students, according to Berkeley Public Schools. During the 2021-22 school year, BUSD is focusing on this recommendation as well as promoting family and community partnership with local schools.

The AASF also recommends staff be trained to implement supportive practices and that behavioral policies be updated at the district level, according to BUSD’s African American Resources website.

BUSD will will look for improved attendance rates, decreased suspensions, increased senses of student’s personal abilities, cultural proficiency in teachers and increased percentages of students meeting their A-G requirements, increased graduation rates and more completed FAFSA applications as signs that the AASI is working, according to Berkeley Public Schools.

“We have received tremendous support from the board,” said Berkeley High School African American studies teacher Spencer Pritchard in an email. “We have funds to start an after school tutoring program for Black students and expanded capacity for us as teacher leaders to develop new programs and courses.”

Pritchard added he hopes more opportunities to work with the school board on the initiative will come as the year progresses.

BUSD plans to launch teacher focus groups to develop the AASF in February and March, according to the presentation. BUSD will also begin holding focus groups with principals and families in February and March, which will continue through the remainder of the school year.

The board plans to present a final draft of the AASF in June.

“A lot of this year is about laying the groundwork to develop an ecosystem of resources to better holistically support Black students,” Pritchard said in the email. “We are excited it’s happening and look forward to collaborating with the leaders of initiative as the work progresses.”

Emma Taila is a schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila.