Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Superintendent Brent Stephens hosted the annual Superintendent’s State of the District meeting Wednesday, touching on school district accomplishments, school reopening plans and state funding for the 2021-22 school year.
Stephens addressed some accomplishments among district officials, staff and volunteers in their effort to mitigate difficulties brought on by remote learning last fall. In an attempt to ease academic and emotional hardship, services including family support seminars, a curbside library program and intervention counseling, among others, have been implemented, according to Stephens.
In response to the BUSD school board’s summer resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter, or BLM, movement, schools are working to better recognize the historic contributions of Black individuals, Stephens added. Such efforts include a “celebrate BLM at schools week,” as well as the renaming of Jefferson Elementary School to Ruth Acty Elementary in commemoration of the school district’s first Black teacher.
“Here in Berkeley, we seek to honor the contributions of local luminaries, while trying to reconcile ourselves to the slave-owning past of both Washington and Jefferson,” Stephens said during the meeting. “This, I think, is a real note of accomplishment.”
Stephens then provided updates to BUSD’s school reopening plan, describing the situation as “dynamic” and subject to frequent change. The state’s original elementary school reopening threshold rate of seven cases per 100,000 county residents has since been elevated to 25 cases – an amount that will hopefully be achieved within the coming weeks, he added.
With recent modifications to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution phases, according to Stephens, Alameda County vaccine distribution organizations have expressed confusion surrounding the vaccination timeline for Berkeley educators.
“Right now, as of this evening, we are in a wait and see mode,” Stephens said during the meeting. “We simply don’t have information yet about when the city of Berkeley may have doses available for our educators.”
Moving on to state funding, Stephens noted a “significant downturn” within the last three years, calling the impact of this “erosive” on the school district. He urged people to state their concerns to the California State Legislature, adding that the district continues to need resources.
The school board intends to have a balanced general fund budget by June, and its construction will reflect a combinatory effort of staff, committees and the community to identify the school district’s high-level priorities, according to Stephens. These priorities include gender equity in schools and the mitigation of learning loss impacts on students.
Responding to questions from the Berkeley community, Stephens spoke on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $2 billion in-person instruction grant meant to incentivize public school districts to reopen. Stephens said BUSD does not intend to apply for the grant due to a couple of its “daunting” prerequisites, such as implementing a student COVID-19 testing program by Monday.
“We need the money no matter what in order to be ready to reopen,” Stephens said during the meeting. “I prefer that it just be made available.”