We asked only 10 questions.

We didn't hold your typical candidate forum. Instead, we treated this as an interview for a most important role. Via this process, we are able to see how candidates would be able to help our district achieve its mission of the four Es: equity, excellence, engagement, and enrichment.

  1. Ka'Dijah Brown
  2. Mike Chang
  3. Norma Harrison
  4. Reichi Lee
  5. Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos
  6. Jennifer Shanoski
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The candidates

We spent nearly an hour with each candidate for an intimate, one-on-one conversation so that we could get to know them as a person.

And, rather than asking school board candidates about their aspirations for what they’ll do if elected, we asked them the same exact 10 questions about their experience, skills and talents for this very difficult position. Can they collaborate to make an important decision? Do they have a track record of achieving goals?  What past work supporting children, teachers, and parents have they done?  We wanted to dive deep because each candidate's talent and experience with governing and collaborating matter. Read, watch, or listen to these interviews to learn more about the people who want to serve our children.

Ka'Dijah Brown

"We're trying to create opportunities and curate spaces for people to be seen, for people to be heard, for people to be included, for people to feel needed, and to feel like they are a part of a collective group that is working to reach a goal. Those are the ways in which that I think will  help to move us forward, help us to progress as people who are rallied around education for our young people."


Anne Caligari  00:05
Welcome. Thank you for coming and being willing to participate in this interview. This is the interview process for the Berkeley Parents Union. Based on the role of a school board director, we have designed these questions to better understand your past experience, demonstrating the characteristics and behaviors needed to be an impactful school board director. In your responses, please be sure to fully answer the questions to provide specific examples as often as possible.  My name is Anne Caligari, and I'm sitting today with Ka'Dijah Brown.  Ka'Dijah is the current president of the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Directors and a sixth grade teacher at a public charter school in Vallejo. Welcome, Ka'Dijah.

Ka'Dijah Brown  01:11
Thank you. It feels really great to be here. First, I just want to thank you all for putting this together, putting this opportunity together to hear parent voice.  I'm excited to be considered for an opportunity for endorsements and for an endorsement from my parents. It means so much that you all are participating in this process. So thank you for having me.

Anne Caligari  01:31
You're very welcome. We have 10 questions that we're going to ask you, and we have about five minutes for each question. [KB: Okay.]  Please just answer the questions, fully take your time. And if you need to do less or more on a question, we just need to stay within the time period.  

Ka'Dijah Brown  01:51
I'm taking a few notes.

Anne Caligari  01:53
Okay. So the first question is, how would you describe the needs of the whole child experience in busd?

Ka'Dijah Brown  02:09
Well, first of all, thank you for the question.  I appreciate you phrasing it in that way.  I'm an educator.  When I talk to other teachers, I talk to families about the whole child experience, because we know when children come to us, they come to us for their academic needs. But they also come to us for a whole other list of needs as well, that range from social emotional support to sometimes mental health support.  Schools happen to be sometimes the first responders to those needs, as well as a [child's] parents. When I think about the whole child experience, specifically in Berkeley, I would think about our four E's. That's what comes to mind. Our E's include enrichment, equity, engagement, as well as excellence. So from the perspective of enrichment, we in Berkeley have been called to action, and we must ensure that our enrichment opportunities for our children are robust.  These range from after school and summer school enrichment opportunities that are both timely and communicated effectively to our partners. It also includes the social emotional wellness, well-being and wellness checks. We have an elementary schools Toolbox, which is a wonderful framework to allow students to see what tools they have to support their social emotional growth and needs. Additionally, when I think about enrichment, I think about our faculty, our visual and performing arts programs that are offered to our students.  It is a rare experience for our students in BUSD and one that we cannot take for granted because it's really incredible. I also think about our access our students have to gardening and to fresh produce. All of those things fall under the enrichment "E" for BUSD. Additionally, we all know that equity is very important, not just in Berkeley Unified School District but in education throughout our nation and throughout the world. But specifically for BUSD we have to ensure that our educational experience is an equitable experience. When I say equitable, I oftentimes like to refer to the quote that equality is providing everyone with everything in the same way, a one size fits all approach; but equity is providing folks with what they need to be successful. We are tasked with supporting all of our learners; and we are tasked with doing it in an equitable way, so that the education that we provide in BUSD reaches every single learner that we support. When I think about engagement for our students, I think about it in multiple ways: I think about engagement both inside of the classroom and what that looks like. I also think about what engagement looks like outside of the classroom. That's when our parents really come in to support.  Engagement has to reach the home, because oftentimes, you'll hear me say, our parents aren't [currently] partners. We have to ensure that the engagement that we're providing for our students to keep them engaged and in the know and excited about school, is also provided to our families as well, to keep them excited, engaged, and in the know about what we're doing during and after the school day. The final "E" in our four E's is excellence. When I think about the whole child, I think about that level of excellence that is provided to them. So when they set foot into a school, onto a school campus, that they experience excellence from the time that they are there until the time that they go home to be with their families. What does excellence look like? Sometimes it looks like ensuring that there is someone that looks like them on campus; sometimes excellence looks like ensuring that there is someone who they can talk to and that they can be connected to that can help them with some of the challenges they may be experiencing. Sometimes excellence looks like uplifting and affirming the things that they did. So walking through the hallways and seeing student work, to see examples of how students have made it to the bar, but also continue to set the bar higher and higher. Sometimes excellence looks like things like the Oratorical Fest in our district, affirming and showing to out BUSD community, how incredibly gifted and talented our students are. When I think about the whole child experience, I think about our four E's, engagement, excellence, enrichment, and then finally equity.

Anne Caligari  06:56
Wow. Thank you.

Ka'Dijah Brown  07:01
Well, I can talk on and on! [laughter]

Anne Caligari  07:04
Let's go to question two. So could you give examples of how you've worked to support students, children and teachers in the past?  How will you use this experience as a board member, to ensure students' needs are placed at the center of the BUSD decision making?

Ka'Dijah Brown  07:56
I'm going to answer that in a couple of ways. The first way is in my work as the immediate past coordinator of a Black and African American Student Achievement Initiative in Richmond.  In that role, I was tasked with ensuring that there was a connection between our students, our faculty and staff, as well as our parents / guardians, and our families, to ensure that everyone was on the same page, so that we could ensure that our Black and African American students at my school achieved academic success as well as were supported with their social emotional goals and needs. I created and curated events under this initiative that brought folks together. For example, for our teachers, I offered support to them through the creation of professional development:  we went through an entire professional development series from Gholdy Muhammad's work around five pursuits [identity, skill development, intellectualism, criticality, and joy].  We really focused on joy, and what that looks like in the classroom, to ensure that our Black and African American scholars experienced joy in the classroom from their educators. To ensure that we were taking a data driven approach, [we worked to] combine data and information with what we were learning from the five pursuits, from a student-based perspective. I also supported them with the creation of workshops for young people that focused in on their data, focused on their academic goals, to help them be able to be responsible for their education. A lot of times we see parent advocates, who are really, really great. And we see community advocates, which are really, really great.  But oftentimes we don't uplift or affirm student advocates. That work was really centered around students taking responsibility for their education.  Finally, we also created events for our parents to ensure that the same information that was given to our teachers and to our students was also provided to our families. We also went to ensure that we engaged them in ways that were fun.  We had family game nights and events, coffee talks and events that brought them out, engaged them with a social, exciting thing, whether it be food or a game, but also ensured that they knew where their place was in the school, and that is in partnership with with our children and with our teachers. From the board perspective, however, I think that I've supported students in various ways.  The first way is being present. Whenever there is something going on with schools, and I hear directly from students. "Hi, President Brown, this is what's going on," or "Hi Director Brown, this is what's going on in my school. Can you lend a hand, can you see what's going on." I try to make it my duty to be present, both on campus and then also to be responsive to them and their needs, that they have in BUSD. But I think above all, as a board member, I continue to have a "students first" mindset and approach. When you hear people say that it's a bit cliche, right? You say, "I want to have students first mindset, our students first approach," but I take that very seriously. Oftentimes, when we are making decisions, the last people who are brought into the conversation are students, and that is not okay. Our students need to be the first people in the center of our conversation, because all of the work that we do, is centered around our students. Those are some of the ways that I have supported students, supported teachers, and supported parents, and will continue to do so.

Anne Caligari  11:58
So question three.  Please name recent examples of advocacy and outreach-- this runs right into your last answe-- name recent examples of advocacy and outreach you've led, or actively participated in at the local, city and state levels.

Ka'Dijah Brown  12:27
Okay. I'm just gonna combine them all. At the State level, there is Red4Ed that when I was actually a brand new baby board member (as we call a brand new board member), I was made aware of Red4Ed and its purpose, and really supported that effort and advocacy around that. Additionally, I will always be an advocate for ensuring that our teachers and our staff in BUSD are well paid. As an educator myself, it's very difficult to live in the Bay Area on an educator's salary. And Berkeley is not an inexpensive place to live.  I know, all too well, the challenges that arise with such a salary and with the cost of living here in Berkeley. I've been a longtime advocate for that and will continue to be. Specifically however, in BUSD, I've been an advocate for our parcel taxes here that we have on behalf of BUSD, and that really makes the difference for our students in comparison to students who are around the Bay Area. These would be of course BERRA and BSEP.  Additionally, something that is as important or may in some ways be more important, is the advocacy that we hear from our district level groups and committees. Although that is different from state advocacy, it is important for us to also be understanding, supported by and supportive of the advocacy [that come via these District committees]. So I really look to our parent groups, like PAC or DELAC or SBAC, to tell us what it is that we should be doing in BUSD for our students. That advocacy rings true in my heart and rings true also in my votes as well.

Anne Caligari  14:39
Okay. You mentioned a couple acronyms. SBAC?

Ka'Dijah Brown  14:44
Yes. The Superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee is what I mean by SBAC. You have to forgive me sometimes in education, we get carried away with acronyms, and we go acronym crazy. So I will remember to try my best to call out those acronyms as they are.

Anne Caligari  15:02
These are groups that parents are actually a part of.

Ka'Dijah Brown  15:06
Yeah, so they are parent advisory committees for the district. They have opportunity to report out during our board meetings. And they also inform the district on our decision making. So they're very important groups that we have.

Ka'Dijah Brown  15:21
Okay, super. Question four. It goes without saying, when it comes to education, our school community is passionate, opinionated, and organized. Name one to two examples where you were able to stand for and hold to your convictions in the face of opposition.

Ka'Dijah Brown  15:52
"Standing in the face of opposition..." I'm gonna ask everybody pause during this interview [laughter].  Standing in the face of the opposition. One thing I love about our board is that we share some of the same ideas often. We hardly ever vote different from each other. However, there have been a couple of times where, I've felt really strongly and passionately about issues in which the same passion for these issues weren't shared amongst me and my colleagues. However, that did not stop me from still supporting those things that I was interested in, as well as publicly supporting them. Recently, we just had a decision about distance learning. And it was a very controversial issue, not just amongst the board, but amongst our city.  There were advocates who came every single school board meeting to advocate for virtual learning for their students, many of whom are medically fragile, and really appreciated the ability to have distance learning an additional year, and were advocating for the need to have it again. When we looked at distance learning in comparison to our priorities that we created in the district, in the middle of budgeting season, there were some tough decisions that had to be made. There was a vote that had to take place. To me, it is a challenging position to be in when you know, you have to do what is politically right versus what is right.  When I think about our students, our parents, they are always at the center of my decisions- and I know that they're also at the center of the decision making for my board colleagues, but they're at the center of my decision. In that moment, I made a decision to support the need, and the need was still for distance learning here in BUSD. Unfortunately, the vote did not pass. But what stuck with me was a parent sharing, that although they weren't happy about the decision that was made, they were happy that they felt heard, and that they felt supported. Sometimes for our families, we can't, and we won't get every single thing right. But what our families must know is that they are heard and that they are supported. Even if just one board member hears them, supports them, and advocates for them, even in the face of opposition, it's important that we do that. I'm grateful because those opportunities are what help true partnership to form. That's important here in Berkeley. My second example was when we had a charter school here in Berkeley Unified School District.  

Ka'Dijah Brown  19:25
Because of some governance and oversight decisions, it was brought to the board for a vote to either provide the charter school with material revision or to decide to no longer have them associated with Berkeley Unified School District. And at the time, you have to weigh your pros and cons. You have to think about your budget, you have to think about the responsibility to the district, to our students and families here. But in that moment, I was, once again, the only board member who voted to keep that charter school here in Berkeley. And it is not because I am a super charter school champion. But I am a champion for educating our most vulnerable students and educating them well. In that moment, I had to take a step back from the fight between charter and public, and really be an advocate for our students who are underserved, and sometimes underrepresented in many venues but especially in education. I made the decision in that moment to represent students who look like me, students who look like you, students who look like all of us who sometimes make up the voiceless group in BUSD.  Those are two opportunities where I had to take the stand in the face of opposition.  The two moments where I'm proud of the decisions that I made. even when I was alone by myself.  Sometimes it feels good when you have another board member, but when you're alone and by yourself, it is really a testament to your values and what you believe.

Anne Caligari  21:24
So as a board member, you're accountable for the overall success of the district, as you know.  Share examples of how you've provided effective governance to an organization.

Ka'Dijah Brown  21:46
Okay, thank you for that question.  The first way I've provided effective governance to an organization is by leading BUSD, as the President of the school board, during some of the most challenging times that we've had, as a district.  Anything that you can think of has happened. In my time either as a President or the Vice President, we went through a pandemic, we excitingly found a new superintendent, we went through the search for new superintendent, we reopened schools after a pandemic. And I think in all of those stops, either as the President or Vice President of the Board I have done my best to provide effective governance as well as effective oversight. Governance and oversight are what fall under our work as board members. Outside of my work as a board member, I served for four wonderful years as a member of my School Site Council and as the President of served for three or four years as a president, but for maybe five years as a member of my School Site Council. And that's when I really learned, and learned to love governance and providing governance to organizations. Additionally, in my community, I serve as the Second Vice President of Black Women Organized for Political Action, the Berkeley Oakland chapter, and I'm also the International Second Vice President of a women's Christian organization called the Women's Missionary Society. And so I've provided governance in many different ways from community base to school base to political organizations and so on.

Anne Caligari  23:37
You sound busy [laughter]  Okay, so the next question is a little shorter. What is your vision of the of the successful graduate profile for a BUSD student of which you are one.

Ka'Dijah Brown  23:59
I am a graduate! [laughter] Okay. First of all, I really love that question. Because just a little while ago, with our leadership (different leadership here in BUSD), we started talking about a graduate profile, and what a graduate profile should look like, and what every single student graduating from BUSD must and should have as they graduate. I started getting really excited because I think about my class, about a lot of my friends who graduated from BUSD, and there are a couple of things that we all have in common. Number one, it is that cultural and social wokeness that is very Berkeley. So when I think about a graduate profile, of course, I think about all of the academic things that should be in the graduate profile, and I look to the California dashboard to identify some of those things, like college and career readiness.  I look to it for students to have certain understandings of their A through G requirements [UC/CSU admission high school course requirements] and meeting those requirements, specifically around ELA and math. I also think about a psychology toward career readiness, I think about all of those things as academic things that students should have. But I think about the other things that are so very Berkeley, so that social and cultural wokeness that I think students should have.  What we just adopted in BUSD, our climate literacy resolution, whose focus is to ensure that all of our students graduate from BUSD climate literate. That is very Berkeley. And I love that for all of our students. That is a priority here as we push to try to ensure that we keep our earth, the world, for as long as we can. I also think about our students graduating with their toolbox, with a certain level of social emotional skills, and a certain level of knowledge around social emotional tools that they can use when they're in need.  I think about our graduate profile, having another layer of it, which includes, like I talked about earlier, visual and performing arts. I think about our access to fresh foods, and all of the things that make up that whole child that I was talking about in the four E's. What all of our students have that no matter where you go, in their post secondary education, point can point students out and say, "Oh, that's a Berkeley student."

Anne Caligari  26:53
We have four more questions.  Question seven, the school board makes many important decisions, as you know, from hiring of the superintendent, to passing resolutions and approving budgets.  Name and example of how you have been able to collaborate in order to come to an important decision.

Ka'Dijah Brown  27:34
So I love telling people this all the time, I am not a board of one. I don't ever make decisions by myself: we are a collective board. So when I think about being collaborative, or collaborating to inform and make decisions, I think about our work on the board, and how all of us together, bring so much richness to the board, and using that richness to help inform our decisions. So for example, I'm an educator, we have other board directors, who have experience in public health, who have experience in law, who have experience in HR.  We have a wealth and range of experiences. When we are making decisions, and when we are creating different systems or different avenues, or informing the superintendent to help with the creation of those things, it is important that we draw from the knowledge and the experiences of everyone at the table. When we make decisions, like who's going to be our new superintendent, what things are we going to pass for the budget, it's important that we do that with a certain level of a public process, to ensure that we don't just hear our voices, but the voices from the community as well. Collaboration involves not just us as a board, not just the superintendent, not just the people in the district office, but it involves our community as well. So earlier, I talked a little bit about our Superintendent Budget Advisory Committee, as well as our other district committees, about the opportunities that they have during board meetings, to inform us of their updates or inform us on decision makings from what we should do with the budget, who and what groups should be prioritized for funding and so on and so forth. It's important to ensure that we collaborate. That we have a collaborative mindset. So that we are not just making decisions that we the Board think are best, nor just making decisions based on the groups that we are respectively affiliated with. But that we are making decisions based off of the voices that represent all of Berkeley, the voices that represent all of our parents, the voices that represent all of our guardians and all of our families who make decisions with a students first approach and with students at the forefront of their minds. When I think about collaboration, I don't think about just us five by board members, or six, with our superintendent; I think about collaboration across the entire district to ensure that we make good decisions.  

Anne Caligari  30:21
Okay, we're going to switch gears a little bit. From COVID testing, to key cards, new business processes, and technology can make an enormous difference in students' and families' experience, and even safety. Your question: provide examples of how you've led innovation in an organization, including sharing best practices, and introducing new technology.

Ka'Dijah Brown  31:03
Have you ever heard of distance learning? [laugher]  I'll talk about my work as a  teacher. So as a teacher, we had to completely shift the way that we teach to ensure that our young people were able to access it from home during distance learning. Talk about innovation: it was literally a flip of the classroom, from how we engage with students and how we called on students. In the classroom, when I call on students, I use my equity sticks.  When I had to shift to Zoom, I had to do it in a more fun and engaging way. And in a way that students could actually see their names. (If you try to put an equity stick to the camera, it blows out you can't see it on Zoom. [laugher]) So shifting how we engaged our students, shifting how we thought about and how we prepared and offered homework for our students. Gone were the days, through Zoom, where we were going through math books, and doing problems ([such as alternating between] even problems or the odd problems), we had to ensure that homework was something that students wanted to be engaged in.  We were even thinking about how we engaged our families, who were also at home, thinking of innovative ways to create parent teacher conferences, to ensure that we heard parent voice and parent perspective on how their students were doing. We had to also shift to be counselors as well, to support the mental health and the well being of our students during that time, all from a computer, and all from the comfort of our homes. So when you talk about innovation, that is probably one of the most innovated ways I've had to be. It pushed me and I am a better teacher because of it. I'm a better educator because of it. I am a more understanding and compassionate educator, because of it. I'm a more effective communicator with my families, because of it.  When we tie in that tech piece that you were asking about, that's all that was: updating us to the 21st century. What I loved about it, is it not only taught our students-- our students already knew how to use computers, because they're all into technology, everything from Minecraft, to YouTube, so on and so forth. But what it taught them is that the same excitement and joy that you have, when you're on YouTube, or using Minecraft, you can use that with your school as well.  You can develop that joy and excitement when it comes to school as well. Showing them how the world could be their oyster and how they could use YouTube, to support them with their educational goals, that they could use the structures in Minecraft, to help them learn area and to help them learn different mathematical functions. It is really mind blowing the ways in which we were able to create new avenues for learning and to continue to keep our students engaged. So it was amazing. I've thought about this, for some people was not, but for me, it was an amazing experience

Anne Caligari  34:48
While I was there, I definitely saw it. I was totally impressed with the way our staff is able to pull it together.

Ka'Dijah Brown  34:57
Definitely and when I talk to talk to parents and especially parents here BUSD, I heard from a ton of parents that they were impressed as well. Back at the [Berkeley] Schools Fund Black Party, we had the opportunity to celebrate our teachers for the ways in which they were innovative, in the ways in which they flipped the classrooms to provide their education to their students while they were at home. So many people applauded and celebrated our teachers for taking care of our community, for taking care of our children. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they ensured that our students still had access to a free and public education. And that's what it's all about. So go teachers-- go parents-- go students-- we all did it together. [laughter]

Anne Caligari  35:52
So our next question is often the school board passes a resolution that directs the district to do something new or different. But sometimes implementation is incomplete or doesn't even happen. Name an example of how you've held a large organization accountable to its goals.

Ka'Dijah Brown  36:16
Good question!  I think of that in a couple of ways. If I think about Berkeley Unified School District, we do have these really incredible resolutions. Our resolutions come with a lot of substance: there are a lot of things that we want to accomplish, that we need to ensure that they are accomplishing, and those are outlined in our resolutions, and our resolutions really call us to action. They tell us, hey, this is where we've been missing the mark. And this is what we need to do to ensure that our students are served well. The other thing that our resolutions do, is it allows opportunities for accountability. That accountability happens in various ways, one of which is updates that come to the board of education through workshops.  Where we can ask staff, hey, we put this resolution out now what is happening, what is going on? Let us know, let our community now provide us with updates to see if we are meeting the goals that are in our resolution and to see if our goals are appropriate. Are our goals, SMART goals? Are they specific? Are they measurable? Are they accountable goals? Are they reasonable goals?  And are they timely goals as well.  So that's one way. The other way, is through the creation of additional committees that provide that oversight and accountability measure to ensure that our resolutions are met and updated regularly. While that's how it is traditionally done in BUSD, I think that there is room for improvement around ensuring that those updates have been regularly happening, that those committees that were created to provide oversight to our resolutions are actually active and that they have parent and community voice on them. Another way that I've helped an organization meet their goals: as an educator, one of our main goals is to ensure that our students are reaching academic success, no matter where they're coming in at, but to ensure that they are meeting academic success.  I do that in a couple of ways. Number one, through appropriate and culturally relevant instruction. The second way that it is done is also through appropriate and culturally relevant, timely and specific assessments of my young people as well. Some people get a little nervous about the word assessments, but assessments I like to think about as goals. We know that our students have to reach a certain level. So our assessments really give our students an opportunity to show their mastery of the content so that they can reach their academic goals. In that way, every day, I make sure that I support my school's organization in ensuring that our students are ready for school and that they are academically successful. The final way in my work as a Black and African American Student Achievement Initiative Coordinator, we had four top priorities for the year. And those top priorities ranged from,

Ka'Dijah Brown  40:22
of course, an academic focus; also focused on family and parent engagement, like I spoke about earlier; it also focused on increasing our students' access to AP courses, access to rigorous courses. It also had a goal of professional development for teachers and educators. So as I talked about earlier through the creation of those programs, through those events, through the creation of a system where we were able to go and check in and have one on one check ins and mentors with our students, we were able to meet our academic goals for our students, we were able to meet our engagement goals for families, and we were able to meet our professional development goals for our teachers. [AC: Wow.] It's pretty amazing the work that we were able to do, and I'm really proud of this work, and of all of the students who were a part of this program, not only because they were provided with mentors that they could check in and have one on one academic and social emotional check ins with, but I'm so proud of the academic growth that they had. It's really because we focused in and we honed in on the whole child experience. That's why we were able to see the gains that we were able to see.

Anne Caligari  41:53
Fantastic. We're on the final question, [KB: Oh, final one!  I could sit her and talk to you all day!] [laughter]. And we're doing really well on time. So, board members tend to be leaders, both within the school district, and the community at large. Okay. What are examples in your work where you were able to improve team cohesiveness and or build community relationships?

Ka'Dijah Brown  42:31
Definitely, I think in my work as a board member, I've taken our board through a series of workshops and we just started our governance training. For the board, it's important that our members are not only working collaboratively, but that we all share the same knowledge and information. So that we can make very informed decisions, it's important that we continue to stay educated, knowledgeable and abreast of best practices that are happening throughout the state of California and throughout education as a whole. Also, to ensure that we have cohesiveness as well, we went through training that focused really on our social interactions with each other to ensure that we are a cohesive board and we work together as a cohesive board. In my professional life, however, I've supported, referring again to my earlier examples (parent nights, family game nights for parents), that really created an opportunity or avenue for cohesiveness amongst our parent group and our parent community.  It's so interesting what can happen or what will happen when you invite parents in the room and you tell them, "hey, you're all on the same team." Because not only does that help them be all on the same team during the game, it also creates avenues for them to be all on the same team and advocacy for all our young people. When that's when you start seeing parents come out and their language changes from "my student needs this" or "my student doesn't have" that to a place of advocacy that says "our students need this, our students should have this, our students deserve this."  With the village mindset and the village approach of taking care of our all of our communities of children.  That's one way I've tried to ensure that there are opportunities for cohesiveness to happen both on the board and in my work with parents.

Ka'Dijah Brown  45:05
To further illustrate this point, in my classroom, I don't say to my students, "You don't all have to get along, but you all have to respect each other."  No, we all have to get along, especially when I think about the content that I'm teaching my students: when I think about math, science, and now when I think about coding, these are some of my favorite subjects. They're subjects that I hold very near and dear to my heart. But that is not the experience of all of our children. So we have to remove barriers that will keep them from reaching the academic success and potential that we talked about. A lot of times for our students, those barriers are worrying about who is bullied them or who hadn't, who doesn't want to be their friend, or who doesn't want to build relationships with them.  I do everything in my classroom from a relationship based asset or better relationship based approach to ensure that we level the playing field in the classroom for every single student, so that when students come in, they're not worried about their clothes, they're not worried about their socio economic background, they're not worried about their zip code, they're not worried about what social group or friend groups that they hang out with. All of those things are left at the door. And when we come into the classroom, we are a community, we are a family that works together to ensure that we all can be sure to reach our goals. For me, that is the way that it is the most near and dear to my heart when I think about cohesiveness. Because it also has a domino effect. In the same way that we build cohesiveness in our classroom community, we also build that same cohesiveness amongst our parents. That's when our parents are saying, like, Oh, I'm hearing a lot about Alicia, and she gets along with my daughter all the time, maybe you can give me access to their family. We can put together a study session or a play date. That's when you bring communities together that maybe would not have been together or work together. But because we created that cohesiveness and we created that community in the classroom, it is literally doing a domino effect everywhere else. When I think about my work just with my school community, as a whole, many people know that I am a bit of a social butterfly. [laughter] Building relationships is part of my core, it's a part of who I am. Bringing people together around issues is a part of what I think I consider to be one of my ministries. In my school community have brought lots of folks together around support for Black and African American students. In my work as the School Site Council President, I brought our communities together to rally them around the creation of our English Language Development Coordinator for our entire school. In my work, as a board member have supported and continue to support opportunities to bring parents together so that we can hear from them on the issues that are affecting them, and their young people at their school site, but also around the entire district. That's done, of course, through our emails, but also through our public comment opportunities during our board meeting. In those ways, We're trying to create opportunities and curate spaces for people to be seen, for people to be heard, for people to be included, for people to feel needed, and to feel like they are a part of a collective group that is working to reach a goal. Those are the ways in which that I think will  help to move us forward, help us to progress as people who are rallied around education for our young people. Thank you for the question.  

Anne Caligari  48:42
Oh, absolutely.  And thank you very much. That was our last question. Thank you so much for spending the time with me today. This is such a great forum to get to know the candidates and I just wish you all the best with your candidacy.

Ka'Dijah Brown  49:05
Thank you so much. And thank you all again for allowing us to speak with you, to engage with you. Our parent community is really the heartbeat of our schools, you all are what keeps us going. You are the group that calls us to action to ensure that we're doing what we say we're going to do. I'm very appreciative for this opportunity and appreciative to engage our families and I look forward to continuing to support our families to support our parents and guardians in BUSD and I look for that same support from our families and parents or guardians as well. [AC: Awesome]. Thank you! [AC: Thank you Ka'Dijah!]

Show full transcript

Mike Chang

Jennifer Shanoski and Mike Chang declined multiple invitations to participate. This has resulted in not being able to learn about the character and experience of these school board director candidates.


“While we, respectfully, will not be participating in the BPU [Berkeley Parents Union] process, we hope to see you and other parents at… other forums.”

Norma Harrison

"[Schooling should be] to have all these experiences that make us feel good about contributing...  Because you love that stuff. You love the study. And it feels good to share it with people... Everybody has that feeling that when we share our lives, that we feel good. And I want that opportunity to go on for everybody and not in a compulsory circumstance."


Ann Callegari  00:05
Great. Well, welcome. And thank you for coming. [NH: My pleasure] And for being willing to participate in this interview process for the Berkeley parents union. [NH: It's a great idea.]  Based on the role of a school board director, we have designed these questions to better understand your past experience, demonstrating the characteristics and behaviors needed to be an impactful school board director. In your, in your responses, please be sure to fully answer the question and to provide specific examples as often as possible. So, to everyone, my name is Ann Callegari. And I am sitting today with Norma Harrison. Norma has decided to introduce herself. And so here you are. Welcome!

Norma Harrison  01:01
Thanks. Thanks so much. They may be call it a community advocate, because they don't give me an option to put down "revolutionary" and stuff like that, which is what I've been all my life. I am a member of the Communist Party USA here in the Berkeley area. There's an Elizabeth Gurley Flynn club. And there's another Communist Party group called Grit in the area, more in Oakland. And I'm a member of Democratic Socialists of America, which does not hold with my politics, but they seem to want to build socialist struggle. So I'm a member of that organization. And what's the other group that I'm with? Well, that's enough. I'm a perennial school board candidate, as it says, and they changed the word-- I asked him to change that word. They said "criticize," that I criticize the traditional school system, and the word criticize has taken on the wrong meaning. It means the same thing as what I offered them to put instead, which is I *critique* it. And I don't agree with it in any regard. I think that people from the time they can walk should be members of the productive members of society, that this would give the opportunity for all people to do good things in society to live with the community that they're in, and I'll sweep the flat factory floor for 15 minutes a week, when you're two years old or something, something suitable, get rid of the eight hour day concept. And of course, get rid of the idea of making profit for our owners, which is what every job that we have, except for our owner's jobs is about.

Ann Callegari  03:14
Well, it sounds like you've been very busy.

Norma Harrison  03:18
You know, as much as as much as fits.  

Ann Callegari  03:22
And I know that you have a lot to say. So we have 10 questions, and I'm sure, within those questions, you'll be able to tack on a lot of that information. I'm happy to hold that for you if you would. Thank you. Okay. So, like I said, we have 10 questions, and I'm gonna get started with the first one. So how would you describe the needs of the whole child experience in the US?

Norma Harrison  03:47
Describe the need?

Ann Callegari  03:48
of the whole child experience.

Norma Harrison  03:53
I want integrated members of society- age [appropriate] integration.  I was tormented when I had to give up my baby into a system that commanded that I do so.  You had to leave the house- I didn't love taking care of house, that was not a great option, but I just didn't like the idea of that separation enforced upon us. And I want to give everybody the chance to respond to that.  I'm sure everybody feels that way that they don't want the separation that is enforced to occur. And of course, the reason is forced to occur is that people have to be indoctrinated from the cradle, with the ideas of service to this profiteering system, to this warmongering system. The system cannot function without making war.  Right now they're trying to donate all those materials to Ukraine, and why donation is our tax money pay for paying for the items and any money that goes with it. And going through the hands of the profiteers to take off whatever they feel like having to put in their pockets at people need it very you've ever experienced a Catholic person saying, Yes, I'm a recovering Catholic, it means for years, they were indoctrinated into these ideas that are so self oppressive. I know, religions are all self oppressive. You gotta hate yourself and give yourself up to some minister, who's going to tell you y'all don't need that; don't dance around don't all the other don'ts that go with religion instead of struggle for justice for everybody, because that would give up their oversight of your life, if you did that.
Ann Callegari  06:01
Okay, so you can go on to the second question. [NH: Sure.] Okay, great. Can you give examples of how you've worked to support students, children and teachers in the past? And how will you use this experience as a board member, to ensure students needs are placed at the center of BUSD's decision making?

Norma Harrison  06:25
Well, you might have heard me say that I care about the parents' needs. And the community's needs.  I would be grateful if anybody could replicate how I lived. I'm 87. And how I lived is that after school, and maybe dancing lessons and piano lessons, I went out and played with the people in the alley, the children, we played baseball, we played tag, we played annoying the heck out of each other some way or other, or getting along for several years that I lived there. I would like us to crowd together in ways that are beyond the enforced city living. City living is too crowded for people. So I would like to see people having the opportunity to do these in voluntary kind of groups. Go out and reclaim the desert! There'll be obviously there'll be people with training people with schooling behind them to talk to you about what the desert is, and what the options are to do that reclamation. And so when you're three, you'd start learning about this, about everything and start measuring, counting, repeating back what people are saying, learning the vocabulary together.  Children would say, I don't know what that means. Then you talk about it with seven year olds or 50 year olds. I would like people to see that. This whole thing about trying to reform your idea about how people should live together. I want that option to exist for people instead of people keep trying to  fit themselves into the system that exists. School is a cruel thing we do to the parents, the communities and of course, the children and adult students being forced to sit in classrooms in order to be considered deserving of survival. And of improved survival, what degree of survival you get to be part of needing to be judged constantly; graded on behavior and performance of imposed, often irrelevant tasks, disallowed from participating in our brutal society working, living age integrated.  We've got to redefine the meaning of the word work right now. It means a job. And the job of course, is the name of our behavior in relation to capital. That's all we get is the opportunity to serve the people who are going to profit off of our labor. I'm ready to go on; if you need to interrupt me...

Ann Callegari  09:43
No, we're doing good. Okay, so I have the third question. Let's see how this works. Name recent examples of advocacy and outreach you've led or actively participated in at the local city. and state levels.

Norma Harrison 10:02
Well, this campaigning is one thing I give up energy for. I think this is the sixth or seventh time I'm running for the office on this basis of constructing an opportunity for people to look at what they're doing. And to that I have another [laughs] commentary. My effort is to make available to the community considerations of how we live in this society, as we struggle to build the Egalitarian- for all children, for students, for people doing living, including maintaining our society. The way we do it now as wage slaves, leaves us in variously undignified levels. It tires us without sufficient rest-- that eight hour day again--.  It limits are going outside and spring. [laughs] I remember myself in fourth grade, looking outside. I lived in Chicago, and spring when we got it was so delicious. And here you had to sit in the classroom, they'd open the window a little bit in the air, I could've ate! [laughter] It was just exquisite. And we didn't get to go out until the course after three o'clock. That whole nonsense of controlling our time, meaninglessly, except in order to control us. The order of living is not pleasant, no matter how hard we try to make itself. And this is another one: I was just reading Sunday's paper, Sunday's paper had about four pages in it, I only get the Sunday issue, it gets so much other news that the Sunday newspapers and not the West County Times.  They're talking about how to make family out of the people with whom you have a job. And that's so not the way to do the job to get attached to a job, to get attached to people. It's so fake. Oneself creates the necessity to have to relate in, in this emotionally involved way with people you don't want to be involved with emotionally. You want to go home and be with people you've been with, that you've grown up with, that you attach to because you do have mutual interests. A job is not a nice thing [for this]. Of course in the meantime, we have to pay the rent. The Rent Board, even, which I've supported for years, theoretically, says that we want to get affordable housing.  There is no such thing as affordable housing. If there were affordable housing, we would ruin the ruling class.

Ann Callegari  13:15
And then you have to make time for advocating for your kid in school, right?  

Norma Harrison  13:21
No, but that's all included. The child is there for the advocacy as we you talk with the child, the community talks with the child. People are familiar with these ideas. They're not segregated by age: 90 year old people are involved in your life. Because everybody has something that they can contribute. Somebody isn't necessarily going to go out and lift a bale of cotton, but somebody is going to talk to your child and say these things are going on and the child is going to tell it to you that older person or, or the neighbors.

Ann Callegari  13:55
This next question really leads into this. It goes without saying that when it comes to education, our school community is passionate, opinionated and organized. Name one to two examples where you were able to stand for and hold your convictions in the face of opposition.

Norma Harrison  14:18
I gotta tell you, nobody supports my campaign.  My Peace and Freedom Party people don't support my campaign. My Communist Party People don't support my campaign. It's so far out. You know, it's such a challenge that I'm not saying the things they're accustomed to hearing. And that is so difficult for me. I've got a page on that. But the idea, by the way, you say education. Education has even more recently become a commodity. Oh, he's not getting educated. Oh, he's not learning. What does they think is happening to the child's mind when they're not in school when they're in front of the computer, when they're going out, when they're not going out. People are always learning. We are all teachers and students all our lives. And that's taken away from us; that is owned by the owners who want us to have the behavior that will fit in to the profiteering society that they control. It's not as though I'm done with that statement. It'll be a great day when we, the scarcely very privileged. And at least, I don't know about you if you feel if you agree with me. But we are very privileged in a very scarce way over the people who don't have a place to live, over the people who are frightened all the time about maintaining, and so on, which is at least half or more of the world. I mean, so many people are on the run to relocate from the terrors that they're living. So we the scarcely very privileged in our enslavement to our owners. It'll be a great day, when we notice the despotic totalitarian autocracy, to which rulership we willfully ignorantly submit the myth that we allow to control us, like "freedom." "This is the freest place in the world," you know? Yeah, well, maybe it was developed that way at the beginning, but it was freedom for whom? not for you and me, that's for sure.

Ann Callegari  16:47
Can move on to the next question? [NH: Sure, go ahead.] Okay, so this is question five. As a board member, you're accountable for the overall success of the district share examples of how you've provided effective governance to an organization.

Norma Harrison  17:06
Yeah, I haven't provided governance [laughs], I provided constant commentary, and as I say, it's very difficult for people to pick up.  I have, you know, 99% of what I have to say with the organizations that I attend is acceptable and useful. And I get a lot of yeses, yeses, yeses along with it. When I go off on this stuff. You're not there. I support Stalin. Why? Because Stalin was a great defender of the revolution, which is why he's so hated by the ruling class world. People don't get it. What does that mean? Well, it means the very harsh refusal of people to make profit off of another person's labor. And Xi Jinping in China is having the same problem. He's promised to take back the profiteering that's going on there. And people [in China] are saying, "I'm not going to pay my mortgage." Well, that mortgage is useless because the buildings aren't being built, because the people that were borrowing excessively are not able to make those loans. I mean, it's a whole range and China has allowed a certain amount of profiteering to go on, because they need some way for people to get along. But they now see, they have to stop these people who've been making fortunes. One person says, he has $600,000 in the bank and he can't get it. $600,000! [laughs] Who has $600,000 to pay their bills? Not many people. So what I've done is a lifetime of working to enable people to recognize our social oppression, by church, State, community, and the release to be found through communist struggle. It gives me a great pleasure to do this.  My husband died 12 years ago and was very oriented in the direction I'm talking about not the same way Don't get me wrong, but he was definitely communist based, Marxist base, which is why I absolutely worshipped him- well that's not only it he was beautiful. [laughter] And, and he didn't listen to me and he got cancer, pancreatic cancer, and he died. I told him not to, when they do with a marriage ceremony, and they stay in sickness and in health, I turned to him I said, no sickness. [laughter]

Norma Harrison  
And he didn't listen again. Anyway, funny. So it's difficult for people to see what so painfully controls their lives and minds. It's so integral and so supported by our neighbors, our social institutions, our myths, our owners, armies, police. My campaign is about the fierce alienation from actuality, looking toward us becoming more and more able to deal with it, thereby overgrow it with our increasing knowledge, not just the what is actually goes on, but of how to figure out how to come out from under it's horrible oppression of the abuse of us all. Oh, my God, if people are not sore forever, every day about Vietnam. Congratulations to them for having been able to turn away. I mean, let alone the brutality against black people. If people aren't enraged, all the time, about the horrible in justices that are done to groups of people, and in particular, consistently Black people, African Americans, African, whatever. Sheesh.

Ann Callegari  19:50
He didn't listen,

Norma Harrison  20:48
I definitely hear you there. Can we go on to Question six? What is your vision of the successful graduate profile for a BUSD student?

Norma Harrison  22:18
"Graduate profile..." I don't even know what that means.

Ann Callegari  22:22
So after that student graduates what's the future?  

Norma Harrison  22:27
Well, they'd be lucky if they can get a job washing dishes in the restaurant or anything. Getting a job is fantastically difficult. Now I understand when I say that kind of job that it's so people get surprised. Wow.

Ann Callegari  22:41
What's your vision? [NH: Pardon?] What would be your vision though?

Norma Harrison  22:48
I want to grow revolutionaries. I want people to be modeled after the kind of thing that I'm doing. But they can't because they don't have the way to get dinner. They don't have the way to get a roof. And so they can't just make that as a choice.  The concessions that people no matter graduate or not, the concessions that people make in order to survive. That's what I say. The recovering Catholic, a recovering Catholic could be 60 years old, and has had to stand up through getting along, surviving getting enough to eat, being able to take care of children, being able to have control over reproduction. For families. They don't have these rights. They don't they're not allowed. People are not allowed to take care of oneself or others, and taking care of other people, you know, get all these kind of enslaved people being able to having being obliged to take care of grandmothers and other broken people that otherwise wouldn't be able to take care of themselves. And the pay. The way it is for teachers is so minimal, that it's almost you know, when I thought that I am going to become a teacher, I said when I know I said it when I was nine years old. I am not going to be a teacher, school teacher. And when I was about 24, I found out if I wanted a job, I better go to school, I had the option to get a certification course I only got four years in Illinois. So when I moved to California and thought I was gonna get a job doing teaching here, my folks said, Well, yeah, if you're a teacher, you can go anywhere. I was able to do teaching in Israel when we went to help build the socialist based nation in 1966. You know, the Jews sit around for Passover dinner and they say, "Next year in Israel." That's a good idea. So we went, my husband was pissed off about a bunch of things. And so he says, oh, let's go to Israel, and he's from Irish Catholic people. And so what, you know, we could go anywhere. Well, you couldn't go because Israel would not allow him to become a citizen.

Ann Callegari  25:27
A history lesson...

Norma Harrison  25:32
They really missed something. But they they didn't have a socialist system. They too, had a laboring body, and people living well off of that. So I did some school teaching there. And the children taught me Hebrew and Arabic.

Ann Callegari  25:52
You mentioned teachers a couple of times, and the fact that we need to make sure that that they are compensated that you know, we're taking care of them. So this next question is really important. The school board makes important decisions, from hiring of the superintendent, to passing resolutions, resolutions, and approving budgets.  Name an example of how you have been able to collaborate in order to come to an important decision. So these are important decisions we hired the school board members are,

Norma Harrison  26:29
I say people don't get paid enough period, anywhere.   Working people do not get paid enough. We need not to have to slave away eight hours a day in order to send our children if we have to to college. I'm not sure that I like I said, I want people to be studying all our lives, in ways that you can study higher math when you're seven, there's all kinds of other options than having to go to [college].  They call it higher education. It's just another step on creating the elitism that we live with, on the separation of who is better qualified. Do you have a degree in this? Do you have a diploma in this? Which doesn't, you know, I'm sure it means something. But it's not the aim, it's not to get the degrees. It's to have all these experiences that make us feel good about contributing.  And build the steps on the porch; while you're doing it, you find out that there's a certain arithmetic and math that goes along with building it, because other people know that stuff, and you share it.  Because you love that stuff. You love the study. And it feels good to share it with people, you know, teachers are always going, Oh when their eyes light up when there's teaching going on.  Everybody has that feeling that when we share our lives, that we feel good. And I want that opportunity to go on for everybody and not in a compulsory circumstance.  School is-- they call it a compulsory free education. [laughs]  And that by the way, a 14 year old child identified. She outlined this compulsory free education idea and I've copied it ever since then. I listen a lot.

Ann Callegari  28:46
Sounds good when you put those words together like that.

Norma Harrison  28:49
Yeah. It never occurred to me. I mean, I talked about being mandated to have to go to school. Compulsory free education really explains our position.  

Ann Callegari  29:04
Okay, so we're at Question Eight. Gosh, we've gone through them pretty nicely.

Ann Callegari  29:08
So from COVID testing to key cards, new business processes and technology can make an enormous difference in students' and families' experience and even their safety. Provide examples of how you've led innovation in an organization including sharing best practices, and introducing new technology.

Norma Harrison  29:43
Oh, I don't have any examples of those. The ideas that I'm putting out here now, are all I have to support our development as it were, development having gotten such a terrible word. When I was growing up, my mother said, you're going to develop, you know, when you're 12 or 13. [laughter] And she meant gonna get dressed. Right, which I hardly ever do.

Norma Harrison  30:21
But development has become people building huge amounts of buildings and stealing the land in ways that they can do that kind of thing. And that's the, you know, that's a perversion of the idea development.

Ann Callegari  30:39
So, question nine, often the school board passes a resolution that directs the district to do something new or different. But sometimes implementation is incomplete or doesn't even happen. Name an example of how you've held a large organization accountable for its goals.

Norma Harrison  31:02
Oh, no, I haven't ever, ever, ever encountered it. I mean, I'm sure that if I stopped to think of all the legislation that goes on that I oppose, decisions to go to war. I think that's the classic example. The government makes a rule that it should bomb Iraq, you know, and I work to oppose it. I've marched a long time ago; I use to march.

Ann Callegari  31:34
How do you see yourself holding them accountable?

Norma Harrison  31:40
I keep on attempting to get people aware, to get people to allow themselves to see what's going on. Which I'm sure you're aware, it's very, very difficult. Yeah, we've been messed over this way. We've been messed over there. And don't know the solutions, the struggle to control the rewards of living, you work together. Fidel Castro said everybody eats the same. What does that mean? That means there's no privilege for people, just everybody has whatever plenty can be raised from the ground.

Ann Callegari  32:29
So we're at the last question, question 10. Board members tend to be leaders, both within the school district and the community at large. What are examples in your work where you were able to improve team cohesiveness and or build community relationships?  

Norma Harrison  33:03
Well, I told you at the beginning, even my comrades, my colleagues, don't go along with the kinds of things I'm doing. I say, I'm running for school board again, and they go the other way, because they got one or two ideas off of what I'm saying. And they know it's very difficult to implement the mind change that communities would have to go through in order to begin to challenge the structure that goes on. We're living in a series of structures, the banking structure, the transportation structure, the energy supply structure, all of those are designed to be sure that our owners put money in their pocket. So I'm active against all of those. And when I say active, as I said, I used to march and I don't now, I can't. And I put in my time for marching.

Ann Callegari  34:00
Marching in spirit now.  

Norma Harrison  34:04
Yeah. Well, I keep on I made several times a week with comrades to go over the ideas and to urge activity and every now and then I donate a little bit of money to one or another organization. Not a lot because I don't have it, but I do encouraging things and people like it. They give back the ideal. Yes. Oh, yes. I get that a lot. If I weren't getting it I don't think I could go on. But it's a constant thing people saying yes, yes.

Ann Callegari  34:42
Well, we have come to the close of our interviews. Did you have something else you wanted to share?

Norma Harrison  34:49
Oh, endlessly. [laughs]

Ann Callegari  34:52
Well, let's take a couple moments.

Norma Harrison  34:54
If I told you it's difficult for people to see how badly used we are, we don't have the space, we don't have the institutional space to look at what we're doing, and how much we hate it. Because we think we have to bear up on.  We put up with the requirement.

Norma Harrison  35:33
We put up with the requirement to attend classrooms. Regardless how offended by that command we are. We're supposed to behave properly to our being instructed, we are to submit to this compulsory free education, learning now firmly having been made into a commodity, those degrees and diplomas, people need to want to be allowed to associate together, we're not allowed, we're stuck. There's all kinds of regulations. And I mean, when they when the police come and beat on us when we're out in the streets, that's a limitation of us getting together, organizing to make demands, bringing us together, talk together. Well, if you're Black, they'll kill you need to want to be so toward the end, we have to work to end age segregation, we have to work to let people at any age participate together. And it's very hard to figure that out. We're so indoctrinated to think of the age segregation as the way you know, like it's God given or something, which is absurd.  Don't give grades all the time. Don't get grades. Yes, you get an A or 4 whatever. Permit people not to have to be judged all the time. In fact, they could judge for themselves if given the opportunity. Did you succeed in building the steps? All right.  

Ann Callegari  37:44
It's all a learning process?

Norma Harrison  37:51
Well, I'm not saying that exactly. I'm saying that the people evaluating need to be themselves. Because did they do a good job of according to them? And no, I had to repair this and that and so?  So people aren't stupid, and they're treated as though they have an idea in their heads. Well, the idea is to fit in, allow us all to produce and enjoy the fruits of our labor. And that it's our owners who profit from our labor. So a lot of this becomes repetitive from what I've said: children and youth are prevented from integrated activity, integration within or beyond the community in which they live. We're all geniuses. We are alienated from being allowed to develop the direction that drives us. Eight hours a day does not allow those things, school day plus homework plus regulation of what you're supposed to think and feel those things limit us from following a genius that we have. Well, many people have followed that genius. And you'll notice that and I'm saying that that's 100% of people have that tendency that is cut off by these constructs that were, you know, church for one.

Ann Callegari  39:29
I have to agree with you there. The brilliance. And that's one thing that we definitely noticed in our children-  we notice their brilliance. And, and that's why we want to make sure that they have what they need.

Norma Harrison  39:45
It's not going to happen by school. Yeah. We're not going to be able to fix school. I am no way trying to fix school. Somebody said it right. They said it's already fixed. It does the job. It supplies the working force, that's needed to make profit for our owners. And so that's the fix that school that the capitalist system is.  Capitalism works. It's fixed. In that in that other meaning of the word fix,

Ann Callegari  40:01
I think that I think we're good. We've got all 10 questions answered. Thank you so much.

Norma Harrison  40:26
It's been a pleasure.

Ann Callegari  40:27
Thanks for spending the time with me today. It was nice to meet you. I have. I think I've been to one or two forums where you were before but it's been a while? [NH: Yes. Just two years.] I can't believe you said you're 87. I don't believe it.

Norma Harrison  40:47
Just watch me walk.

Ann Callegari  40:54
But I wish you all the best with your candidacy. Thank you so much.  

Norma Harrison  40:59
Thank you, Anne, and good luck to getting... I mean, nobody's gonna go in and try to fix things. They're all going to say, Oh, I did this and all these other things that can help them fix the school system into much better, but none of it has happened. None of it has happened. They talk about, what kind of gap they call learning gap...? What's the word?

Ann Callegari  41:25
I've heard, achievement gap, equity gap...

Norma Harrison  41:27
Yeah, it hasn't changed. We're still leaving people behind. I'm convinced. You know, this thing about the Black child being accused of not fitting in properly. Back in their minds, they go and heck with this junk. They get to have a taste of it. They come from families that have a lot of self respect that they tried to imbue into the child. And the child was supposed to go to school and give those things up or go into society and give those things up. And the child is saying no, I don't, I don't, I will not comply. And I think it's based on their cultural identity, which is great. Which is great.

Ann Callegari  42:18
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, great. Thank you so much.

Show full transcript

Reichi Lee

"In all of my work, whether it's representing a child or working with a college student, there is one truth that I have discovered. It is that young people can do more than we think. They really can: whatever we think, multiply that. And sometimes in the process of doing it, they surprise even themselves."


Anne Caligari  00:00
Welcome, and welcome to you Reichi. Thank you so much for coming, and for being willing to participate in this interview process for the Berkeley Parents Union. Based on the role of a school board director, we have designed these questions to better understand your past experience demonstrating the characteristics or behaviors needed to be an impactful school board member. In the responses, like I mentioned before, please be sure to fully answer the question, and to provide specific examples as often as you can. So, my name is Anne Caligari. And I am sitting down today with Reichi Lee, and Reichi is going to give us more of an introduction of herself.  Reichi?

Reichi Lee  00:49
Hi, Anne, thank you so much for having me. My name is Reichi Lee, and I'm a mom of two kids. I have a sixth grader at King and a fourth grader at Rosa Parks. I was a former foster youth attorney in Alameda County. And most immediately, I was the Director of Academic Achievement and Associate Dean of Online Education at Golden Gate, University. I'm also, before I forget, a Commissioner on the City of Berkeley's Peace and Justice Commission.

Anne Caligari  01:25
Excellent. Well, thank you, and welcome. [RL: Thank you.] So I'm going to get started.  We have 10 questions for you. And I'm going to start with an easy one.  How would you describe the needs of the whole child experience in BUSD?

Reichi Lee  01:42
Thank you for asking that. The needs of the whole child is academic, social, emotional, as well as cultural. When I think about even myself and my own family, and the raising our kids, we focus on their academic achievement, and how well they're doing in their classes, and whether they need any support there. But we also want to ensure that they're enriched as human beings so that they grow up to be strong, capable and empathetic citizens. And so in order to be that, they have to have a very strong sort of social and emotional identity.  Part of one's identity is also their cultural identity. And that's of really, really significant importance to my family. So when I think about the whole child experience for every child and BUSD, no matter what their background is, it is academic, social, emotional, and cultural, racial and cultural.

Anne Caligari  02:58
Can I go on to the next question?  Give me examples of how you've worked to support students, children and teachers in the past, and how will you use this experience as a board member, to ensure students' needs are placed at the center of BUSD decision making?

Reichi Lee  03:19
Okay, thank you. I want to talk a little bit about my background. Because I think that highlights what I've done for students and families, as well as teachers, and then I could talk a little bit more specifically about what I'm currently doing now. As a foster youth attorney, I represented children from one day old to 21 years old. And when you represent their interests it's not only their (albeit very important) permanency and safety interests, you're also advocating for them in terms of their educational interests, their physical interests, their mental health. And so as a foster youth attorney, it really gave me the opportunity to see how certain systems that were really meant to help, sometimes can end up hurting instead. And so that really changed my life. Doing that work really opened my eyes. When I was a Director of Academic Achievement and Associate Dean of Online Education at Golden Gate, really, that's just a fancy way of saying I help students. I help students succeed because my department that I oversaw helps struggling students do better in school. And sometimes those students have been struggling for many, many years before they get to graduate school. And for one reason or another, they either didn't diagnose what [problem] ,they had, or they didn't get the support that they needed. Or, they kept it to themselves. But it all came to a head in graduate school. And so that experience also made me realize how much more we can do as educational institutions and as a society to support our young people, so that they can go out to be productive and happy adults. What I'm currently doing now-- I'm sorry-- one more thing I want to talk about is, I'm really proud of the fact that I was one of the parent founders of a school called West County Mandarin School. It's a district school in West Contra Costa Unified School District, our neighboring district.  We, as a parent group, with the support of the superintendent at the time, went through the process with their school board to get a brand new school approved in that district. And so it's about five or six years in operation, and it's doing really, really well.  I believe it has a waiting list, even though the district itself, like many districts, is experiencing declining enrollment. And what I am the most proud of is that one out of every two seats is reserved for a child who's at a disadvantage, whether it's low income (they qualify for free or reduced lunch), or they're homeless or foster youth. And so one out of every two seats is reserved for that student. Additionally, about 30 to 35% of the students currently being served are Black students and Latino students who are learning Mandarin, as well as all the other subjects and really accessing a skill that they would normally not have been able to access.  [This has been able to] bring opportunities to them, and also bring teachers into that district, to also be teaching in such an innovative and exciting program.  That school is, I believe in the process [of getting approval], or has already been approved, as an IB, International Baccalaureate, school. And so I share all of that, because I stand for equity.  My career has been about helping students [and] helping teachers. You know, I want to talk about that latter point a bit.

Reichi Lee  07:44
I was chair of the School Site Council, at Rosa Parks Elementary, where I had the opportunity to look at how we were spending money, and where the money was going: to what programs and to what groups of people supporting those programs. And what I realized, was that we, for example, are not supporting many of our teachers in giving them the tools that they need because we saw teachers still asking for grants for things that I feel like they should just automatically be able to have in their classroom. The things that I guess are considered extra, but really, when you look at it, are not extra.  These are things that really should be just a given. Additionally, I saw how poorly paid, to just be blunt about it, some of our after school staff were being paid. And I really advocated for an increase in pay for permanency for them, because I knew that it would be hard to get those people back. They were so dedicated to the job, it'd be hard to get them back if we lost them. And I remember talking about this right before COVID hit and then COVID happened. And that's exactly what happened [staff departure]. We lost all of that staff and we didn't give them a reason to return. And so I am committed as a school board member, given the lens that I have, to bring equity for not only our students and families, but for our teachers and staff as well.

Anne Caligari  09:34
Thank you. I'll go on to the next question. Name recent examples of advocacy-- and it sounds like it runs right into what you were saying-- of advocacy and outreach you have led or actively participated in at the local, city and state level.

Reichi Lee  09:50
Okay [AC: Right, you've already started it [laughter].] Yeah. And I think advocacy comes in different forms. Advocacy sometimes comes in the form of just your daily interactions, your daily work, and right down to the school site, as well as district level and all those other levels. And so, you've heard about some of my on the ground school site work. I'm also really proud to be a member of our newly formed anti racism steering committee. We've had some amazing consultation by Miss Pam, who is...

Anne Caligari  10:29
Pamela Harrison Small?

Reichi Lee  10:30
Yes. Who is a well known consultant around race and equity issues. And so we've had the benefit of some of her teachings. And now it's about implementing it at the school site. And I know other schools are doing similar projects. But what I would like to do going forward is to actually bring some of those efforts together, because sometimes school sites spin their own wheels, but we don't know what each other are doing. And I think we could do a better job to coordinate.  I'm really proud to be part of that effort. And some immediate things that come to mind: I was the organizer of a stop Asian Hate March, after the Atlanta shootings in I think it was 2021. There [was] a huge spike in violence against Asian Americans, particularly Asian American elders. And I really wanted to speak up about that. So I organized a march around that effort. And that was a wonderful opportunity to get young people involved, college folks involved, really everybody in the community to really come together to stand against hate. I'm also on the Peace and Justice Commission [with] the city of Berkeley. And what we do there is pretty broad, we can look at all sorts of things, but some of the commonality with our efforts is around social justice. And so some of the recent things that I've been a part of in advocating for is climate literacy. At our district, I know that we passed a climate literacy resolution, but the Peace and Justice Commission also supported the city of Berkeley passing a resolution to support that effort, and also to support a state bill around having enough funding to support climate literacy. It's one thing to say we support it. But it's another thing to actually support it. So those are just some of the things that come off the top of my head. Not a lot of people know about this other effort that I've been been working on, but I'll just mention it because it's something really near and dear to my heart is I'm part of an advocacy group to change the name of UC Hastings School of Law. UC Hastings is named after Serranus Hastings and I'm part of an effort along with the Yuki Indians, who were impacted by Serranus Hastings' actions against them. And we've been advocating before the State Assembly to have the name of the school changed.  It needs to go through the State Assembly, because "UC Hastings" is the name within the California Education Code. And I'm really happy to say that there's a bill now that is going to change the name of the law school and we're pretty confident that it will pass, as well as the restorative justice measures for the Yuki Indians that come with that bill.

Anne Caligari  13:52
Okay, interesting. I'm glad you mentioned that. I'm going to talk to you about that later. I've read a bit about it in the paper, but I didn't get a good understanding. So the next question, it goes without saying when it comes to education, our community is passionate, opinionated and organized. Name one to two examples where you were able to stand for and hold your convictions in the face of strong opposition.

Reichi Lee  
Yeah. Thank you for that.

Reichi Lee  14:28
I feel like that in many ways. [laughter] When am I not facing headwinds? [laughter]

Reichi Lee  14:44
Well, you know, let me talk a little bit about my work at Golden Gate University in San Francisco because I have  mentioned that but I haven't gone into some detail.  So I was appointed to be the Dean of Online Education before COVID.  Online education, at least in the legal setting and legal institutions, wasn't really heard of.  I think there were sentiments that it's not desir[able], that in brick and mortar [buildings] is how we educate, that's the highest quality. And we can't possibly do what we do, and teach students online. And so that was major headwinds from just a cultural perspective. And so I was appointed to look at whether we can, and if the answer was yes, to bring in a JD degree that utilizes online technology. Essentially, [create] an online JD degree.  We ended up with a hybrid model.  And the reason why we wanted to do that is to increase access.  GGU serves adult students.  And so many of them for whatever reason, they might be second career, they might be caregivers at home, they have full time jobs during the day, they can't go to a brick and mortar, traditional model. So we really wanted to increase the access to a wonderful degree, like a law degree, to more people, and also to people beyond [our] geography.  And it all makes sense, now, post COVID. But before COVID, it was really kind of just mind-blowing. So there were resistance from faculty who were used to doing it [teaching] a certain way.  There was also some resistance with respect to just [the] administration, because I have to work with different departments to design the nuts and bolts. And so long story short, was that we did get the program designed, and it took about two years. And I felt like initially, the first year, it was very, very strong headwinds.  It was just me leading this effort. But over time, when you start listening to people, when you start building interpersonal relationships with them, when you listen to department heads and hear what their challenges are, you start to realize, none of us is really against each other, there's a commonality.  The commonality is the student and that we want better opportunities for the student. And so you find that commonality with the different stakeholders, with divergent interests to move that goal along. So I'm really proud to say that the school launched the program this year. And it's doing really well. Should I give you another example?

Anne Caligari  18:00
We have time. But that's good.

Reichi Lee  18:04
Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, I'm ready to move on.

Anne Caligari  18:07
Okay, so our fifth question: As a board member, you're accountable for the overall success of the district.  Share examples of how you've provided effective governance to an organization.

Reichi Lee  18:26
Okay. Yeah, thank you so much. The first organization that comes to mind is, I'm on the board of directors at East Bay Children's Law Offices. And this was the same organization that hired me as a foster youth attorney. It's where I began my career as a child advocate. So I'm really familiar with the organization, and the work and the importance of the work. It's a relatively small board. We get in there and really get involved.  You have to put on a different hat. And so, while the child advocacy part of understanding the work is really important, as a board director, you have to make sure that the organization is financially solvent. You have to ensure that the funding is going to the right places.  You have to ensure that the organization is going to be viable, not just today, but in the years to come. And so we regularly look at not only our budget, but also the programs and the data supporting the programs throughout the year.  Then when it comes to making those budgetary proposals and final decisions, we have the evidence, the facts that we need to make a sound decision. And so that is also true for the work that I've done on the School Site Council [at Rosa Parks] as well. That was really eye opening because some of the data that we looked at with respect to the achievement gap between groups of students was frankly really disturbing. And however, even with that, we look at all the programs that were supporting, and everything on the face of it seemed to be doing fine. For some, we didn't have really too much data with respect to quantitative data or qualitative data: How is it going in the classroom? What's the actual experience like for the teacher and for the student? And so I felt like there was a disconnect. We had these big gaps in some of these areas, but then we had these programs that all seemed kind of fine. And so that also showed me that we needed more information. Perhaps [this could be] different ways of evaluating programs and in classroom experiences so that we can make better decisions. And so I would say, being on the School Site Council was an opportunity where I felt like I had to put on a different hat than a parent hat, and a different hat than a student hat.  I had to really think about what is going to work well, for all of our students, and to ensure that whatever that we're funding is actually going towards advancing a goal.

Anne Caligari  21:38
Okay, I'm gonna go to the next question.  What is your vision of a successful graduate profile for BUSD?

Reichi Lee  21:48
That is so exciting! [laughter]

Reichi Lee  21:51
It's a great question, you guys come up with really good questions. Oh, I am so excited by this one.

Reichi Lee  22:03
This is why I'm doing this this work. This is why I'm doing this. Education is social justice. And in all of my work, whether it's representing a child or to working with a college student, there is one truth that I have discovered. It is that young people can do more than we think. They really can: whatever we think, multiply that. And sometimes in the process of doing it, they surprise even themselves. I've had students, some of my past clients, who have said, "Nobody has ever said they believed in me." [And] I've had law students say, "I'm not doing as well as other students, but you're asking me to do 15 essays, and you're only giving the other people five."  But when you support them in their growth, and you're a coach on the sidelines to their journey, what you end up discovering, and sometimes what they end up discovering, is that they can actually do more than they think.  And I believe for the adults in the room, our job is to clear the way for them.  Because they can do the rest.  And what does that mean? It means that if a child is a student [who] needs support, we have to provide the support.  If a child needs more advanced courses, we have to provide that.  Also, it means: bring amazing opportunities to our students.  I've been on the campaign trail for months and months now, I've heard from some graduates who have said, "I didn't even know this career existed." One of them is in robotics now. And I said, "Oh, did you learn that in high school? How'd you hear about that?" And he's like, "I only learned about it well after high school, and [learning about it earlier] would have changed my outlook. Had I known that the math that I was studying in class actually served a greater purpose than just calculations." It's a portal to something really amazing. And so I share all that because my vision for the graduate is a graduate who has a strong identity of who they are. A cultural and racial identity and who you are as a person. And your family identity is really important, and so I envision a graduate with a very strong identity, a graduate with the skill to be able to conquer whatever it is that they choose. And I also envision a graduate who has very strong mental wellness so that they have the tools they need to conquer whatever hardship that it is that they face in life. Identity, skill, and wellness.

Reichi Lee  25:31
That's why we do it. Okay, I'm gonna go on to the next question. That one's pretty deep.

Anne Caligari  25:40
The school board makes many important decisions, from hiring the superintendent, to passing resolutions and approving budgets.  Name an example of how you have been able to collaborate in order to come to an important decision.

Reichi Lee  26:07
I think collaboration is one of my strengths. As I mentioned before, I think about some of the pretty significant things that I've been a part of, they have all involved different stakeholders with divergent interests, coming around an identification of a common goal. In my foster youth work, I was the voice of the child. The caregivers also had their representative and their interests. And sometimes those interests were divergent from my client, the child's interest. And then we had social services, which is an enormous bureaucracy. And they have legitimate interests, to ensure that those that those interests are prioritized. And so oftentimes, when you have these three different interests, how do you reach? How do you get to a result?  I had to really lean into my collaboration skills.  Much of what happens is the relationships that you build, outside of the meetings and outside of the court proceeding. [It] is the relationship and the trust that you build with people. And it sounds simple, but I don't think it's much more complicated than that. So before you ask somebody for something, to help support a resolution or to support something that you're supporting, you have to have had the relationship with them before that. So the first first phone call from you isn't you asking for something. And so if I get this job, one of the first things I'm going to do is get to know my colleagues, not as board members, but as human beings.  What do they care about? Why are they doing this? What are some of their priorities? What are some of their struggles?  Where do they see the opportunities? I want to get to know the superintendent, as well. And ask those same questions [so] that we get to know each other as people. That's going to lead to better collaboration when we need to get the work done. It doesn't mean we're going to be able to agree on everything. But it means that there's going to be a level of trust that even if we disagreed on this one thing, [it's] okay. We trust the intention and where we're coming from. And in government and in politics, that trust is broken. That trust is broken. And for me, I would be coming into the job knowing that, and wanting to and working really hard to repair that trust. I don't know if I actually gave you some examples. Let me know [AC: It's fine.] [laughter]

Anne Caligari  29:28
Okay, but are you are you good? To move on?

Reichi Lee  29:30
Yeah, I think I am. If I think of another collaboration example, I'll lay it down. But the primary one that comes to mind was in my work as a foster youth attorney, it really required a high level of collaboration to get anything done. Because if you say, "You know what, we're not going to agree," or "I don't agree with you, I don't want to listen to you," and then you litigated the issue, the risk that you take is that your client may lose. And, taking that risk, you better make sure that it was a risk that you needed to take. And so instead, what I ended up doing was really trying to negotiate a result.

Anne Caligari  30:16
And I'm sure on some of those committees, district committees you've been on? [Collaboration has] been needed as well.

Reichi Lee  30:23
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Thank you.

Anne Caligari  30:26
From COVID testing to keycards new business processes and technology can make an enormous difference in students and families experience, and you can sit down. So what I'd love for you to do for me is to provide examples of how you've led innovation in an organization, including sharing best practices, and introducing new technology.  That's a mouthful, right? [laughter]

Reichi Lee  31:16
It's so important!  Well, let me tell you about a very recent experience in just getting my daughter ready to begin Middle School, because what comes to mind is something simple, and is a kind of a foundational request, [that] can really make a huge impact in a child and a family's experience. So, I was trying to sign up for after school. And like many families, and I had a really hard time, to be honest, navigating the system. And it's not anybody's fault, it is just the system that we have.  So I had a really hard time, first of all, knowing where to go. And when I finally did sign up, I wasn't sure whether I pressed everything correctly to ensure that we are signed up, and I didn't really have a lot of information: what does this mean? Are we in? Are we not in? Or, are we on the waitlist? And then what are the next steps? And so I just give that as an example. We are in Silicon Valley. I'm positive we have the resources, the means, the [know-how] to make some of these platforms more easily accessible to our families. It will enable us to communicate, because I'm sure the District has all the knowledge. So it's not like it's anything new for them. But it will also help the District communicate everything that they know, on their end, to families, and I think that would be huge.  Even just sign up mechanisms, having an app that's easily navigatable. And also making sure that families are aware of it: sometimes one group of parents are aware, another group are not using it. Just getting everybody on board. I am really passionate about educational technology, having been the Associate Dean of Online Education. Also, you don't need to have any fancy roles to know, having gone through COVID, that educational technology can can make a big impact if it's done well. And so I think before we charge forward to this post COVID world, we should really pause and think about what are some of the lessons learned from COVID. One of those lessons to me, is the power of technology.  It has the power to access more students.  It has the power to personalize the experience. What we see in graduate school is that it also has the power to make the learning more rigorous. Because when it's personalized to you [-- for instance, when] you can't advance from one point to another until you demonstrate competency, then it really pushes you to acquire those skills, to self-assess whether those skills have been gained, before you get to move on.  So designing a curriculum, a graduate school program, a law degree curriculum in which we use educational technology, was my job. And so I wouldn't say I know the answer [for BUSD], but I would say that [technology] was something that we deeply looked into as part of making that program, the hybrid online JD program. It's both experiential as well as really high quality.

Reichi Lee  35:59
I also have another idea that I want to share. And I don't know if this is already happening. So I'll just say that if it is then, great.  I've been thinking a lot around how to support young people with mental health needs, and even sometimes just daily needs. Maybe it's just a crisis that that you're in, or some stress that you're feeling, or something that might come and go.  I have some high school volunteers on my team. And they have shared with me that they love the health center at Berkeley High. They really love it. Their only wish is that there could be more counseling, because sometimes they have to wait a bit before they get to talk to somebody. So I really want to support bolstering whatever that they're doing there; they're well loved and they're doing really well. So I want to bolster that. But one idea I had was, what about some sort of a texting platform? And I know, there are privacy issues; there's always issues we have to sort out: legal issues and all sorts of logistical issues. But imagine: young people, what do they do? If you look at what they do, they're texting! [laughter] they're on their phone! just like we are.  So what if we have a mental health [or] crisis hotline, but like a text "line," where they can just access a professional on the other [end], to walk them through a situation, to provide them some guidance, right on a moment's notice. And so it's a project I have in mind that I would love to look into, to see if it's being done.

Anne Caligari  37:48
And I'd love to see them. Yeah, that's fantastic. And I'm sure that they have secure ways to make that happen. So we have about 15 minutes [left for] my questions. So we're right on schedule. So often, the school board passes a resolution that directs the District to do something new or different. But sometimes implementation is incomplete or doesn't even happen. Name an example of how you've held a large organization accountable to its goals.

Reichi Lee  38:25
Yeah, I have seen that at the district as well.  Holding an organization accountable to its goals means staying true to those goals. [We have to be] always holding that up, that this was what we agreed to, we passed a resolution, or this was approved, and so never lose sight of that, to constantly remind the stakeholders that this is the goal.  You also have to have a mechanism in place for constant communication around how far along we are to reaching that goal. And so constant communication, as well as some sort of a process to evaluate whether the program is working or also [how well you are] develop[ing a] program.  But to evaluate are you meeting your deliverables? And so when I designed the hybrid online JD degree, it was going to launch on such and such date and year, it had to happen. Of course, we can always delay it, but really with delay [there] is a cost, the opportunity cost of delay, our students not being served, and, other other costs.  It's a last option for us to delay the project. So when you have a goal with a specific deadline, then you have to have that mechanism in place to make sure that it's met.  You have to have really strong leadership. It can't just be one person. You really need strong leadership on the board. You need really, really strong leadership at the District level.  You also need leadership on the community level, where you have all these different stakeholders who feel just as urgent that this goal is met. So I would say, keeping everybody accountable to that goal, reminding them the importance of that goal, making sure that the stakeholders are all involved in a work plan or process, check in,  [set up] accountability measures to ensure that that things are moving along. And at every point when it's not moving along, or something is supposed to be funded, or something where it is supposed to happen and it is not happening, to ask, why isn't it happening? One person can't do it. So it really requires a team of people, but from their different standpoints asking for the same thing.

Anne Caligari  41:23
Thank you for that. So we have 10 minutes. Okay, we this is the last question. We're right on schedule. Board members tend to be leaders both within the school district and community at large, of course. What are examples in your work where you were able to improve team cohesiveness and/or build community relationships?

Reichi Lee  41:56
I mentioned something that not a lot of people know about me, unless they know me is that I've been a fitness coach, for the last 15 years, but I've been saying that for like at least five years. And so I think it's somewhere more like 20 years [laughter]. But you know, building community and bringing people together is what I do; it's what I enjoy. And, and being a part of people success. I have found more joy in life, when you're part of somebody's success, as opposed to, where in the early part of my my life, which was about reaching kind of my own goals. My own success was the primary goal. But when I started doing fitness coaching, as well as the my foster youth work and all of the subsequent work after that, I realized quickly that actually, you can derive so much more satisfaction when you support other people's successes. And so with that in mind, that's the frame of mind that I bring, when I bring people together is this and I've been telling people on the campaign trail too, is that this isn't about me. It shouldn't be about me.  If any elected leader is not going to listen, but is going to tell you about his or her platform what they want, that's a sign  to you to run the other way [laughter]. They should be asking, how can I serve your family? How can I serve your child? What has your experience been?  I've been doing that work. Since last year I've been talking I think to hundreds of families since June of last year on Zoom and in person. And so I carry their hopes, their dreams, their struggles, with me. And to be a strong community leader, you have to understand that you are in service of others. And so whether I'm a fitness coach or on the school board, or volunteering in the community, that's the perspective. I come from, that I am in service of you, and you are my partner, we are partners to effectuating change.  

Anne Caligari  44:28
Well, I am so happy that this organization has decided to do this because getting to know the candidates is what we as a community really need, [RL: Yeah.] as we are making our decisions in November. So I want to thank you so much for taking the time for sharing you with the community and I wish you all the best with your candidacy. This is really exciting. Thank you so much.

Reichi Lee  44:58
Thank you so much. Yay!

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Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos

"What I want to bring to the board is a sense of accountability, a sense of responsibility, and an approach that feels to parents like we're here to serve you. This is why we're here. This is why the district is here. This is why the board is here. We're here to serve families."


Ann Callegari 00:05
Welcome, and thank you so much for coming and for being willing to participate in the interview process for the bear, though Berkeley parents union. Based on the role of a school board director, we have designed these questions to better understand your past experience, demonstrating the characteristics and behaviors needed to be an impactful school board director. That's a mouthful, right? In your responses, please be sure to fully answer the questions and provide specific examples as often as possible. I'll do my best. Awesome, thank you so much, and thank you for coming. My name is Anne Caligari, and I am sitting down today with Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos, who is the co director of an education company that provides tutoring and other academic support. She is also a special education advocate. Welcome Tatiana.

Anne Caligari  01:12
So like I said, before, we have 10 questions that I'm gonna ask. If you need me to repeat a question, or any parts, let me know. Okay, great. So our first question is, how would you describe the needs of the whole child experience in BUSD.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  01:33
The needs of the whole child experience are varied, and really depend. They're different from kid to kid. And actually, at my company, what we do is we take a very holistic approach to the child, certainly for kids who are struggling, emotionally, who are struggling with trauma of any kind, which is basically all of our kids right now. Their amygdalas are pretty hijacked right now. They are often in fight, flight or freeze, and which prevents any kind of higher order learning. So you know, the whole child. There's a holistic approach, but there's really, there's a step one so you can address the whole child, but you have to start with providing them with a safe and soft split space to land. So if kids are feeling unseen, unheard, if they are feeling unsafe in any way, then none of the other things can happen. So the whole child, really, for me means emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, not religiously, but just having the kid feel like they're seen, as a whole human being.

Anne Caligari  03:29
Excellent. Thank you. The next question, please give examples of how you've worked to support students, children and teachers in the past. How will you use this experience as a board member to ensure students needs are placed at the center of busd decision making?

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  03:48
So I support students every day. [laughter] My work...

Anne Caligari  03:52
Which is why chuckled as I started this questions [laughter]

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  03:54
I mean, I support students every day. And my own kids as well. I have three kids in the district. So, specific examples: I've advocated for hundreds of families, and helped them access and then navigate the special education system and also the 504 system, which is separate from the special education system. And just in general, I've helped students and families navigate challenging relationships with admin and with teachers. In fact, right before I came here, I was on the phone with a client who, whose son is really struggling and who is having some mild school refusal because his needs aren't being met in the classroom. So there are too many specific examples of how I support students. But I help students advocate for themselves as well. For specific examples of how I support teachers. I email my son, my younger son has an IEP, and he's at Berkeley high. And I email his teachers every year. And I asked them if they know how to scaffold kids with ADHD in the classroom, because we're a full inclusion model. We're full inclusion, but we don't provide teachers with the support and the training that they need to scaffold even the most common learning difference, which is ADHD. So I email the teachers and I ask them what they need. Do you first of all, do you know how to scaffold kids with ADHD in the classroom? The answer invariably is "no, I have no idea." Great. Would you like some feedback? Yes, that would be helpful. Awesome. So they send me assignment instructions, and I give them feedback about how to structure the instructions in a way that makes sense for the ADHD brain. During online school, I had a fourth grade student and teacher who lives up the street from me who's also a good friend. Her daughter was in third grade. And let's face it, this was homeschooling, for elementary school kids. It wasn't like we couldn't leave them alone. So that whole school year, that teacher's daughter was at my house and learning with my daughter. And I had a tutor come and support them a couple days a week, so I buy supplies for teachers, every single year. Last year, a book came out called Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit for Educators, you know it? [AC: yes] Yes, it's an amazing, amazing resource. And I bought a copy for every single teacher in CAS [Communication Arts and Sciences small school] at Berkeley high, because my son is in CAS. So I bought a copy paid out of my own pocket. [AC: Wow.] Yeah, it was really important to me that these teachers have some kind of resource for abolitionist education. [AC: Partnership.] That's really what it is all about. For me, my expectation. I mean, we're talking about teachers who in their best moments are co-parenting my children. So I feel like I need to help support them.

Anne Caligari  08:07
Okay. So can you name recent examples of advocacy and outreach you've led or activity participated in at local city and state levels?

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  08:22
So I have not.. well I've been on the PTA, since I moved to Berkeley with my kids. So I've been a part of advocating for our kids in that way. Also I participated in Berkeley PTA council meetings, and advocated for a new model for the after school program. It's confusing to me that the after school program is not great, as it is. And so I worked really hard to partner with after school programs, and so we actually sent teachers in for a Spanish enrichment and math club enrichment and Mandarin enrichment. And we worked with PTAs. We worked on a sliding scale and offered scholarships. So we didn't turn down and turn away any family for lack of funds. So that's one thing I advocated for was for equal access to these enrichment programs because what I saw was that families, [well] resourced families were accessing these things for their kids, you know, Berkeley Math Circle, stuff like that. And at the state level, I mean, I write regularly to Gavin Newsom. And it feels a little bit like shouting into the void. And so I feel like I can have more impact at a local level for sure. I'm participating in committee meetings where we're talking about the never ending gap. Yeah, so I, a lot of what I do is very grassroots and not a part of like an organized group. It's more my own thing.

Anne Caligari  10:40
Which is a good thing.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  10:41
Hopefully, I mean, I'm, I'm seeing differences in families' lives so awesome.

Anne Caligari  10:49
The fourth question is, it goes without saying that when it comes to education, our school community is passionate, opinionated, and organized. [TGR: Yes] Name one or two examples where you were able to stand for and hold to your convictions in the face of strong opposition.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  11:15
So while one of the cases was my own son, because and now my daughter. My younger son, I was first told that they would not evaluate him for a learning difference, even though I had had a private assessment done at my own expense. I gave them the results of that assessment, which outlined that he has severe ADHD, and Berkeley High refused to assess him at first. And I said, I'll need a different answer unless you want me to escalate this. And so they did assess him. They tried not to give him an IEP. And I said, that's not an acceptable outcome, you can see that my kiddo's struggling. And so I fought really, really hard for him to get an IEP. And it's not the be all end all, especially at Berkeley High, but, but it certainly him some supports that he needed. So I fought really hard for that. As for my daughter, again, Thousand Oaks refused to assess my daughter, I had a private assessment done again, at my own expense, which I am now going to make the District reimburse me for because they refused to assess them, sent me something called prior written notice, which is basically a written document saying we're not going to assess your kid. And then I had the private assessment done, and she was found to qualify on three different fronts. Now I'm going through the IEP process at King where she is now. And I stand up for myself, every day with the district and for my families. I'm regularly told no, by the district, by the special education director, who initially refused to hear from one of my clients about all of the private tutoring that she had paid for, for her kid. After we begged and begged for an IEP, her kid was found to have a reading disability. When the answer is no, I know that the answer should be yes, I don't accept the no that's on a regular basis. [AC: when you say "your families," you're referring to your clients...?]  Yes my clients. A lot of them are pro bono, but families who are trying to get supports and services for their kids who don't know enough of the language, who don't know enough, who don't have financial and social capital, and who don't know what to ask for. And how to ask for it.

Anne Caligari  14:56
We're doing really good on time. So the next Question ready to move on? [TGR: Yeah]. Okay. As a board member, you're accountable for the overall success of the district. share examples of how you've provided effective governance of an organization.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  15:16
Well, my company, Classroom Matters. Lisa, my partner, and she's also my best friend. We've been partnered for 12 years and we have an amazing staff in an industry where there is regular turnover, we have a central admin team that's been with us for five or six years now, who are committed and who love working with us. We are financially responsible. We pay our employees really well, while also making a living for ourselves. So, that's one way being a single mom.  I have to manage that. It's a benevolent matriarchy at my house, I like to say.  I'm the President of the Board of our nonprofit and maintaining fiscal health for the nonprofit to ensure we can meet families' needs, and we can continue to offer support for families every year.

Anne Caligari  16:49
You sound busy.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  16:51
Yeah, you can say that.

Anne Caligari  16:54
Okay, so the sixth question, what is your vision of the successful graduate profile for BUSD students?

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  17:05
That's a really good question. My vision for a successful graduate is a human, who is emotionally intelligent, who feels safe and happy, who is able to speak to current events, who's able to advocate for themselves, to be able to say, here's what I need, as a human, as a learner. As a person out in this world, here's what I need in order to be at my best. Somebody who can come to a conversation with an open heart and an open mind and be able to see other people's perspectives. You can see that it's not actually that important to me, that students graduate with credits and AP Calc. That content knowledge will come if the kids are curious and engaged, and seen, and if what we're teaching is culturally relevant and speaks to their lived experiences. So I want students to graduate feeling heard and seen because people who feel heard and seen are healthier members of society, because they don't need to constantly seek out attention for themselves, they can just be out in the world and be their amazing selves out in the world. Emotionally healthy students then go on to do the other things that they want to do be that four year college, community college, trade, school, working. I want students to graduate feeling like, "That was worth my time, and I feel good about the years I spent in this school."

Anne Caligari  19:39
I like that, and the parents feeling that way too.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  19:42
I mean, we're only as happy as our saddest child. So I think if you graduate, happy, healthy children, then you have happy healthy parents.

Anne Caligari  19:57
I like that.  The next question.  The school board makes important me start over the school board makes many important decisions, from hiring of the superintendent to passing resolutions, and approving budgets, name an example of how you ever been able to collaborate in order to come to an important decision.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  20:28
So, for sure, with Classroom Matters, you know, Lisa, and I don't rule from on high.  We take a very collaborative approach, we ask for input regularly from our admin team, because it's important to us that they have some agency and ownership over what we do as a company, and we want them to feel like they represent us and so we want their voice to be heard. So that, for sure Classroom Matters is it is the biggest example I have. But I have many examples also of being in IEP meetings. I do them all over the Bay Area. But in in Berkeley, there are a lot of great IEP teams, where we come together as a team, and we talk about what will most benefit the student. I make suggestions for tools and strategies that the IEP team might not have thought about, and there are many people within the system in the district who are great at hearing feedback. Sylvia Mendez team, for some reason didn't know how to access a Spanish language system Reading System for dyslexic children. I found a resource for them. I think they even got trained in it. At a dual immersion school, you want to be able to manage readers who are dyslexic. I found something for them, they thanked me, they were super gracious. On a regular basis, I collaborate with administrators.  The special education director in Albany regularly calls me to collaborate on families to make sure that the students' needs are being met. It's an amazing relationship, because he knows that I really want to just support students. I wish I had that same relationship with with Berkeley. [AC: Based on your history in Berkeley]. My young kids are in Berkeley and unfortunately, it's just been it's been really demoralizing advocating for my own kids and not to mention other families. I co-own and co-run a tutoring organization. I'm a single mom, an educator, not rich, but I know that I will always be able to get my kids the support they need. I can just reach out to my tutors. Because they think my kids think I'm lame and annoying, which I am most of the time to them. [laughter]  I know that I can get them the support they need. It's when other families who can't access those resources when I know that their kids are not getting the support they need that it just It literally makes my brain explode and keeps me up at night.

Anne Caligari  24:43
[Pause]  We're doing really good on time.  So we're on the eighth question. From COVID testing to key cards, new business processes and technology can make an enormous difference to students' and families' experiences and even safety.  Provide examples of how you've led innovation in an organization, including sharing best practices, and introducing new technology.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  25:34
So it's January of 2020. We got together as an admin team, and we thought, we really should try to do more online tutoring, and virtual tutoring. [laughter]  We went 100% virtual.  I'm sure you remember, March their team? They said, go home for two weeks. Ha! Go home for two weeks. We, as a team had to convert what had been 100% in-person tutoring to 100% virtual tutoring. So, as a team, we got everyone set up.  Literally nnot one student missed a session. It was amazing, our team's effort. During COVID, we also worked to find a process to onboard foster youth. So we got a PPP loan, we were really lucky.  They were loans that the Small Business Administration was giving to companies affected by COVID. We had loss of business during COVID, during stay at home. So we found a way to onboard foster youth anonymously, because we can't share identifying information. But more importantly, it allowed us to work with a dozen foster youth, for free.  We figured out ways to support them so that they didn't have to go without some academic support that they were missing because they couldn't get it through their schools. So that was another big success. Streamlining all of our processes at Classroom Matters has largely fallen to me, because I'm the HR person. It's a small business, I wear many hats. So having to transition all of our employees, and then in a given year, we've we have between 40 and 50 employees. [AC: You've grown!]  We have!  It's been amazing. Lisa and I have an amazing partnership. We have this amazing team of people. So getting everybody onboarded with a new HR / payroll system. That was very hard, but ultimately, has been really helpful has really automated a lot of our processes. And so it's made my job a lot easier.

Anne Caligari  29:10
I actually thinking about calm before the storm, but you guys really planned ahead for that storm didn't even realize it?

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  29:19
We didn't.  We have an amazing team. So you know, we have our our core admin team of five people. We all worked really well together to just get everybody:  onboarded families, tutors, everybody. It was really, it was interesting, for sure.

Anne Caligari  29:48
Well, I'm going to talk a little bit now more about school board. The school board passes a resolution that directs the district to do something new and different. But sometimes implementation is incomplete or doesn't even happen. I'm not sure if you're aware of that name an example of how you've held a large organization accountable to its goals.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  30:24
So I, every day work to hold Berkeley Unified accountable to its goals at a much more granular level, because I'm really advocating for students in the system. But I think that has a ripple effect, in that it has an impact on the way they do things. So for example, Berkeley calls itself a full inclusion model. But there are no what are called co-taught classes at Berkeley High. So kids with learning differences are put into the general education classroom, because that's because the district says that's the least restrictive environment. Except they put them in classrooms with teachers who aren't trained to support kids with learning differences. So one of the things that I have pushed for, for many years, is co-taught classes. So kids can be in a general ed classroom with their neurotypical peers, and also have somebody in the classroom who's trained to support their learning differences.  Support kids who have struggled with processing, for example, or who have a central auditory processing disorder.  I was in an IEP meeting with a learning specialist who thought that a kid who had a central auditory processing disorder, that they needed to be seated near a speaker because it was a volume issue. And I had to explain to this learning specialist, that it's not a volume issue.  You don't need to scream at him, you just have to deliver the information in a way that his brain can process it.  This is a true story.  For years, I've been advocating and so finally, this year, Berkeley High [offers] co-taught math classes. They say they do, they're not implemented yet, because we were told by the program supervisor at Berkeley High that they're still trying to figure out student classes and so that the co-taught classes are going to start after the first two or three weeks of school. So I'm hoping.  But we've been told that there are co-taught math classes coming. It will be very interesting to see what the outcomes are for those classrooms. Because we all know the issues with the math department at Berkeley High.

Anne Caligari  33:48
Absolutely. Okay. Nuff said. This is the last question.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  33:56
Oh, wait, I thought of one more example. The school psychologists at King Middle School on several occasions told families I was working with that they should not seek assessments for their kids because it was stigmatizing.  I wrote a scathing letter finally because I just have heard this too many times. Those school psychologists don't work at King anymore.

Anne Caligari  34:36
Oh, I see. Next question. Board members tend to be leaders both within the school district and the community at large. What are examples in your work where you were able to improve team cohesiveness and or build community relationships

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  35:00
For sure my block. I'm like, the little mayor of my block. I've organized an Emergency Resources Spreadsheet for everybody on my block. I regularly do block parties to bring people out to enjoy community and get to know each other better. It's one of the things that I love doing is bringing people together. So in my own community, I do that, as part of the my school communities. I'm often the one teachers turn to if they know that a family needs help. And because they know that I know a lot of people and I can help gather support.

I also delivered food to a Berkeley Unified family that was being housed in Alameda, at a church in Alameda, I delivered food to them every week, for a year and a half. And more sometimes, if they needed it, sometimes they didn't need food, they needed diapers. I basically brought them what they needed. And definitely at classroom matters, you know, working to bring our team together, working to make sure our staff feels supported, and their needs are being met. We want them to bring their best selves to tutoring, so they have to be able to be their best selves

Anne Caligari  37:07
When we used your services, I think was 2008, I don't think he had half that many staff. Yeah,

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  37:14
I don't think we did. We've grown a lot, I think word of mouth. I think people have come to associate our name with quality. Lisa and I strive and the rest of our team [to do our best for our families].  I want to treat families the way I would want to be treated. So
Anne Caligari  37:46
We still have a little bit more time. But I'd like to take this time to thank you. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It's so nice, because now everyone gets to know who the candidates are in sort of an open forum.  It's good to get to know you.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  38:04
I appreciate you. And I appreciate what what the Berkeley Parents Union what you guys are, I think trying to do, and I think we really need to focus on having a much more student centered approach.  For a long time that there's been an adult centric focus. And I do think that there's a way to do it where everybody has their needs met, right. I'm constantly telling my kids, "Okay, I understand that you want this. I want this, we both get to have our needs met. So let's figure out how to make that happen."

Anne Caligari  38:47
I think it's just definitely a step in the right direction. I have never heard of this before.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  38:52
I haven't either. I think it's a really strong way to signal that parents are willing to fight for what their kids need. I think, what I want as a board member is to remind the community that the district works for them, not the other way around. I often have come into meetings feeling, I don't work for you, you guys work for my kid like.  We need to recalibrate. And what I want to bring to the board is a sense of accountability, a sense of responsibility, and an approach that feels to parents like we're here to serve you. This is why we're here. This is why the district is here. This is why the board is here. We're here to serve families. It's definitely not how I've felt in a very, very long time. It feels like it's constant: me against them, instead my feeling that I can see that [BUSD has] not even just my own kids, but these other kids' [interests at heart].  I don't want to hear that this is only we have the staff for, that it's a personnel problem. I'll help you with it if you want. But don't tell me that you can't meet this need, because there's not enough staff; there are other creative ways to solve this problem.

Anne Caligari  41:04
Well, I appreciate your sharing yourself with us. Thank you. Thank you so much, and good luck with your candidacy.

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  41:09
Thank you. So I'm, we're a little scrappy, my little scrappy campaign.

Anne Caligari  41:16
Well, good luck to you.  

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos  41:17
Thank you

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Jennifer Shanoski

Jennifer Shanoski and Mike Chang declined multiple invitations to participate. This has resulted in not being able to learn about the character and experience of these school board director candidates.


“While we, respectfully, will not be participating in the BPU [Berkeley Parents Union] process, we hope to see you and other parents at… other forums.”

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