Old City Hall, where the school board meets

Berkeleyside recently sent all the candidates for the School Board a set of questions, partly based on the suggestions our readers provided. Six candidates are running for three positions on the board: Josh Daniels, Norma Harrison, Karen Hemphill, Julie Holcomb, Priscilla Myrick and Leah Wilson. All except for Harrison responded to our questions. (If we hear from Harrison we will, of course, publish her responses.)

Berkeleyans who want to find out more about the school board candidates can attend a forum in the Community Theater at Berkeley High School tonight from 7 p.m. The forum is being held by the Berkeley High PTSA together with the League of Women Voters. The discussion will be moderated by BHS Principal Pasquale Scuderi and students from BHS Leadership.

These were our questions to the candidates:

  1. What do you think needs to be done about the achievement gap at Berkeley High?
  2. Do you think more charter schools should be allowed in Berkeley?
  3. What do you think can be achieved through the 2020 Vision process?
  4. What do you see as the most important issue today for Berkeley’s schools?

We didn’t give candidates a word count, but for those who asked, the answer was that space on the Internet isn’t limited, but readers’ attention spans are. We haven’t edited the responses in any way. We’ve listed the answers in alphabetical order of the candidates. Read the candidates’ answers below the fold.

Question 1: What do you think needs to be done about the achievement gap at Berkeley High?

Josh Daniels

Josh Daniels: I am running for school board because we owe all our students the very best that Berkeley has to offer. This is what I received from attending Washington, Willard, and Berkeley High and this is what all our children deserve.

The achievement gap — and by that I mean the challenge of doing a better job educating any student who is not at or above grade level — presents one of the biggest challenges that the next Board will face. I would address it by focusing on financial efficiency and supporting effectiveness in our programs and classrooms because we cannot improve instruction unless we have adequate resources and we fund the strategies that actually work.

I will use my expertise as a school finance attorney and a former financial advisor to school districts to focus the District on financial efficiency. As a school finance attorney I represent school districts suing the State because they need more money or more flexibility in order to properly serve their students. As a former financial advisor, I worked with school districts on facilities, bonds, and parcel taxes.

While the District has done a good job given the current financial difficulties, it can do better. For example, the District should apply for the Qualified Zone Academy Bond program. If we qualify — which we likely would — the State would pay the interest on a portion of the bonds we would issue. (I am familiar with this and other programs because I helped school districts apply for them.)

I will also help the district make the best use of its non-financial resources. When I was in law school I served for two years as head of the graduate student government, which at the time had an $800,000 budget and 25 part-time employees. As a result, I am quite familiar with many of the untapped resources that Cal has to offer the community. For example, where UC Berkeley has CalCorp — a program that helps students find community service opportunities — we have nothing to receive and direct this assistance. It is likely that a more efficient distribution of these volunteers would place them at more schools than just Willard (where they tend to volunteer given the proximity to their housing and the fact that no one has asked them to go to another school site).

I will also use my experience to ensure effectiveness in our programs and classrooms. We have so many amazing teachers, staff, and programs. Yet the district often times does not know about it. We need to employ a best practices approach so we can know what works and why it works. Taking this approach is especially important given the current budget crisis; we should not waste our precious resources on programs or approaches that have not shown to work. This best practices approach is what I used to cofound the Berkeley High Student Court, a successful discipline program at Berkeley High that has helped reduced the suspension rate by about 20 percent over the last 6 years. We borrowed heavily from a successful youth court program in Alameda County so as to minimize start up costs and maximize our success.

Karen Hemphill

Karen Hemphill: The achievement gap doesn’t begin at Berkeley High – every study shows that early and consistent intervention and support is what makes the most difference in bridging the achievement gap (starting in pre-school years) and this includes supporting parents/guardians in being involved in their child’s education. And, I believe that building upon the current successes we are now having in our elementary and middle schools will result in successes at Berkeley High.

However, I believe that we need to focus on three major issues at Berkeley High:  1) classroom teaching; 2) truancy and alternative discipline; and 3) a strong career-technical program.

As Board President, I was on the selection committee for Berkeley High’s new principal, a principal who is committed to focusing upon the basics for classroom excellence; such as teacher training and evaluation, grading standards/consistency, and developing a culture of high academic expectations for all students. I believe that focusing upon excellent and relevant classroom teaching is the single most important thing we can do to close the achievement gap.

Also, after many years, the District and City are finally partnering together to address truancy as well as alcohol and drug abuse in our high schools. The Police Department has begun working with our Security Officers to develop a program to notify parents/guardians and get students who are hanging out outside of Berkeley High back into the classroom. And due to recent preventative and restorative justice programs, such as conflict mediation and Student Court, expulsions and suspensions have significantly decreased and the High School absolutely needs to expand and deepen these efforts.

Finally, I believe that many students do not do well in high school because they do not see high school as relevant to their future lives. Therefore, I believe we need to work with our community college; non-profit organizations; and our local information, media, bio-tech, and green private industries, as well as our trade unions to build upon the groundwork laid by our Green Academy, Biotech Academy, internship programs to develop a strong career-technical program – to inspire and give real-life experience to our students to connect high school to becoming future innovators, entrepreneurs, artisans and technicians – as a pathway to a fulfilled future.

Julie Holcomb

Julie Holcomb: The most important thing that can be done about the achievement gap at Berkeley High is to have all students arrive there prepared to do high school level work. Our School District is making steady progress toward this goal, and we need to sustain our fruitful efforts in our elementary and middle schools. We also need to support principal Scuderi in his focus on raising the quality of instruction to a consistently high level in every classroom. Additionally, we need to offer more career-linked and technical education options with very high standards and multiple entry points, so that students from all levels of previous academic achievement may benefit from them. We need to do everything we can to expand opportunities for youth employment and mentorships so that all of our students can learn to envision success.

Priscilla Myrick

Priscilla Myrick: The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) has made strides in improving achievement at our elementary schools, but too many Berkeley middle school students arrive at Berkeley High two or more grade levels behind. They are unprepared for a rigorous high school curriculum and many will be unprepared for college after high school graduation.

In 2010 only 56% of all Berkeley High School students are proficient or above in English language arts as measured by California state standards. This is a decline from 58% proficient or above in 2002. Even greater declines in proficiency have occurred in math and science. Despite years of effort to address the achievement gap at Berkeley High, there has been little to no progress. We need to take a systematic look at our high school curriculum and instructional strategies to develop, evaluate and fund programs that work.

In addition to English, we need to focus on foundational math skills. We know that algebra is the “gate-keeper” to higher math courses and science. According to recent BUSD data, only 42% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on the California standards Algebra test. If middle school students enter high school without high school level skills, specific programs need to be implemented to bring them up to high school level.

In recent years there has been significant focus on high school reform as a way to make sure that all students graduate college-ready. However, recent research on California schools suggests that it is in the middle grades that many students begin to lose ground in key subject areas. Middle school is time to identify students at risk of academic failure and get them back on track in time to succeed in high school. We should focus on implementing effective practices in our middle schools, including strong, rich summer school programs.

There is no silver bullet to improving student achievement. The achievement gap needs to be addressed systematically from K-12 with interventions occurring before the gap widens at high school. As a school board member, I will monitor student achievement and program effectiveness K-12 and work to improve academic achievement for all students.

Leah Wilson

Leah Wilson: With respect to closing the achievement gap at any grade level, I am a strong advocate of utilizing data and evidence, rather than anecdotes and conjecture, to identify and support doing what works. Luckily, there is a growing body of research that can assist us in moving forward. We know that the quality of teacher instruction is the number one school-based factor impacting student achievement, and we know more specifically that high quality, differentiated instruction works. We know that the effective and timely use of assessments and data to re-tool, works. And we know that dollars spent on quality pre-K and elementary education are reaped ten-fold by obviating the need for costly remediation programs for older youth. We need to focus on doing what works.

A number of initiatives have been implemented over the years at Berkeley High School (BHS) to close the achievement gap. These include specialized programs, such as the Life Academy, the disaggregation of the comprehensive high school into multiple small schools, and the re-design process that is currently underway. While it is any prospective board member’s natural inclination to propose yet another new program to tackle this very old problem,  I think it is of critical importance that, before we embark on yet another series of re-designs, new programs, or new schools, we gain a fundamental understanding of how well any of the efforts we have already made to close the achievement gap are actually working.

Although I strongly believe that the most meaningful way to close the achievement gap at BHS will be to ensure that the gap does not develop in the first instance in elementary school, I recognize that there are critical issues at the high school which must be tackled immediately by the school board. Thus, my specific platform with respect to the high school achievement gap includes the following activities and priorities:

  1. Inventory all BHS programs, strategies and initiatives that are designed to address the achievement gap: as a threshold matter, we must collectively gain a full understanding of what we are currently doing.
  2. Evaluate those programs, strategies and initiatives to see whether or not they are effective: we need to understand how successful our current initiatives are or are not.
  3. Replicate proven programs and practices: where things are resulting in positive outcomes, we should replicate those efforts across grade levels, disciplines, and schools within BHS.
  4. Discontinue those that are ineffective: where activities are not resulting in positive outcomes, we should be open to discontinuation, regardless of how popular a particular program or strategy may be.
  5. Teacher Evaluation: teacher evaluation has not been routinely conducted at BHS. Given the high correlation between student achievement and the quality of teacher instruction, we cannot tackle the problems at BHS without addressing the need for regular teacher evaluation. Related, teachers that are identified as needing additional support through the evaluation process need to be referred to BPAR (peer assistance and review), so that they can be provided with the       technical assistance needed for improvement; if teachers are not successful in BPAR they can and should be transitioned out of BUSD teaching careers.
  6. Promote proven teaching practices including teacher-leader and mentor teacher models and collaborative lesson planning: research suggests that these types of teaching practices produce results. In Berkeley, these strategies are most effectively implemented at the elementary level and need to be brought more broadly and consistently to the high school level.

Question 2: Do you think more charter schools should be allowed in Berkeley?

Daniels: Given the recent approval of the REALM charter petitions, I do not think that Berkeley needs more charter schools at this point.  Under California law, however, a district must approve a charter petition if it meets certain criteria and a district that considers factors outside these criteria in evaluating a charter petition may face financial liability. Therefore, if another charter petition does come forward I would immediately reach out to the proponents to see if the District can address the concerns another way.

Hemphill: Personally, I am not a proponent of the national/state charter school movement as I reject its premise that the only way of transforming our public school system is by opting out and believe that in doing so the charter school movement is taking community energy as well as public and even private resources that could be used to make a difference for ALL students, not just those they selectively serve. And, despite some high profile success stories, recent studies have indicated that the track record of charter schools is uneven — about the same as District public schools. Finally, I am very concerned that corporate not just non-profit funding has been key in the long-time viability of most charter schools. Over time, I fear that the charter school movement may lead to the corporatization of our public schools – with private, corporate interests dictating curriculum and more.

But, as a School Board Director, I recognize that federal and state law clearly support the right to form charter schools and the State Board of Education provides a checklist of specific criteria that School Boards are mandated to follow in considering petitions to form charter schools. Significantly, State law, specifically prohibits personal opinion or even potential negative impacts upon the local School District, such as the loss of revenue through student attrition, as a reason for a School Board to deny a charter. So, while I have strong personal opinions about the long-term negative impact of the charter school movement, I will follow State law regarding charter school petitions.

Holcomb: I don’t think we need charter schools in Berkeley. Because our schools are integrated with respect to parent income level, parent education level and ethnic and racial identity, we don’t have children stuck in high poverty, low parent-education level schools that are unable to attract or keep high quality teachers. We have great teachers at all of our schools, and working together as a district makes most efficient use of resources. We already have schools that match or exceed results seen in the most successful charter schools, with more transparency and accountability than is required of charter schools.

Myrick: Berkeley does not need more charter schools. The success of charter schools in raising student achievement has been mixed at best. A charter school is open to any student in California, not just district or county residents. In general, charter schools tap into limited public resources in terms of facilities, parcel taxes and state per-pupil funding. In Berkeley scarce resources should be efficiently focused on providing facilities and a quality education for the 9,000 students attending BUSD’s 16 schools.

Berkeley already has one charter high school — CalPrep, run by a partnership between Aspire public schools and UC Berkeley.  The Alameda County Office of Education approved the CalPrep charter school in June 2008. Last spring the BUSD school board approved the REALM charter high school and middle school. More charter schools in Berkeley are not the answer to raising student achievement.

Wilson: There are a strict set of criteria governing a school district’s ability to approve or deny a charter school application; school board members’ personal positions regarding the value of charter schools is not one of those criteria. Thus, I will answer this question not from the perspective of what I will do on the board, but rather how I personally feel about charter schools.

I understand the compelling attraction of alternative public school options, which charter schools represent for many types of families and communities. In Berkeley, the charter school debate has centered on the district’s ability to serve low-performing students; in other districts, including San Francisco, where my step-children attend public school, the movement has been fueled by the mostly affluent families of high-performing students. Thus, the charter school appeal, premised on the idea of increased flexibility in both curriculum design, hiring and firing, and school structure, is broad based and multi-faceted.

However, it is undeniable that the establishment of charter schools has a negative fiscal impact on the corresponding school district. It is also clear that, although there have been many amazing charter success stories, in the aggregate, charter schools do not outperform their public counterparts, and that, when they do, that success is typically fueled by a potent combination of significant private funding and strong oversight and accountability measures — factors not uniformly present in any charter school equation.

Inarguably, the Berkeley public school system has failed many students of color, particularly the vast majority of its African-American students, for at least a generation. By saying failed, I mean simply that African-American students in Berkeley underperform their counterparts in the state. A reluctance to recognize this as a call to action is inexcusable; the question remains however, as to whether or not charter schools are the “fix” for what ails us. I am eager to see how the new REALM charter school unfolds in Berkeley, and believe that our community dialogue regarding alternative public education will be well-served by our being open to both the possibility of great success, or great disappointment, with respect to that endeavor.

Question 3: What do you think can be achieved through the 2020 Vision process?

Daniels: As I stated previously, the achievement gap in our public schools present one of the biggest challenges that the next Board will face, and the 2020 Vision provides a framework through which to address it. However, the effectiveness of the Vision is still unclear as, outside of four pilot projects, we have yet to implement it. In order to minimize the achievement gap — and, again, by “minimizing the achievement gap” I mean we must do a better job educating any student who is below grade level — I would use my professional expertise in school finance and with the Berkeley High Student Court to focus on my two priorities mentioned and discussed above: financial efficiency and effectiveness in our programs and classrooms.

In addition, there are many programs and approaches currently already in existence that focus on providing all our students with the education they deserve: CARE at Washington Elementary, Scholars to Cal, Universal Learning Support Services, and many more. Many of these programs and approaches are successful and some are not. The District needs to continue its efforts to understand why the successful programs and approaches work and apply those lessons to other classrooms and school sites.

We need to use the same best practices approaches in the classroom; many schools already are and I would use my position as a School Board member to bring the school sites on board. With the support and encouragement of our Superintendent, many principals and teachers have implemented an ongoing professional development approach called Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Rather than one-time professional development, PLCs require regular meetings that allow teachers to provide each other with support and suggestions on improving instruction. With so many amazing teachers that have much to teach and learn from each other, this approach has worked very well. I would strongly support and encourage it as a Board member.

Hemphill: The 2020 Vision began as a call to action to bring together the School District, City, our local university and community college, non-profit, faith-based and other community groups, as well as local businesses and labor unions, and harness this collective energy and align collective resources to ensure that every youth in Berkeley graduates from high school ready for post-secondary education or career training. So the 2020 Vision is more than just a School District initiative and is being led by the Berkeley Alliance, the long-time, non-profit agency founded to strengthen partnerships between the School District, City, University, and private businesses. In support to the 2020 Vision, the School District also initiated the first District-wide student achievement plan (which I championed and led) which is in itself has started to make real progress in overall student achievement, including bridging the achievement gap (see Question 1).

I deeply believe that this developing partnership between the School District, City, and wider community will definitely also make a real difference – though working out just what should be the priorities and what will be the specific commitments from all of the partners to the 2020 Vision goal has been a complex and sometimes frustrating process. Some of the early successes of the 2020 Vision have been the following:  1) the City prioritizing health and mental health resources to support our schools (especially providing social service support for the Universal Learning Student Support Program or  “Ulysses”, the District’s early intervention program) and the City’s continued funding of the Black Infant Health Program, when faced with 25% budget cuts in the Health and Human Services Department; 2) the City’s District/City collaboration on summer school and after school programs; 3) the City/School collaboration to establish a School Nurse; and 4) a new program between the City’s Police Department and the School District to address truancy and drug/alcohol abuse at our high schools.

But, significant barriers, such as finding ways to pool data (confidentiality issues) remain and of course aligning resources among multiple partners takes time. The University Chancellor has just established a university-wide task force to identify and coordinate U.C. Berkeley’s role in the partnership – talks have just begun with Berkeley City College and we need to do much more work to involve our non-profit, business and other community groups.

Holcomb: It is important that the 2020 Vision acknowledges that the schools can’t do everything, and that community resources must be aligned to meet the needs of children, but I don’t believe racial predictability of student achievement will be eliminated within ten years, especially with critical services being drastically cut by the State. I think coordination of resources can still make a positive difference, especially for early childhood education, and the City should move forward on data sharing among agencies and with the schools, so that progress can be made. I’m glad that the BUSD didn’t wait for the ongoing process of community input and discussion around the 2020 Vision to be completed before identifying areas for improvement and implementing strategies for achieving concrete outcomes. I applaud the recent commitment of our Police Department to helping address truancy, and look forward to other solid contributions from the City of Berkeley to support student success, especially in the areas of early childhood education and after school programs.

Myrick: The 2020 Vision is a joint resolution passed by the City of Berkeley and the BUSD school board in June 2008. The goal of interagency collaboration between City of Berkeley services and BUSD to close the health and academic achievement gaps experienced by the children and youth of Berkeley makes sense. Community leaders have planned a course of action and several pilot programs are in process.  If plans are implemented and outcomes are evaluated, hopefully 2020 Vision will become a reality.

Wilson: I believe that the 2020 Vision, if implemented with real purpose and focus, and with sufficient corresponding resources, will result in our turning the tide on generational disparities in health and education outcomes. My work as a Board member will be to focus on the establishment of a meaningful and sustainable infrastructure for the partnership between the city, the University, and the school district upon which the Vision is predicated. Related, as a school board member I will focus on  the collaborative identification of a finite number of meaningful implementation activities and outcome indicators which all entities in the partnership use to measure success.

Question 4: What do you see as the most important issue today for Berkeley’s schools?

Daniels: The most important issue today for Berkeley’s schools is the impact the budget crisis will have on our ability to support the wonderful things about the District — award winning schools, a supportive community, dedicated teachers and staff, and a diverse student body that benefits all students — as well as the impact it will have on our ability to make sure that all students receive the best that our schools have to offer. As a School Board member I will use my background in state and local school finance to help the District make the best use of its financial resources and access additional resources.

The State controls or restricts over half of the District’s budget. While California’s recently approved budget does better than we thought it would for education, this is only true because most problems are pushed out to next year. As a result we already know that the State’s budget deficit will be at least $10 billion for next year, a portion of which will be passed on to the District. Therefore, we can successfully address the District’s budget issues only by understanding and addressing how the State doles out and controls its education funds. In addition to the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds I discussed above, some of the financial items on which I would focus as a Board member are State mandates (i.e., unfunded or underfunded requirements imposed by the State) and State deferrals (i.e., the defer of money promise in one year but actually transfers to a district in the next year).

The District has been able to weather its recent budget issues better than many neighboring districts because of our incredibly supportive community. As a former financial advisor to school districts, my advice focused on bond and parcel tax measures. I helped districts ensure that their parcel tax money was properly collected and well spent, I advised districts on how to get the lowest interest rate on the bonds (and thus the lowest tax rates), and I worked with districts on making sure that their facility projects were finished on time, under budget, and as promised to voters. And if Measure H (a school parcel tax for maintenance) and Measure I (a school bond for facilities) pass, I will do the same for Berkeley as a Board member.

Hemphill: We need to build upon the considerable progress we have made in the past few years in advancing overall student achievement in our schools, while making progress on closing the achievement gap, with the adoption of the first District-wide student achievement plan (which I championed and led), despite extremely challenging economic times. Most critically, we need to continue to refine and use data and evaluation to focus our increasingly scarce resources on what is proven to work and increase/deepen our community partnerships that I have led in establishing in order to maximize resources.

We have accomplished a lot in the past few years I have been on the School Board. Just this past year, fifteen of our schools met or exceeded growth targets on the State’s Academic Performance Index (API) scores – which uses a multiple ways of measuring academic achievement. Nine out of eleven of our elementary schools now surpass the statewide goal of scoring at least 800/1000 on the API, with Rosa Parks being just three points away from this goal after jumping a remarkable 60+ points this past year. In the past two years, Jefferson and Oxford elementary schools have been designated California Distinguished Schools, and Malcolm X and Washington elementary have been designated Title I Achievement Schools, a recognition for achieving exemplary academic excellence in schools with significant numbers of lower-income students.

Our middle schools have also shown amazing academic growth this past year as well, with both King and Longfellow now surpassing the statewide 800+ API goal and Willard being just twelve points away, after jumping more than 40+ points, two years in a row. After adopting a middle school math improvement strategy, Algebra I test scores have increased 50% this past year – with 100% of our 8th graders now enrolled in Algebra I (statewide only 50% of middle school students take Algebra). And, just this past month, Longfellow was visited by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a model of achieving math excellence in a school with a diverse student body (Longfellow has the highest math scores of any Berkeley middle school and African American students are achieving above statewide averages for ALL students in math and are also above average in overall academic achievement). With this success, our middle schools are now offering Geometry (previously just offered at the high school) for our highest achieving 8th graders.

In our high schools, I vigorously supported the establishment of International Baccalaureate, Mandarin Chinese, and Green Academy Programs at Berkeley High (where my son is a sophomore) as well as supported the first college preparatory program at BTech, our continuation high school. Now, I believe we need to focus on the basics, excellent and consistent classroom teaching.

If re-elected, my first priority will be to foster a collegial relationship on the new Board, that will incorporate the ideas and energy of the newly elected while building upon the experience of continuing Board members, so we can continue the remarkable overall student achievement progress that has been achieved over the past four years – while facing some of the most difficult economic times ever. My second priority will be to make sure that we have an open and transparent budget process, based upon data and evaluation so we can focus our increasing scarce resources on what is core to our students’ continued academic growth. I also plan to continue leading efforts to partner with the City and other agencies to maximize our academic and student support service resources — especially to continue early and consistent intervention for struggling elementary school students and to support the new, this year, program to address truancy, alcohol and drug issues at our high schools. My last priority in the next few years is to lead efforts to establish a strong career-technical program in our high schools.

Holcomb: The main issue for us is going to be how to manage ongoing cuts in state funding in ways that firstly, do least harm to students and secondly, allow us to continue to move forward to raise the caliber of education for all of our students. We need the Berkeley community to continue their longstanding commitment to locally funding a high quality education for our children by voting YES on Measures H & I, and contributing generously to the Berkeley High School Development Group, the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, individual school PTAs, and other organizations that support our youth.

Myrick: The most important issue today is to make gains in improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap while dealing with the challenges of uncertain state funding of public education. In tough economic times, we need strong fiscal management and effective spending of scarce resources. Other school districts are being required to cut educational programs and maintenance of school facilities in order maintain balanced budgets. In Berkeley we are fortunate to have local parcel taxes that support lower class sizes and school enrichment (Berkeley Schools Excellence Program — BSEP) and support maintenance of our school facilities (formerly Measure BB — current ballot Measure H). These parcel taxes are extremely important and make a huge difference in the quality of our children’s education and are critical to supplement our schools’ budgets. We need to target our resources to programs and strategies that work in raising student achievement.

Wilson: The most important issue for Berkeley schools is to ensure a high quality education for each and every student in our district, each and every day. For me, this goal will be accomplished by the implementation of clear governance principles including:

  • Clear articulation of a discrete set of priorities:
    • The district must establish a limited number of strategic goals, including goals related to the 2020 Vision and the achievement/opportunity gap, and formulate a structure by which those goals can be implemented at every school site.
  • Aligning funding with our stated priorities.
  • Evaluation of what we are doing to see if it actually works:
    • Focusing on evidence and data rather than politics and personality to drive decisions about funding and programming.

In addition, the district will be faced with serious fiscal challenges in the next several budget years. Gaining a clear understanding of our most effective programs and practices will necessarily inform difficult decision-making processes ahead regarding where and how to reduce budgets. In addition, with respect to the budget issue, we must look to revenue enhancement strategies, including the establishment of a targeted truancy and attendance program.

Lastly, a key issue facing our schools and school community is the need to address the nature of our discourse around difficult issues. Too often, as evidenced most recently in the debates over science labs at Berkeley High School and the REALM charter school proposal, we see polarization and divisiveness; in this environment, we end up arguing over rhetoric as opposed to the relative merits of any given idea. I feel very strongly that the school board must set the tone for substantive dialogue, which a requires a true willingness to hear, and to try to understand, the varied perspectives of the many communities within this great city of ours.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...