Janet Huseby was last month honored at the BPSF luncheon for Distinguished Service to Berkeley Schools. Photo: Emilie Raguso

By Camille Baptista

For more than a decade, Janet Huseby has been Berkeley High School’s “point person,” according to Principal Pasquale Scuderi.

After contributing her hard work to BHS for 23 years, and serving as outreach and volunteer coordinator for the past nine years, Huseby is preparing to pass on the torch. She will stay on as a college essay reader, continuing the work she started when she first came to Berkeley High.

“I sort of feel like it’s time to shake things up a little bit,” she said in an interview with Berkeleyside on Thursday.

Huseby began lending a hand at BHS when her oldest child entered high school in 1990. She became particularly involved in College and Career Center (CCC), and used her professional writing skills to help students endure the grueling process of writing college application essays.

In 2004, then-Principal Jim Slemp created the new position of outreach and volunteer coordinator with Huseby in mind, and she spent the next nine years helping to execute everything from day-to-day administrative activities such as prospective student tours, to events like the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. She organizes 60 volunteers per week just to staff the front desk.

Scuderi said Huseby acted as a much-needed bridge between the parent and administrative bodies.

“She’s been responsible … for really improving our capacity around communications with parents,” he said. “We’re going to miss Janet tremendously.”

Huseby said that throughout her years as volunteer coordinator, she’s built great relationships with parents and faculty members and has been amazed at the generosity of the Berkeley community.

“What has always really impressed me is the community has always come through,” she said.

As volunteer coordinator, she has been in charge of recruiting parents to help with all kinds of school needs — a task that requires persistence and strategic (polite but effective) communication via the Berkeley High e-tree, which she co-founded in 2000.

In an message posted on Thursday evening bidding farewell to Huseby, the e-tree editors described her has having been “the glue connecting the BHS Administration and the E-tree, supplying us with crucial announcements and answering our burning questions on a daily basis.” The email continued: “Janet has also been our most vocal champion and cheerleader — recruiting new subscribers, defending our funding and our editorial integrity. We cannot imagine how we will do our work without Janet’s help — we trust that rest of the BHS community will assist us as we move forward.”

Huseby said that even in last-minute emergency situations at the school — such as the time there was a computer glitch before the beginning of the school year, and she needed help administering new class schedules to every student individually — parents have always shown up to help.

“I’ve learned not to panic”

“You have to ask more than once, and I’ve learned not to panic,” she said. But she couldn’t think of a time, over nine years, when she asked for help and received none.

“So when I go on and on about what a great community this is, it really is true,” Huseby said. “It means a lot to me to live in a city where people will do that for their children.”

Beyond asking for their help, Huseby always strived to make sure the parents were appreciated and thanked afterwards.

“I figure my job is to help parents,” she said. “They’re rearranging their life to help, so you have to be respectful of that.”

This year’s AP and IB exams saw 140 parent volunteers turn out to supervise — a difficult but important task, as there are adult-to-student ratios that the school must maintain when administering the tests.

Other administrators and parents at BHS have admired Huseby’s ability to handle so many responsibilities at once.

“Janet’s dedication to all of Berkeley High School was extraordinary,” Vice Principal Ashley Milton said. “Her ability to communicate to the community and balance the small details of working here was incredible.”

Huseby has been in a unique position to see many changes at Berkeley High School. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Huseby’s services to the school district and the Berkeley community have reached far beyond her job as volunteer coordinator. She has headed the Parent Teacher Associations at Cragmont Elementary, Rosa Parks Elementary (then Columbus Elementary), King Middle School, and BHS, where was also editor of the BHS Parent Teacher Student Association newsletter. She conceived and wrote the award-winning Guide to Berkeley Public Schools in 1995 to help incoming parents, and her résumé boasts editorial contributions to the University of California, Berkeley, the Associated Press and Time Magazine.

Huseby has been a stable witness as Berkeley High “has improved dramatically” over the years. The changes have been due both to the school’s physical and structural changes and to administrative consistency, according to Huseby.

“Going through principals like tissues out of a tissue box”

Before Slemp became principal in 2003, “we were going through principals like tissues out of a tissue box,” Huseby said. “We had interim principals, and we had co-principals … then Jim Slemp came and stayed for seven years.”

She said one of Slemp’s major contributions, which may be lesser known, was cleaning up the campus. He hired Facility Manager Al Wilright to lead that effort and created a culture at BHS in which students and faculty respect the campus and keep it clear of trash.

Huseby also stressed the positive impact of the changes in building structure and layout.

“It doesn’t sound like such a big deal now that it’s in place, but because of the ’89 earthquake, they tore down two really unbecoming, awkward buildings,” she said. That, along with the installation of gates that created a more secure periphery around the campus, was key to changing the environment at BHS.

“It didn’t use to exist like that, [the campus] sort of bled into the city,” she said, adding that the changes made “a dramatic difference.”

The B building, which endured a fire in 2000 and was eventually taken down, once housed the entrance office — Huseby said they used to call it the “welcome booth”— and the library. But the building had a poor design and people had trouble navigating it.

“It was so poorly laid out that you’d say to yourself, ‘Hmm, I better walk them up there, because they’ll never find it,’” she said. “It was ridiculous.”

The elimination of the B building relocated the office and library and ultimately freed up space behind the C building to install the campus green and an open sitting area.

After her current position is handed over to a new volunteer coordinator, who is yet to be chosen by the district, Huseby will focus much of her time on publishing and selling the third edition of The Berkeley Book of College Essays. The book is a compilation of college essays from BHS students, which is read throughout the city both by students going through the college application process and by parents and other interested community members.

“It’s a unique collection because it’s all from one high school,” Huseby said. “It gives you a real sense of Berkeley High students.”

Huseby worked on the book with CCC volunteers Vicky Elliott and Elaine Ratner, both professional writers who “stepped up to help make it happen” this year, she said.

The third edition will include some essays from the original version, with newly added updates on where those students are now and what they’ve accomplished. It also has 30 new essays from more recent students.

The compilers expect it to be published in about six weeks, if not sooner. Huseby hopes that the third edition will reach more readers outside of Berkeley.

Fund: 30 years of boosting, supporting Berkeley schools (05.14.13)

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