Berkeleyside wants to help you get to know your 2022 candidates for Berkeley City Council, school board, rent board and more. That’s why we’re publishing questionnaires with local candidates.
More on the School board race
Q&As with school board candidates follow. We asked candidates why they were running and what they’ve accomplished, and to spell out their views on closing achievement gaps, protecting students from sexual harm and pandemic mitigation measures.
Three of the five seats on the Berkeley School Board are up for election this fall. Six candidates — Ka’Dijah Brown, Mike Chang, Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos, Norma Harrison, Reichi Lee and Jennifer Shanoski — are competing for the three spots. Brown is the only incumbent running. With all members on the Berkeley School Board elected at-large, voters’ top three picks among the six candidates running will join the board.
See all of Berkeleyside’s 2022 election coverage. We’ll continue to publish more stories on the key Berkeley races and ballot initiatives to help readers make informed decisions about the potential leaders and policies that could help shape Berkeley’s future.
Click the questions below to see candidates’ answers. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Why are you running?
Ka’Dijah Brown: I am proud to serve as the youngest school board president and first teacher elected to the board. I am running to continue to be a champion for the academic and holistic success of all students. I believe that a quality education levels the playing field, provided that it is both equitable and accessible.
Mike Chang: I have three BUSD kids and have served on PTAs for many years. I will bring my 15 years of government education law experience ensuring students are treated fairly, to the school board. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Berkeley Council of Classified Employees and Sen. Skinner have endorsed me.
Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos: My platform is simple because my values and mission are simple. Berkeley families and students are not one-size-fits-all, so their education shouldn’t be, either. My goal is to center the needs of students and to make decisions and policy changes that support their best interests.
Norma J F Harrison: It’s difficult for people to see what so painfully controls their – our – lives/minds. It’s integral, and supported by our neighbors, our social institutions, our myths, our Owners’ armies. One of those controls is being forced to sit in classrooms subjected to the free, compulsory “education” we’re told was won.
Reichi Lee: I am running because education is our best tool for social justice. But in our district, student outcomes depend on parent education and disposable income. I want to change that. Families deserve elected leaders who are champions for students, responding with the urgency our children deserve.
Jennifer Shanoski: Public schools have been transformative for me, providing me with opportunity, security and confidence. I have watched BUSD schools do the same for my children and they are thriving as a result. I want to uplift the best of public education and support positive change to make it even better.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
Brown: Under my presidency, we:
- Adopted a boundary policy to combat sexual harassment
- Passed a climate resolution ensuring all students graduate climate literate.
- Approved the African American Success Framework
- Approved priorities within the District’s Latinx, Black Lives Matter and AAPI resolutions
- Engaged the community in a robust superintendent search which resulted in the successful hire of our new superintendent
In my time on the board, we:
- Successfully navigated the pandemic with BUSD being nationally recognized as having a gold standard approach to testing and contracting tracing
- Passed three local tax measures
- Managed one of the single largest budget reductions since the Great Recession, with no reductions in staff positions or cuts to the classroom.
Chang: I will bring my 15-year track record as a government education lawyer ensuring students have fair access to schools; and my 12 years of PTA experience and BUSD engagement with my kids to the school board. In addition to my work as VP on the PTA, I am on the board of the AAPI BUSD parents committee where I worked with Board member Ana Vasudeo to draft an Asian American Heritage Month resolution, and coordinated the first district-wide Asian American heritage month event attended by the superintendent, board members, teachers and students. This helped to shed light on the spike in anti-Asian violence. In addition, I have worked with Latinos Unidos de Berkeley to support efforts to ensure English Learners have equitable access to district programs and services. LUB, the teachers union, a supermajority of the school board, Sen. Nancy Skinner, the mayor and the vice mayor have endorsed me.
Guerreiro Ramos: All three of my children are in BUSD schools: My youngest is at King Middle School; my two boys are Berkeley High students — one graduated and one is an 11th grader. I have ADHD and all three of my kids do, too. We are a proudly neurodivergent family. I have been through the 504 plan and IEP processes for my own kids, and as an advocate for hundreds of families. I can speak to the journey of getting through school with learning differences. I am a multiracial brown single mom raising white-presenting kids. I am a part of a nonprofit organization that works with families to access supports and services they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. I support teachers and student-centered curricula. I love working with other educators to make sure we are using the latest neuroscience and best practices to ensure kids are engaged. I’m transparent and beholden to no one. I fight for what I believe in.
Harrison: My effort is to make available to the community consideration of how we live in this society as we struggle to build the egalitarian — for all — for 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. It limits our going outside in spring. The order of living is not pleasant no matter how hard we try to make it so. And of course we must abide by our Owners’ requirement that we pay rent, which is always ruinous to our satisfactory living.
Lee: Serving young people is my life’s purpose. In my former role as a foster youth attorney, I represented children between one day old and 21 years old. I co-founded a Mandarin immersion public school where over 35% of students served are Hispanic/Latino and African American. I’m a nationally recognized expert on academic support, with experience designing programs to help the highest needs students and have expertise in online education. I am an involved parent at my children’s school, working alongside administration, teachers and parents on the School Site Council. I have direct experience in bringing together different stakeholders with divergent interests to achieve tangible results for students. I’m endorsed by school board President Ka’Dijah Brown, Vice President Laura Babitt, and the majority of Berkeley City Councilmembers. If elected, I will hit the ground running.
Shanoski: I have a Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Berkeley and was a postdoctoral fellow in biophysics at Stanford University. Since 2007, I have served at Merritt College doing what I love most — teaching chemistry and mentoring students in their science education. I was elected president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers in 2017 and continue to proudly serve in that role, with a focus on serving our students by supporting our faculty and staff. Most importantly, I am a dedicated single mother of two BUSD kids and have volunteered to support them and their schools during their entire educational careers, including extensive volunteer work during COVID-19.
My commitment, knowledge, energy will make me a successful advocate for students and their families as a board member. As a teacher and labor leader, I know the questions to ask, and as a parent I know how the answers will impact our kids.
BUSD has attempted to improve academic outcomes for struggling students and close racial and economic achievement gaps for decades. What is and isn’t working in the district’s approach? What existing programs would you prioritize and what changes should be made?
Brown: I am proud of our ongoing commitment to closing the achievement and opportunity gaps as outlined in our district resolutions. I am proud to have sponsored the Black Lives Matter resolution, which created a roadmap for the creation of the African American Success Framework. We are the first and only district to adopt an entire African American Success Framework that is more than just a one-off program. This groundbreaking work will spark movement across the state and country as we strive to better serve our most vulnerable population of students. This work is created to be a model that can and hopefully will be used to support the academic and social emotional outcomes for all students, especially our Special Education, Latinx, and English Language Learners populations.
Chang: This is an important opportunity with a new superintendent to address learning loss, achievement gaps and resolve longstanding compliance concerns. There are still significant disparities in school discipline outcomes and responses to sex violence and provision of disability-based accommodations. I will advocate for full staffing and district-level support for effective BUSD complaint resolution for Title IX (sex violence), disability, and race concerns including English Learner services. I will support the creation of staffed Wellness Centers across BUSD providing culturally relevant and gender diversity-informed psycho-educational services for students as a foundation for addressing achievement gaps, sexual violence responsiveness, disability and EL-based needs.
Guerreiro Ramos: I would prioritize small-group learning and one-on-one instruction. I would add more co-taught classes at all levels of instruction. I would work hard to align our teaching practices with the latest research. I would reevaluate our culturally responsive teaching models to ensure our teachers have the information they need in order to reach and engage those learners who’ve been left behind. I would create a community approach to our families, whose basic needs are sometimes not being met, and who might struggle to help their students prioritize learning.
Harrison: End age segregation. Work to make work not an eight-hour day, 40-hour week, which it isn’t anyway. Work to build the society where we do what is relevant and necessary and good to do — all of us together.
Lee: First, we need to provide caregivers more information. Parents need clarity and specificity regarding their child’s academic progress. When students need support, the process must be clearly laid out with options for how to access resources. Parents should know what services their child is getting and whether those services are working. We need paid time for teachers to communicate with families.
Regarding programs already in place that address the achievement gap, like the innovative African American Success Framework and Multilingual Learner Master Plan, we need regular, frequent evaluations to ensure they are adequately funded, implemented and effective. This kind of accountability requires work from many different stakeholders, so above all, we need school board directors who are not afraid to ask hard questions and keep student outcomes at the center of every decision.
Shanoski: We must begin by asking critical questions about the solutions we’ve already tried to employ. For example, which parts of the Berkeley 2020 Vision were fully implemented, and were they successful? Are programs from the Latinx and Black Lives Matter resolutions being fully funded and assessed? We must prioritize program assessment through data collection, so that we can expand programs that are working (after providing ample time for their implementation) and shift away from those that aren’t. And we need to partner with the experts, teachers and staff, to determine what those programs are and how to best assess them. And no matter how nuanced we might be in our pursuit of data-driven solutions, listening to impacted students and their parents about their experiences is crucial to closing the gap, and their suggestions for how to improve outcomes should serve as our guide for doing so.
Following student advocacy around sexual violence, the school district promised to ramp up consent education and improve the Title IX reporting process. What has the district done right, and what more should be done to protect students?
Brown: I am proud of the work we did to approve a boundary policy to combat sexual harassment and expanded funding for peer-to-peer education and the district’s Title IX office. Additionally, as president of the school board, I worked with our former superintendent to establish a Gender Equity and Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee, which seeks to improve education and responses to issues related to consent, gender equity, and sexual harm/harassment. The committee will begin this school year and will play a pivotal role in providing the district with recommendations and accountability, as there is still more work to do to protect our students.
Chang: The new Title IX coordinator is doing a good job, but is one of several in the past few years in that position. The Title IX response system needs to be stabilized. The current coordinator needs support through full staffing, a designated associate superintendent who is fully engaged and responsible for action planning and outcomes; and extensive outreach for not only consent education but professional development for administrators to understand their full compliance responsibilities, in order to ensure that we don’t continue to lose Title IX coordinators. I will bring my 15 years of government education law experience resolving Title IX response concerns to the school board.
Guerreiro Ramos: Hiring Shafia Zaloom was a great first step at BHS. We need to identify where the problem spaces are on the BHS campus where kids are being assaulted and provide more adult supervision by calling on our community to be present. Consent education should start in kindergarten — by the time kids get to high school, it’s almost too late. We need to educate kids in every grade level about consent and make sure teachers are equipped to do so. Sex education should start in third grade and should be a regular part of the curriculum — weekly lessons and small groups so that we can normalize the human body, puberty, and adolescence. Our Title IX office needs more funding and resources.
Harrison: Stop pushing them away — students and teachers — into constructs not distant from prisons.
Lee: I am endorsed by BHS Stop Harassing, a student-led organization dedicated to ending sexual harm at Berkeley High and across the country. Students love their current District Title IX Coordinator, Jasmina Viteskic. This is something to celebrate. Because we know this role has historically experienced high turnover, we need to ensure Ms. Viteskic and her team are fully supported in their jobs. Teachers are now being trained on sexual harassment specific to the teaching context. This is also great. Moving forward, I would like to see robust consent education starting in middle school, so that children can learn early on what a healthy relationship looks like. I would like the district to develop metrics for ongoing evaluation (including student feedback) of all related efforts and a regular report-back to the board. This will enable us to continuously improve the quality of our programs.
Shanoski: BUSD must take a hard look at our past to learn about why certain behaviors have been tolerated. Our kids deserve to see their grownups take decisive, thoughtful action to ensure their safety and promote changes necessary to keep their learning environments supportive and violence-free.
One recent change is that BHS has a Title IX coordinator and compliance officer who is approachable and seem as a true advocate. We need to fully staff and support this office.
Last school year, the mental health crisis among children and teenagers became impossible to ignore. What should the district do to improve students’ mental and emotional well-being?
Brown: One of the most critical issues at hand is recovering from both the learning loss and mental health/social emotional challenges that were brought forth by the pandemic. It is our responsibility to ensure the mental well-being of our students. Currently, we are prioritizing addressing the ongoing mental health needs of our students and community. We recently earned a large mental health support grant in concert with the City of Berkeley and we are planning for the use of this funding, which will include the hiring of a district-wide mental health coordinator who will coordinate services across BUSD.
Chang: I will advocate for the creation of Wellness Centers across BUSD providing culturally relevant gender spectrum-informed psycho-educational services to all students. These centers will be an important foundation and point of contact for students, teachers and staff to provide restorative justice, positive behavioral education, consent education and sexual violence responses and a gateway for disability and English Learner based accommodations. The Wellness Centers will assist teachers in everyday classroom management by supporting individualized care for all of our students.
Guerreiro Ramos: Listen more, talk less. Hear what kids are telling us. Provide regular mental health breaks during the day — for students and teachers alike. Normalize asking for help by modeling what it looks like to seek support. Provide more on-site mental health support with providers who understand adolescence and can intervene when amygdalas are hijacked.
Harrison: As above.
Lee: Children need to be seen and heard. It’s undeniable that we need more mental health services. But the solutions we tend to focus on are inherently reactive – temporary counseling or crisis response. I propose that BUSD develop a comprehensive and systematic approach focused on early identification, prevention and routine care. This includes objectives like positive school climate, peer mentoring and conversation, physical wellness, and mindfulness practice. The more students understand and can communicate about their own mental health, the more they can develop lifelong tools to thrive.
Shanoski: As the daughter of a mother who died by suicide, mental health is an issue that I care about deeply. More than $1 million has been identified by the city and school district to increase mental health services; I was proud to speak in favor of the budget item for those city resources. The plans include hiring a mental health coordinator, employing at least one counselor at each elementary school and other services. An area of growth is to ensure that middle school students have access and that parents, teachers and staff are provided with training and access to their own mental health support.
Education was fundamentally reshaped during the COVID-19 pandemic. What lessons should Berkeley Unified take away from the era of virtual learning?
Brown: We weathered the challenges of the pandemic by closing the digital divide and implemented new systems to bring BUSD into the 21st century. Students, teachers and families alike were trained on the use of digital platforms such as google classroom and infinite campus to streamline communication and increase access to curriculum. Additionally, the pandemic sparked the innovative creation of new instructional strategies and practices with an equitable approach. These were all lasting lessons that BUSD should take away from the era of virtual learning.
Chang: Learning loss is a critical issue associated with the pandemic. A primary pandemic lesson for districts across the country is the importance of appropriately staffed programs and services to ensure individualized education for our students. Individualized education cannot be provided without the appropriate staffing levels. Appropriate staffing levels require that boards listen to the needs of teachers as well as parents and use evidence based analysis to make the appropriate staffing determinations.
Guerreiro Ramos: That our children are exhausted. That kids do well when they can, not when we think they should. That meeting every student where they are will result in better outcomes. That a six-period day of academics is too much, as evidenced by recent research about how exhausting it is to learn new things. That having extra time during the week to connect with teachers and get work done is really helpful.
Harrison: Education and learning have been made into commodities. That people constantly learn and teach is insultingly discounted. We’re told we need to be squeezed through a program that we come out of having been fairly served by its content. We haven’t been well-served. A couple years later we say, “I’ve forgotten what they told me in this or that classroom.”
Lee: We learned that teachers are our greatest asset. A dedicated teacher’s impact on student learning and well-being is deep and enduring, so our decisions should be grounded in supporting instruction and the student-teacher-parent relationship. That means employing proven strategies that improve learning and teaching, such as small class size, high-quality curricula, and more time for teacher collaboration and communication with families. We also learned that educational technology, if well designed and integrated into the curriculum, can expand access and play an important role in learning.
Shanoski: As a teacher, parent and labor leader, I saw many ways that virtual learning expanded the tools available for teaching and learning; we must keep the best of them. Many kids preferred and thrived with online learning; the pandemic opened up a new possibility for them. I also saw the challenges that a remote modality inherently has and how important in-person education is for the social-emotional and educational outcomes of many of our students. Families saw our teachers and staff work every day to connect with our kids and share their love of learning; through that greater empathy arose.
What COVID-19 mitigation measures should the district now be employing? Do you support a vaccine requirement for students or staff? How about mandatory masking?
Brown: I am proud of the work that BUSD did to combat and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our gold standard approach to testing and contracting tracing helped our schools to stay open and keep our students, staff and families safe. Additionally, I am beyond pleased that Alameda County has moved to the CDC’s “Low” COVID-19 transmission tier. BUSD strives to be in alignment with guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and will provide “Response Testing” services to our students and staff. I believe following CDPH guidance will continue to be the best practice for BUSD.
Chang: Vaccines are necessary for community health. I support vaccine requirements to protect the health of all students and staff. Masking should be required as necessary when transmission rates are still high (as they are now). There is no constitutional protections against vaccination during a health pandemic — I teach Constitutional law and am a government civil rights attorney. Our students are often crowded into static air spaces and indoor masking has been shown to be an effective method to lower transmission.
Guerreiro Ramos: I support a vaccine requirement; masking should be optional as long as we are testing regularly.
Harrison: Yes — inoculate everyone a bunch. Mask not so much — but some.
Lee: We’ve come a long way. I’m grateful the district can now manage COVID-19 in sustainable and adaptive ways so that kids can stay in school. The district should continue to make decisions based on public health orders, including encouraging students and staff to stay home when sick and optimizing indoor air quality. Boosting immune systems such as with vaccines, optional use of masks and hand-washing are key measures to keeping kids in school and everyone healthy year-round.
Shanoski: Evidence-based, scientific consensus should be leading our efforts. We should be using weekly testing strategies to mitigate outbreaks, support indoor masking as an option for those who prefer or need it, ensure that air flow in indoor spaces is appropriate (including the use of air purifiers, HEPA filters on HVAC systems, and keeping windows open where possible), and allow kids to be outside for activities as much as possible. I strongly support a vaccine mandate and am very grateful to our district for the vaccine clinics they have made available to our community.
Could you share an interesting story or fact about yourself that voters might be surprised to learn about?
Brown: I love music and learned how to play the flute, violin and double bass in BUSD.
Chang: I run with friends and my kids whenever I can in our beautiful town. I’ve run several half marathons, not particularly fast, but they are adventures with friends and family in different locales. I didn’t start long distance running until several years ago — we can all learn new things at any age.
Guerreiro Ramos: I was a National Memory Champion three years in a row. Still the only woman to have won the competition. People can Google me under my birth name of Tatiana Cooley. Also, my grandfather was one of the co-founders of the Black civil rights movement in Brazil.
Harrison: We’ll see.
Lee: I love helping people defy limits, both internal and external, to reach their own success. I’ve been a fitness coach for 20 years, teaching indoor cycling and running an outdoor bootcamp for busy caregivers. Physical fitness is a path to mental wellness. Mental wellness is the fountain of youth.
Shanoski: I love to bake but I don’t really like eating what I bake and my kids prefer candy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I baked my way through “The Artful Baker” and delivered baked goods all around the city so that it wouldn’t go to waste. These days, I stick to birthday cake requests!
Watch forums with the school board candidates
The Berkeley Parents Union posted individual interviews with school board candidates Ka’Dijah Brown, Norma Harrison, Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos and Reichi Lee. Mike Chang and Jennifer Shanoski declined to be interviewed.
All six candidates were in attendance at a forum co-hosted by the Berkeley PTA Council and the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville. Watch a recording.
The Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association will be hosting a forum at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18. All of the candidates running for school board have committed to attending this Zoom forum. It’s expected to run 60 to 90 minutes. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch on Zoom. Meeting ID: 874 8698 0208. Passcode: 469000.
The deadline to register to vote online or by mail in Alameda County is Oct. 24, and the election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. We put together a guide to the essentials of how to register and vote, what’s on the ballot, voters’ rights and more.
Here are some other helpful election resources:
- The city of Berkeley’s election portal and candidate statements
- Don’t know your Berkeley City Council district? The city website has a handy tool for that.
- Voter’s Edge: View a personalized ballot by entering your address.
- Voter guides from the Daily Cal, CalMatters, KQED, the Bay Area News Group and The League of Women Voters Berkeley Albany and Emeryville
- Check your voter registration status (and sign up to get election materials online).
- Find your voter profile (Alameda County registrar of voters).
See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.