Six candidates are competing for three seats on the Berkeley Unified school board. Top (left to right): Ka’Dijah Brown, Mike Chang, Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos. Bottom: Norma Harrison, Riechi Lee, Jennifer Shanoski. Credit: Marina Small, Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Three of the five seats on the Berkeley school board are up for election this fall, with six candidates running in an unusually competitive and consequential race. 

Directors Ty Alper and Julie Sinai’s decisions not to run for re-election mean the race could bring major change to the composition of the school board. 

Ka’Dijah Brown, the board’s current president and the only incumbent running, will be joined on the ballot by civil rights attorney Mike Chang; special education advocate Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos; community activist Norma Harrison; Reichi Lee, a former dean at Golden Gate Law school; and Jennifer Shanoski, chemistry professor and president of Peralta Colleges’ teachers union. They are competing for the three open spots.  

Brown, Chang, Lee and Shanoski are frontrunners in the race, each having captured key endorsements. Chang and Shanoski are the only candidates using public financing. 

In Berkeley, school board directors are elected at-large, which means you can cast votes for your top three candidates, regardless of where you live in the city. Unlike other offices in Berkeley, school board directors are not elected using ranked-choice voting. 

The board directors, elected to four-year terms, are tasked with giving guidance on the direction of the school district. They work closely with the superintendent, provide feedback on district decisions and budget and pass their own policies and resolutions. 

Top issues on the school board agenda include academic disparities and achievement, as well as sexual harm, mental health and safety from gun violence. Many of the top candidates share similar outlooks on these issues, with differences emerging in how they prioritize them or their approach to the role.

The next time voters will have a chance to elect three board directors will be 2026. (In 2024, just two seats on the board will be up for election.)

Below is a look at the six candidates, their priorities, and where they stand on key issues. We have listed them in alphabetical order.

Ka’Dijah Brown

Ka’Dijah Brown. Credit: Marina Small

Ka’Dijah Brown is the current president of the school board and the only incumbent in the race. Brown is a sixth grade teacher at a charter school in Vallejo and a BUSD graduate.

Elected to the BUSD board in 2018 and appointed board president in December 2021, Brown served on the board during the closing and reopening of Berkeley schools. As the first school board director serving while working as a K-12 teacher, Brown says she brings an on-the-ground understanding.

“I can see what the impact will be [in the classroom] before we even make the decision,” Brown said. “I’m proud of being able to be a voice for teachers,” which, she said, also means representing students, families and other education workers.

Brown ranks the Black Lives Matter Resolution, passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, at the top of her list of achievements on the board. The resolution was a step toward ensuring no student would experience the same kind of racism that she did at Berkeley schools, Brown said, and it paved the way for the African American Success Framework, a comprehensive vision for Black student success.

If re-elected, Brown promises to focus on implementing the work she’s started.

“It is going to take longer than just two years for us to change a narrative that has had a 450-year [history],” she said, referring to inequitable education for Black students. “That’s why I’m running for re-election.”

The board passed a flurry of other resolutions in the last few years: one promising all students would graduate climate literate, another for successful outcomes for Latinx students, one for student safety. The board also passed a policy outlining appropriate adult-student interactions. 

“What we’ve done is just the tip of the iceberg. Now, we need to put in the work for implementation,” Brown said.

Her campaign also emphasizes improving student access to mental health resources, teacher recruitment and retention, especially for teachers of color, and better community engagement strategies that reach a more diverse group of families.

Berkeley’s school board directors often vote together. Brown stood apart from the others on two key issues. In 2019, she was the only school board director who voted to renew the charter at REALM, Berkeley’s only charter school, which shut down soon after. She also voted to continue to fund the Virtual Academy, an online-only program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. She said she’s proud of both decisions.

Brown’s endorsements include Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Sen. Nancy Skinner, Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Latinos Unidos de Berkeley and all of Berkeley’s current school board directors and city councilmembers. 

Mike Chang

Mike Chang. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Mike Chang is an attorney with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He has been a BUSD parent for 14 years — his oldest daughter graduated from Berkeley High in 2020 and his other two children attend Berkeley High. Chang is one of two candidates for school board using public financing.

Chang told Berkeleyside he was running for school board “to try to give back to the school district which has given so much to me and my family,” Chang said.

Chang promises to bring an accountability lens to the school board, one that he has developed over 15 years as a federal civil rights attorney. In his job, Chang works with school districts who have violated civil rights law to get them into compliance. Doing so, he said, requires addressing the root causes of their violations, not just slapping them on the wrist.

Chang said BUSD’s systemic challenges include sexual violence among peers and staff, as well as inadequately educating students with disabilities and those who are learning English, problems rooted in a lack of sufficient resources.

“From my long-time observations of Berkeley Unified, they have not been adequately staffing or funding our teaching services,” he said, which includes other student resources, too. Chang argues that improving the district’s TItle IX response requires hiring enough staff to manage the caseload to prevent burnout. 

Plus, Chang added, BUSD spends too much money on outside counsel that they could put toward student resources. “You don’t promote this cycle of parents getting to the level of litigation, and then the district throwing outside counsel at the problem and spending a lot of money,” he said. Instead, you adequately staff the special education program.

He also proposed creating student wellness centers in the district schools that are staffed by counselors to address the kind of social service needs that often fall on the shoulders of teachers. When students can get their needs met at school, it clears the way for a more focused and productive classroom, Chang argued. Among Chang’s other priorities is implementing a K-12 ethnic studies curriculum.

Chang’s endorsements include Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Sen. Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, three Berkeley school board directors (Ty Alper, Julie Sinai and Ana Vasudeo) and four city councilmembers (Kate Harrison, Sophie Hahn, Rigel Robinson and Ben Bartlett).

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos is a special education advocate and a co-owner of Classroom Matters, a tutoring company based in Berkeley. She has been a BUSD parent for 12 years — her oldest son graduated from Berkeley High in 2021.

Guerreiro Ramos told Berkeleyside she is running for school board to overhaul the special education system at Berkeley Unified. “I’m tired of students not having their needs met,” she said. “You would think we were asking them to set the kid up with a limo every day to school.”

Most of Guerreiro Ramos’ experiences with the school district have been through the special education system — her own kids have ADHD, and she helps families navigate the system. More often than not, she believes BUSD does not give students with disabilities a fair shake.

Her campaign centers around a core idea: Students aren’t one-size-fits-all, so their education shouldn’t be, either.

As school board director, Guerreiro Ramos would push for an “audit from top to bottom” of the special education program. She also wants BUSD to implement more co-teaching in the classroom, and update its curriculum to reflect more student experiences.

Her list of endorsements includes a handful of BUSD parents and teachers. Calling her campaign “scrappy,” she has not racked up any major endorsements like her opponents.

Norma Harrison

Norma Harrison. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Norma J.F. Harrison is a community advocate with the Communist Party and the Democratic Socialists of America. She has run for school board every two years since 2010.

Harrison runs on a platform critiquing the public school system through an anti-capitalist framework. The purpose of her campaign, which bears the slogan, “school is the opposite of education,” is to call attention to the way that schools unnecessarily institutionalize children, reproduce class structures and feed into the capitalist system.

“School is capitalism’s tool, not ours,” Harrison wrote during her campaign for school board in 2018

Education, Harrison argues, happens everywhere, and school is merely a hindrance to that natural education. School also perpetuates a harmful age segregation in our society, she says, separating children from older family members.

“My main purpose is to work with communities to create the tone that will allow us to recognize the role of capitalism’s institutions so we can deal in unity with them, so we can come out of our subjugation to them, both our physical and our mental bondage,” Harrison wrote.

She continues to run for re-election to give people “affirmation that their effort to decolonize could become increasingly popular.” “I figure we’re making sense in the community, little by little,” she wrote.

Reichi Lee

Reichi Lee. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Lee currently focuses full-time on running her campaign for school board. Until last fall, she was the Dean of Academic Achievement at Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco. Her two children attend Rosa Parks Elementary and King Middle School.

If elected to the school board, Lee said her priority would be academic achievement. “If there’s one thing that schools have to do well, it’s the academics,” Lee said. “Sometimes we get really far away from that.” 

In Lee’s view, the school district’s attention and its budget has tipped too far away from its fundamental role. Lee wants to see more advanced classes and more targeted support for students in the middle and bottom rungs. 

A major source of inequity, Lee said, is that families who can afford it seek outside help for their children to succeed. Lee wants to see BUSD fill those gaps with the goal of disconnecting income from academic outcomes. 

Lee also called for a “moratorium on new ideas” to give the district time to evaluate existing programs before adding new ones.

Lee draws on her 15 years at Golden Gate Law School, where she helped students who were falling behind and launched a hybrid law degree program allowing students to earn a degree partially online. 

Lee has positioned herself as an independent candidate in the race. She has endorsements from five city council members (Ben Bartlett, Lori Droste, Rashi Kesarwani, Terry Taplin and Susan Wengraf), school board directors Ka’Dijah Brown and Laura Babitt — but not from the teachers union, which, she says, is not a bad thing, because it allows her to bring an independent perspective. “Change requires discomfort, and it requires some people to rock the boat,” Lee said. 

Jennifer Shanoski

Jennifer Shanoski. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Shanoski is a chemistry professor and, since 2017, has been the president of Peralta Federation of Teachers, which represents Peralta Colleges, including Berkeley City College. Her two children attend Malcolm X Elementary and King Middle School. Shanoski is one of two candidates for school board using public financing.

Shanoski told Berkeleyside she is running for school board to uplift the best of public education and make strides to improve the school district. Her own kids have thrived at Berkeley Unified, and she wants all children to have a positive experience, too.

But chief among the challenges BUSD faces, according to Shanoski, is inequitable outcomes. 

“The opportunity gaps, especially for Black and brown kids, are just terrible,” Shanoski told Berkeleyside. “We see them year after year, and we keep putting together initiatives to try and move that needle and it’s just not happening.” 

As a professor at Merritt College, Shanoski has had a front-row seat to the inequities of K-12 schools in the area. “I see where the skills gaps are often for students that are coming from our public school system into higher education,” Shanoski said. 

Shanoski’s approach to these persistent problems is to evaluate district programs with sustained attention. “I’m trained as a scientist, and I bring that lens to everything I do,” Shanoski said. “If this particular initiative was aimed at moving this particular measure, did it work or did it not? I would like to dig into that data.”

She also wants to increase access to and the quality of BUSD science, technology and math programs.

Shanoski draws on several years of experience volunteering at BUSD schools — the Malcolm X PTA, the Ed Hub — and her professional experiences as a union leader.

“My union work is, for me, about community organizing. I’m not always doing what I want to do. I’m working really hard to make sure that our union is a reflection of all of the members by talking with people and trying to understand issues from many different perspectives,” Shanoski said. “My goal is to really bring that organizing lens to the position of school board director.” 

Shanoski’s endorsements include Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Sen. Nancy Skinner, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, seven city council members (Ben Barlett, Lori Droste, Sophie Hahn, Kate Harrison, Rashi Kesarwani, Rigel Robinson and Terry Taplin) and four school board directors (Ty Alper, Ka’Dijah Brown, Julie Sinai and Ana Vasudeo).

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:

See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...