staff interviews

It’s good to know more about the people who work with your kids at BHS. Check out present and past interviews with staff members by PTSA student and parent officers.

January 2021 Interview with

John villavicencio

 

What is your role at BHS?
Officially I am a TSA or Teacher on Special Assignment as Director of Student Activities


What does a typical day at BHS like for you?
I started at BHS as a Math Teacher in 2004. I taught Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry in
the Green Academy for a short time as well as for the general BHS population before
everything changed over to exclusively taught in SLCs. I also taught one year of PE
and one year of Hip Hop Studies, a course I founded in 2015. 
 
A good day is when I feel like student and club leaders have the resources and
information to make successful plans. It would also feel good to have an interesting
conversation with a student or staff because that kind of dialogue usually leads to an
interesting and unexpected outcome.


A typical day for me at BHS involves meeting with the student leadership team
representing all grades and learning communities in the morning. Maybe something we
discussed will need follow-up and I help them move their cause along by speaking with
other adults on campus and communicating with others. I like to walk around campus at
least once a day to stumble into conversations with teacher friends or
serendipitous meetups. I schedule events so that they are spread apart across the
school year. I help move along an event like the Holiday Meal.

I almost always walk through the main office and the registrar's office where I may get a
notice about something from admin, counselors, parent volunteers, etc..At lunch, I
would either meet up with student leaders impromptu or maybe be playing music in the
main courtyard.

 

What does a typical day look like for you during virtual learning?
I took over the role of helping with the student bulletin with the two Chiefs of Publicity,
Aaron R and Felix M. We create a weekly student bulletin video via email, YouTube, our
leadership website, and Instagram. Although, I saw that it was important to establish an
online presence through social media, the school closure hastened that approach. It is
not my forte to post and promote, but something that is necessary given the time and
space that our students spend online. Social media is a mandatory format for schools
and they cannot rely simply on email to communicate anymore.


I also spend a lot of time supporting student clubs to encourage them to connect
virtually in meetings or other activities as much as they are able to. It is important for
students to build connections with each other and have outlets for their creative and
expressive selves.

 

How do you work with parents?
I usually collect inquiries or requests that cannot be addressed easily at the front
desk. This could be for donations, alumni, promotions, volunteering, etc. I also field
school spirit, senior information, and school event inquiries as well.

 

Where did you train or go to college and what did you study?
I went to Lewis & Clark College (“LC”) and studied business. Honestly, it was not the
most informed decision to attend a Liberal Arts school for business. I did enjoy my time
at LC and took a few education classes there. I graduated from University of San
Francisco with a master’s degree in education in 2004.


For specific training in student leadership and activities, I credit that mainly to being a
member of the CA Directors of Activities Association. It is a phenomenal group that can
really help folks be the backbone of a school. Also, I led a few global trips for Habitat for
Humanity that helped me serve as a project leader. I was also a resident assistant at
LC, which served as a good foundation for this position.

 

What are some of your hobbies?

Besides caring for our walking and talking 1-year old daughter, my hobbies include
playing fantasy baseball (something I can endlessly talk about), playing basketball, and
compiling end of the year music playlists. 

Also, I have made many batches of cookies and muffins in the last few months. And our
go to recipe has been to roast a whole chicken and then use the leftover stuff in the pot
to make a rich bone broth.

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January 2021 Interview with

JESSIE luxford 

 

What is your title at Berkeley High?
BHS Bridge Program Coordinator and Teacher


How long have you been at Berkeley High and in what roles?
I have been at BHS for 12 years: One year as an English teacher, three years as Academic
Development Teacher and 11 years as the BHS Bridge Program Founder, Coordinator and
Teacher.


What does a typical day look like for you at BHS (pre-covid)?
Normally, pre-covid, I would spend the morning and early afternoon coordinating services for
the Bridge Program. Examples of these services include recruiting, training, and working with
Bridge mentors/tutors and volunteers, collaborating with community partners, District and
service providers, budget oversight and fiscal management, student support and case
management, communication with parents, teachers and counselors, planning college field
trips, arranging for after school snacks, arranging college test and application support, grant
writing etc. In the afternoon I would teach seventh period Bridge class(es).


What does a typical day look like for you during Covid and virtual learning.
I am solely in the Coordinating position this year. A typical workday involves most of the
same administrative tasks as well as providing increased support for the Bridge Teachers as we
have three teachers who are new to the program. We also established a new partnership with
CalTeach in order to provide increased individual math and science tutoring for the Bridge
students which is an exciting new project.

 

How do you work with students?

We work with students beginning with the summer session prior to 9th grade year, and
continuing with daily afternoon classes, regular tutorials and summer sessions
throughout their four years at Berkeley High School.

 

While student support, monitoring, case management, and family communications are
constants throughout the four-year cycle, the program emphasizes particular areas at
each grade level along a progression parallel to the college pathway. The primary goal

of Bridge is for students entering the program in the ninth grade to be eligible and
competitive to attend a four-year college or university when they leave Berkeley High
School. 

 

How do you work with parents?

Bridge Teachers and The Coordinator communicate with parents on a daily and weekly basis
to communicate students’ academic progress and alert parents to important opportunities like
concurrent enrollment, college exam classes and tests, college application support etc.

 

Where did you train or go to college and what did you study?

Bates College- Interdisciplinary major (Philosophy/Psychology/English)
Mills College- Teaching Credential and Master of Education

 

What are some of your hobbies?

I love to spend time with my family, travel, exercise outdoors and read.

Can you tell us a little about the Bridge Program?

Bridge is voluntary and intended for first generation and low income African American
and Latinx students, who have the general and essential desire to succeed
academically, yet will benefit from and sometimes require the extra support, guidance,
and resources the program offers to achieve those ends.

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January 2021 Interview with James dopman

 

What is your title at Berkeley High?
I have two: Law and Social Justice Pathway Coordinator / Teacher and Career
Advisor
 
How long have you been at Berkeley High and in what roles?
I have been at BHS for over 20 years (!). I have two teaching credentials—social
studies and a Career Technical Education (CTE) credential. I have taught Freshman
Seminar, World History, U.S. History, Economics, Gov't, and the psychology / sociology
elective before starting the Law and Social Justice Pathway (“LSJ”) in 2016. For the
2017-2018 school year I was also the WASC coordinator, responsible for coordinating
the school through our evaluation. 

 
What does a typical day look like for you at BHS (pre-covid)
I really miss BHS pre-covid!! I usually would get to BHS by 7:00 / 7:15, starting the
day at my desk in the College and Career Center (“CCC”), answering emails and getting
prepped for the day. First and Second period are the two sections I teach of Law I and
Third period is Law II. I would then get back to the CCC at lunch to meet with students
for resume help or help finding internships / jobs.Much of my work as the Career
Advisor is long term planning—either putting on resume workshops myself or
coordinating speakers, like undergraduates from UC Berkeley who come to talk about
being pre-med or opportunities like a paid internship at Berkeley Toyota. I am also the
point person for the high school, preparing for our annual "College and Career Week",
hosting over 20 speakers. 

 

What does a typical day look like for you this year during Covid and virtual learning?

Surprisingly similar to what I would be doing at BHS—only not as frequent as
organizing things via Zoom is simultaneously easier and harder. It is easier because I
can host guest speakers from all over California. For example, my Law II seniors
observed criminal court in Yolo, Sacramento, and Fresno counties from their own
homes! Law students have also heard from a number of former inmates and will hear
from prosecutors and public defenders next semester. I was able to replicate some of
the talks we would have had in the CCC with the UC Berkeley undergraduates as well
as host representatives from local companies to discuss their work. 

 
How do you work with students?
I try to hold that teachers teach students first, and their subject matter second. I see
my work, whether in LSJ or teaching economics providing context to this crazy world
and doing my part to prepare high school students for the next chapter of their lives. 

 

How do you work with parents?
Parents, of course are vital to create successful outcomes for students. I think the most
important way to frame things is understanding that it is a team effort—teacher, student,
parent. When a student is not doing their best work or is close to failing, this of course
is when I reach out to parents, after giving the student the opportunity to fix things. I try
to reach out to parents when great things are happening too!

Where did you train or go to college and what did you study?
I have B.S in Psychology from Texas A & M and a Masters degree in Education from
Mills College. 
 
What are some of your hobbies?
Initially when I went to college I was planning on earning a degree in photography. I
still take pictures when I can or when I travel. Not a lot to shoot during a pandemic
though! Even before the pandemic I try to run 10-15 miles a week, enjoy cooking—but
doing even more of these things. And I recently just got a 2nd dog—an eight-week-old
Morkie (his name is Hopper) so my new hobby is training this little guy!

 

How do you describe the Law and Social Justice program?
Law and Social Justice is a two year "career and technical education" (CTE) class
designed to not only have students examine and critique the criminal justice system, but
for many, explore potential careers. Students learn the fundamental tenets of our legal

system—due process, the adversarial dynamic between prosecutors and defense
attorneys and looking at the system through the lens of race and socio-economic
status. Many of these topics are covered by experts in their particular field, coming to
class to guest lecture. But what has made LSJ really dynamic is the "field experiences"
that occurred prior to the pandemic such as going up to Berkeley Law School, ride
alongs with BPD, traveling to the public defender's office in San Francisco, and visiting
inmates at San Quentin. Law II students widen their understanding of the CJS by
traveling to the women's prison in Chowchilla, CA and hearing in person at BHS from
the formerly incarcerated, as well as prosecutors from the Alameda County DA's office
and public defenders.

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August 2020 Interview with Juan Raygoza

 

Juan Raygoza will be Berkeley High’s interim principal for the 2020-2021 school year after having been the vice principal of CAS and AHA for the past 4 years.

 

How do you feel about becoming BHS’s principal next year in the face of so many unknowns?

The high school experience will likely look very different than a traditional school year, and we are certainly facing many challenges. This said, in this time of social movement for Black Lives and a pandemic, we need people to lead everywhere, including and especially in schools, with compassion and vision, and I will strive to do that. We are not anticipating the year to look like how BHS has been structured in terms of its schedule, the delivery of instruction, the use of technology, and how issues of equity come up. We  are forced to look at all aspects of how the school runs and what this time presents us with. Every conversation is driven by equity and a focus on how we listen to and reach the students who are most marginalized in our school, which is significant because the pandemic and associated health protocols may be with us for a while.

 

So how is this unfolding?

When BHS first closed and we went under a shelter-in-place, we did not know it would be for the rest of the school year. We only had a few days to think about how we would teach our students though distance learning. Many of us were thinking we’d be back soon in the classroom. Now, conversations are richer and we are rooting these conversations in a long-term vision for schooling.

 

How are teachers preparing?

A lot of teachers are planning this summer. Some have already taken off with Google classroom, knowing they won’t be seeing kids for an hour every day. In terms of curriculum, they’re asking what are the essential questions, topics, and standards we teach? How do I reach all of my students if they are not with me in the classroom? How do I make the curriculum more engaging and connected to this moment and with an understanding that students are impacted and agents within this moment? Looking deeper into the content, what are the skills kids need? It’s a conversation that needed to happen, and now it is happening everywhere. Looking at the role of technology, we’re seeing that it can be an amazing resource but can also lead to a bigger divide in access to education. My hope as the principal is to be intentional in fostering continued planning and action that is born out of valuing what our students and communities need most right now and for the long haul.

 

What about math next year?

Math teachers are looking at math standards and determining what is most essential to teach and to assess. As you can imagine, this is challenging work, and I commend them for taking it on so thoughtfully. Having a math coordinator for the past two years has already brought about a lot of collaboration and sharing of best practices. In addition to thinking about and planning for what our students at BHS need to be successful, we must continue conversations with our math colleagues in our elementary schools and middle schools to make sure we are vertically aligned in our curriculum and skills and big picture questions about the role of math education.

 

You’re relatively new to the Bay Area, where were you before?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I went through LAUSD public schools. I went to UCLA where I majored in Political Science and minored in Education and got two masters degrees in Education through the Teacher Education Program and Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA. I was a history teacher before becoming a vice principal working in several small districts in the LA area. What I appreciate about smaller districts is having closer collaboration with other administrators and teachers across the district.

 

What do you find to be different at Berkeley High?

BUSD is similar to other districts that I’ve worked at and has many of the same challenges. Berkeley has wonderful resources in the community and at the school itself. BHS is able to face its challenges with more counselors, administrators, teachers and resources. We are very student-centered and work to be responsive to the needs of the community we serve. Our students are leaders. They are taught and supported by educators who believe in them as leaders. And I appreciate the time, care, and support

that families give.

 

Schools are integral to our society, and must combat all the social ills that many of our students face including: poverty, systemic racism, colorism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, heterosexism. We must bring it upon ourselves to act and fight for more equitable schools and a more just world.

 

Thanks Juan, enjoy whatever vacation you will have this summer as you prepare to lead us into the next chapter of Berkeley High.

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August 2020 Interview with Heidi Weber

Heidi Weber is the first principal of Berkeley Independent Study (BIS) and Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA) since they were restructured in 2018 to be under one administrator.

 

BIS continues to be a learning community within BHS and serves around 175 students. BTA remains an alternative high school distinct from BHS and serves around 75 students. Both schools share a campus on Derby at MLK.

 

Your entire career in education has been in BUSD, right?

Almost. I got my teaching credential at Cal, I student taught at BHS and King, and then for the next 20 years I taught English and English Language Development at BHS in AHA, AC, and the multilingual EL program where I was its teacher leader. After getting my administrative credential through Cal’s Principal Leadership Institute, I was a vice principal at a high school in Pittsburg for a year before I was lured back to BHS to become its first Dean of Attendance. I was in that position for 2 years, was the BIS coordinator for a year, and I’ve been the BIS/BTA principal for 2 years now, a total of 6 years out of the classroom.

 

How did the shut down and distance learning impact BIS and BTA students?

I think engagement was really difficult. Students didn’t feel great about shelter-in-place which amplified their feelings of isolation, and they struggled with learning. Having regular contact with teachers is important. A lot of things that can impact mental health happened and were exacerbated by shelter-in-place. Some students’ families struggled because members were losing jobs and livelihood was at state. BTA students took on jobs as first responders in places like grocery stores, which made their learning harder. These things impact student mental health and they aren’t new to us, but it was different because students didn’t have access to support and resources. Our therapists rallied and offered tele-therapy in lieu of in-person sessions; it was pretty amazing that this work continued.

I’m very proud of how our teachers responded. They were quick to turn on a dime and use Google Classroom if they weren’t already doing so. We made an agreement that not just academic but social-emotional check-ins were equally important, and all teachers made a point of doing them. We had the Berkeley Mental Health therapist explain to us how to look for signs of well being and how to promote the Warm Line for students in need of support; with the BHS health center closed, the Warm Line was

established so students could call a number and talk to a therapist (see below). Additionally our teachers embraced using new technology platforms beyond Google Classroom such as Zoom and Google Meet. To further engage students, teachers had students use Flip Grid to record themselves in a less than 5 minute video to show their ideas. Using Google Classroom Forum for some assignments facilitated student collaboration and building on each other ideas, and students used Padlet which lets students see others responses to a question their teacher asks of all.

 

What do you foresee will happen on the BIS and BTA campus next year?

Currently BUSD and BFT are in negotiations about what next year will look like for all schools, including how many hours teachers will be able to do direct instruction through distance learning. In addition, the City of Berkeley Health Department is in close communication with BUSD about what is possible; Berkeley is one of two cities in the State to have its own health department.

 

We hope to have some sort of hybrid for BTA students so that all students can come in on some basis. Classes can’t last more than an hour or you start breathing each other’s air. BTA has more classrooms than BIS which doesn’t have enough space for social distance spacing in its classrooms, so BIS students will continue with distance learning. I anticipate that students will receive regular grades versus pass/fail, and what was optional during shelter-in-place will be required. All is being negotiated and will be ultimately be decided upon by the school board.

 

What about mental health?

Our teachers will continue to have social emotional check-ins with students. Student safety and mental health are important to us, and distance learning is not going to help. We’re going to have in-person mental health counselors for 1:1 counseling on the campus; I’ve met with the Berkeley’ s Mental Health Services a nd we’ve had a walk-thru and identified spaces that will work. The Warm Line will continue as will tele-therapy. Health protocols have not yet been identified, and questions arise about how students and staff will be screened every day. But it will be similar to what’s happening in elementary and middle. It will all have to be uniform.

 

What might the teachers do differently?

We’re looking at project based learning as well collaborative interdisciplinary projects that teachers will design and then assign together. It’s a conversation that hasn’t happened before, and it’s exciting because it means the quality of our instruction can improve. At BIS, finding and trying out new technologies as a means to promote student collaboration will continue. At BTA, we will continue to work on our CTE pathways in Public Health and Computer Science. We’re hiring another teacher to develop our health pathway and our current computer science pathway will be grown. Schooling is going to look different but it isn’t going to change our overall school goals and plans for moving forward.

 

Thank you Heidi for your leadership and your commitment to addressing the mental health needs of your students.

 

The Warm Line is a phone-based mental health resource provided by the BHS Health Center to support Berkeley’s high school students, families, teachers and administrators by providing emotional support, psychoeducation, consultation, referrals, and other general information during the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides Information about mental health and coping skills as well as support for anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health needs, and it can connect callers with ongoing mental health services and/or community resources

 

The Mental Health Warm Line phone number is 510-981-5240 It operates Monday through Friday from 11:30 AM until 4:00 PM (during the summer break as well as the school year). The Warm Line is operated by licensed mental health clinicians and services are available in English and Spanish.

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December 2019 Interview with Matt Meyer

Matt Meyer was elected president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) in the spring of 2019, after having taught 12th grade macroeconomics and government at Berkeley High for over 12 years.

 

In the fall of 2019, Matt successfully negotiated the teachers’ new contract and salary increases, which are dependent upon the passage of a new measure that will be on the March 2020 ballot.

 

How did you come to teach at Berkeley High?

My first 3 years of teaching were in Washington DC. I taught 9th grade at a charter school with a good mission but it wasn’t happening. Teacher turnover was 50% every year and teachers had no voice in decision-making. In 2006, after moving to California, I came to BHS to teach seniors completely different subjects than I’d taught before. I had great mentors at Berkeley High and the principal was very helpful. Within 3 years I was a teacher leader in BIHS. Without the mentorship of veteran teachers at BHS, I would

not have become the leader that I am today.

 

How do teacher leaders impact a school site?

More is needed than just having teachers who have mastered pedagogy in the classroom. Schools need teachers who’ve made their careers in teaching in order to develop new teachers and leadership at a given site. Having worked in a school with a high rate of teacher turnover, I know what it’s like to start from scratch every year. You’re constantly re-inventing the wheel. You don’t make any progress toward your long term goals for your school or your students. Teachers are critical to maintaining a vision for the school and keeping students and equity at the center of decisions.

 

At this time how big of an issue is teacher turnover in BUSD?

Teacher turnover is higher, but what is more striking is that we’ve had difficulty hiring new teachers. This has been most acutely felt in Special Education. But we’ve had trouble hiring across all subject areas, and it’s even harder to attract teachers of color. Hiring mid-year is pretty much impossible.

 

What been the impact of all the changes in the District office?

Having a new superintendent and new people in decision making roles is an opportunity to rethink and rebuild structures that focus on teaching and learning while creating more efficiencies. New people have brought a fresh perspective. I don’t think our Special Education wins in the new contract would have happened otherwise. We were able to get better traction because everyone agreed on the problems to solve and the methods to solve them.

 

How will this impact Special Education at Berkeley High?

Berkeley High Special Ed case managers are going to have smaller caseloads; they will decrease over the next 3 years. Also there will be a limit on the number of assessments case managers do each year which will allow them to be able to work more directly with students and more closely with teachers. Caseload and assessment limits translate to having more Special Ed teacher positions which will bring about improvements in working conditions and student support.

 

Is Berkeley’s ballot measure to fund educator salaries unprecedented?

No, other districts have done this. San Francisco passed one, so has Oakland, and like us, Alameda is putting one on their March 2020 ballot. School parcel taxes, like BSEP, have typically provided funding to create programs and hire teachers for them or to have smaller class sizes. They’re great progress, but they don’t pay for necessary salary increases which are needed to keep our great teachers in our district.

 

How is it that Berkeley teachers are now among the lowest paid in the Bay Area?

The State’s education funding formula doesn’t factor in a District’s location or higher need. Because Berkeley is more affluent than many surrounding districts, it doesn’t get California’s Concentration Grant funding. Districts like Oakland and West Contra Costa receive more money per student than we do because of their higher percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students. The money goes into their General Fund, and over time they can better compensate their teachers.

 

In a nutshell, what’s in the measure?

This measure will mostly go towards employee compensation allowing BUSD employees to be on par with compensation in surrounding districts. Also, a small amount of money will go directly to recruiting and retaining teachers in hard to staff areas.

 

There are 3 school measures on the March ballot, what are the other 2?

Our school bond measures pay for improvements to facilities for a 10 year period. At Berkeley High, the expiring bond measure paid for the M building, A building improvements, the new sports fields and the bleachers, essentially everything south of Donahue Gym. Although the School Board has not voted yet, the next bond measure could pay to fix the heating in the C building and to renovate the Little Theater. The maintenance parcel tax is a renewal that pays for the cost of maintaining the District’s buildings. If it doesn’t pass, around $7 million a year budget hole will be created that the General Fund will have to absorb.

 

How can BHS benefit from having one of its teachers become the BFT president?

Berkeley High is a mini city. I have a deep understanding of how Berkeley High works. I know where the issues are. I’ve already worked on many as a teacher leader and as the BFT vice president. I understand the politics and have many preexisting relationships which allows me to jump on a problem quickly without any learning curve.

 

Are there any specific goals you hope to accomplish at BHS?

I am working with Site Reps to build union power at BHS to improve teacher voice in decision-making and increase activism locally and state-wide towards the goal of getting our schools appropriately funded so we can best meet our students’ needs and make sure they are getting the best education possible.

 

Thanks Matt, best of luck with the upcoming campaign and any future negotiations.

 

At its November 2019 meeting, the PTSA voted to endorse all three ballot measures.

 

On March 3, 2020, Berkeley voters passed all 3 measures.

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