Berkeley Public Schools Fund Completes Year One of Newly Redesigned Equity Grants

In keeping with our four-decades old tradition, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund starts each fall by opening grant opportunities to educators across the district. 

With the adoption of our new mission, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has been busy re-imagining its programs with a focus on equity. Our commitment is to level the playing field for students “furthest from opportunity.” 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Schools Fund also funded a significant number of Emotional Health & Wellness proposals serving all students, recognizing the most critical support that’s needed right now.

Call for Collaboration Between Educators

The newly redesigned LEARNING for Equity grant program (formerly Classroom Grants) was designed for groups of educators – either at the same school or within a similar area – to collaborate on an equity-focused project. 

A big-winning category this fall was Digital Equity. Through the Digital Equity funding category, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund aims to extend school and home-based digital access to students who currently have limited or no connectivity. This fall, our investment was in the elementary after school programs where a higher concentration of BUSD’s most marginalized students spend a significant amount of time.

The largest share of LEARNING proposals this fall came through the categories of Inclusive and Culturally Relevant Learning and Positive Racial Identity Development. Some highlights included the Oxford Elementary counseling team teaching socioemotional skills and conflict resolution through an anti bias curriculum across the grades and the 3rd grade team at Thousand Oaks Elementary engaging students in a year-long poetry and art exploration through the lens of the five major racial/ethnic groups represented in their classrooms.

The second newly redesigned LEADING for Equity grant program (formerly Strategic Impact Grants) is designed to encourage district-wide (or at least multi-site) collaboration focused on equity-minded systems change. For the ‘21-22 school year, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund awarded 19 LEADING for Equity grants.

Recognizing the central role that parents and caregivers play in the healthy development of students, a priority for the Schools Fund is supporting the engagement and empowerment of the District’s most marginalized families. This is the work around Equitable Family Engagement. Some funding highlights include:

  • The Office of Family Engagement & Equity (OFEE) is continuing a second year of Listening & Learning Circles where Black/African American parents are able to speak candidly with district Principals about the experiences of their children in Berkeley’s public schools. The goal of the Circles is to make recommendations to leadership for how to reshape the schooling experience so that it supports more positive outcomes for Black children.
  • At all 3 District Preschools, the Schools Fund is fueling a new parent communications strategy. BUSD preschools serve a higher number of low-income and special needs students and through a new parent newsletter that is designed around monthly take-home activity kits, the preschool leadership seeks to support shared learning at home, all year long.

The Schools Fund is also fueling innovations that benefit students furthest from academic success. The Focused Academic Intervention & Support category does just that. For example:

  • At Willard Middle School, the math team is piloting a new tech-integrated intervention program called Math 180 for their lowest performing math students, and will be reporting on progress to their counterparts at King and Longfellow.
  • The Schools Fund is also supporting two different groups (King Middle School faculty and District-wide Math Teacher Leaders) in a year-long exploration of grading practices through an equity lens. Using Joe Feldman’s Grading for Equity as an anchor text, these educator teams are exploring how to rein in existing practices that benefit students who have more in-home support while introducing unbiased practices that honor skills mastery and growth. 

A final project worth celebrating represents the Schools Fund’s efforts to Strengthen the Pipeline for Educators of Color. Research suggests that in a district as diverse as Berkeley, the hiring and retention of educators who reflect the student body is a positive contributor to student success. To that end, the Schools Fund is partnering with the local program that uses state dollars to recruit classified staff (for example, Instructional Assistants or Aides) and supports them on the path to a teaching credential. The Schools Fund is pleased to support the professional growth of these BUSD staff members by funding school-related expenses like textbooks and laptops, to help eliminate obstacles and smooth the pathway to their credential.

The Schools Fund has been encouraged by the warm reception of our new mission across the district. In large part, BUSD staff, partners and families all recognize the urgent need to concentrate resources on equity in Berkeley’s schools.