Letters for the Week of April 23

Readers sound off on parking in Berkeley, Berkeley's Peer Assistance and Review program, and police insensitivity to the mentally ill.

“Richmond Rethinks Hasty Decision About Apartment Complex,” News 4/9

The Real Story

Thanks for putting the time into researching this and letting us know the real story of what is going on. I only wish the Center for Investigative Reporting had been more interested in honesty than in stirring things up.

Ellen Seskin, Richmond

Not Moving the Needle

I appreciate John Geluardi’s article and am gratified to see some clarity on the issue. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s article was definitely written as an inflammatory article, and while it did get some action for the affected residents of Hacienda, it did nothing to move the needle on our regional affordable housing crisis. The Richmond Housing Authority under Mr. Jones has provided economically challenged youth in our community, especially foster youth, with Section 8 housing vouchers after they have completed an independent living skills program through Richmond YouthWORKS. A significant number of these recipients have earned their way out of needing the vouchers. Unfortunately, the federal government has eliminated these supports and opportunities. Mr. Jones has always been extremely creative in his efforts to serve our community, especially the youth, even in these challenging times.

Jay Leonhardy, Program Manager,
Richmond YouthWORKS, Berkeley

“Berkeley Goes There With Parking,” Seven Days 4/9

Parking Should Not Be Free

Parking on public streets should never ever be free to anyone. As a motorist myself, I am willing to pay for the space my private property takes up.

Rene Alvarez, Oakland

“Berkeley’s Unequal Punishment of Teachers,” Feature, 4/2

Hot Mess

This is a hot mess! It is time for students, parents, teachers, and Dr. Donald Evans to come up with some real and tangible solutions to this issue. We are not all going to agree, but we are obliged on behalf of all children to resolve this expeditiously and as a community.

Sherene Randle, Oakland

Time for Teacher Takeover

From across the San Francisco Bay, I’d like to chime in that San Francisco Unified School District is noted for using Peer Assistance and Review in an unfair, irrational, ageist, racist, and sexist fashion. Only a complete analysis of each and every case, which would require both union and district to release all relevant data and documents, would allow an impartial committee to garner a complete understanding of how abusive this system has become. It is shameful and actionable. If peaceful action is not allowed and reasonable changes are made, non-peaceful action will result and heads will roll. I would hasten to add that the means used to evaluate the educational system provide a great deal of data on student test results broken down by teacher, school, district, local, state, and national regions. Teacher performance is also one of the main factors “looked at.” But nowhere are there results, publicly available, for the performance of site managers — this, despite the fact that they can impact a school greatly for better or worse. It is time for teachers to take over and run school sites. Heads should roll and teachers should take back their sites. It can be done.

Daniel Brady, San Francisco

Hold Teachers Accountable

The subtitle of the April article “Berkeley’s Unequal Punishment of Teachers,” by Sam Levin, asks the question: “Are students paying the price?”

We believe the answer to the question is yes, but for reasons different than the ones Mr. Levin suggests. While the article does make the case that the Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review process has been inconsistently implemented, the fact remains that there must be a formal process in place by which teachers can be held accountable by the school district or, in the case of Berkeley High, by the six learning communities, for the commonly agreed upon curriculum and skills teachers are expected to deliver in their classrooms. The article simply doesn’t tell the whole story about the inclusive ways in which teachers work together to create optimal learning environments for our students.

Academic Choice, the largest of Berkeley High’s six Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), has an established process to decide and agree upon the curriculum, skills, courses, and texts that work to provide all students with an exemplary education. Most of these decisions occur during our professional development meetings every Monday morning — meetings that all Berkeley High teachers are contractually obligated to attend.

During our Monday professional development meetings we delve into issues of student equity, achievement, and develop curriculum. As colleagues, we expect that one another attend and actively participate in this context, because we see a direct correlation between teacher involvement and quality instruction.

It should be noted that, over the years, the history teacher who is the focus of your article has rarely come to these meetings. Therefore he largely did not participate in discussions about curriculum, skills, courses, or textbooks. This leads us to wonder: How can he then criticize those decisions that were commonly agreed-upon, or claim that important decisions were not being made at all?

For too long, some teachers have exploited at perceived “unfairness” in the BPAR process itself, in order to avoid taking responsibility for their teaching practices. This needs to end.

As educators, we are proud of our profession and the work that we do on behalf of our students. Therefore, we write in support of an effective evaluation process. This process must provide the support and incentives that all teachers need — from those recognized for their excellence to those who need to display the most improvement. This process would hold teachers accountable to the young lives that they impact.

Indeed, if our teachers cannot be held accountable for the curriculum, skills, courses, or textbooks their community has agreed to, then the answer to Mr. Levin’s question is yes. Students are paying the price.

This letter was signed by a majority of teachers in the Academic Choice Humanities Program.

Ben Sanoff, Timothy Zolezzi, Matt Laurel, Kate Rosen, Leslie Tebbe, Matthew Carton, David Borrelli, Alex Angell, Jose Colon, Madalyn Theodore, Anne Busacca-Ryan, Amanda Green, Berkeley

“Neill Sullivan’s Oakland,” News, 4/2

‘Bankification’ of Oakland

This article could be titled “The Bankification of Oakland.” The banks could have sold these homes to homeowners for more than what they sold them for to cash buyers. And as a result, we would now have owner-occupied homes — true assets to the community.

The fraudster banksters did not care about the future of Oakland when they sold homes only to cash buyers. Oakland has not been gentrified, it has been bankified!

Ralph Kanz, Oakland

“Broke for Free,” Music, 4/2

Should Pay for Music

While [Tom Cascino] is free to have his own opinion, there are many musicians and writers who would like to make just a moderate living from their writing and performances. I believe he should pay for his music. I have purchased all 2,000-plus recordings I listen to and I like to think someone put food on their table with that money.

Jeffrey Hunt, Detroit, Michigan


Police Insensitivity to Mentally Ill

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, an alarming increase in the number of “officer-involved shootings” by police in recent months. What is especially troubling is that many of these shootings involved people with mental health problems. Many of the shootings could have been avoided entirely; many others should not have resulted in death.

In California, unless a mentally ill person is able to have the insight to check him or herself into a clinic or mental hospital when a crisis occurs, the only way to access such treatment for them is to call the police. In many cases, police officers are not trained to interact with the mentally ill, and, in fact, their training apparently causes them to act in ways detrimental to their success. They often escalate the level of conflict, rather than defuse it. And then, feeling threatened, they use a lethal weapon to kill someone.

Perhaps even more troubling is the frequency with which we hear about multiple rounds being fired, often by more than one officer. For example, in the case of a teenager stopped by a deputy sheriff near Santa Rosa for carrying an apparent assault rifle in public (it was, in fact, a replica air rifle), seven or eight shots were fired by that deputy. In a more recent case involving a mentally ill person in the South Bay, two officers each fired multiple rounds. This situation results partly from a lack of proper training, partly from the fact that nearly all police officers now carry semi-automatic pistols rather than revolvers (because they felt “out-gunned” by gang members, etc.), and partly from the training itself — either by the police themselves or by prior military service — which has taught them to shoot to kill.

In a civil society, the police are not meant to be judge, jury, and executioner. We no longer live in the “Wild West,” or ought not to. Officer-involved shootings should be extremely rare, not a daily item in the morning news. Our police officers clearly need much more training to deal effectively with the mentally ill and other impaired persons, and they need to operate under different firearm policies — in particular about “shoot to kill” and the use of firearms by more than one officer at the same time.

Because of the danger of politicizing police work, police departments generally resist the creation of citizen review boards or similar checks on their authority. However, when both the police internal investigators and those of the local district attorney routinely accept shootings as justified and legitimate uses of force no matter the circumstances, and the number of shootings continues to escalate, then the citizenry will react. We expect law enforcement to keep us safe, but always in a democratic fashion, not in a police state.

Several decades ago, the Bay Area went through a similar escalation of shootings by police. Eventually, this resulted in changes to departmental policies on the use of firearms, and also in better training. It now seems that we need a refresher course on those matters, but one that adds a strong component about dealing with the mentally ill. We also need much better mechanisms to hold officers accountable for their use of deadly force, along with leadership that will enforce those mechanisms and policies fairly but rigorously.

Someone needs to start connecting the dots, because this seems to be a widespread problem.

Michael Cassidy, Oakland

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