I am a parent of two children at Malcolm X Elementary School. I led the Malcolm X Parent community as PTA President for two years and now fill the roll of PTA Council President for all the Berkeley public schools. My experience with PTA has given me some insights on the Berkeley Unified School District administration and the parent community. After reading School Board Vice President John Selawsky’s letter to you this past week (“Planet Reportage Lacking, Says School Board VP,” Daily Planet, Sept. 23-25) and the accompanying response from Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, I felt compelled to respond.
I, like many other Berkeley residents turn to the Daily Planet for local reporting. I do not always expect to hear good news, but I do expect the news to be balanced. Alongside the “bad news” I expect your paper to print the more mundane, but true-to-our-every-day-experience kind of story that reminds us why we live in this city. The recent story on John Muir Elementary School Principal Nancy Waters was a good example of the kind of positive story that I often look for, but so rarely see.
Every person that is part of this school community—district staff, board members, parents, and teachers—we are all striving to do the best job we can in promoting the well being of all our city’s children. We attempt to align goals and listen closely to one another. But despite our efforts, I sense a siege to dismantle public education as we know it. As our U.S. Congress faces a $15.7 billion dollar price tag on President Bush’s nuclear weapons program, our schools are faced with teacher layoffs and cuts in vital educational and enrichment programs. As parents we maintain funding for school services by watching our children walk our neighborhoods selling wrapping paper and candy bars. We organize ourselves, parents and teachers together, because it is the best tool we have to stem this tide. Public school parents are a devoted crew. We are committed to the ideals of a free, quality, and discrimination-free public school system. We spend endless hours in working towards this vision.
I cannot impress upon you enough how difficult it is for us to maintain our determination and strength with the onslaught of unrestrained criticism that is delivered to us daily from the media. I am first to admit that our district has a ways to go before it reaches its goals, but our goals are high and they reflect the passion and the vision of a dedicated staff and school board. Superintendent Michele Lawrence is doing a tremendous job of fielding the criticism that comes her way, much of it unfounded in my opinion. We are an outspoken community, and one that is strident in its opinions of any bureaucracy or governmental agency, including our school system.
I have walked into many classrooms in Berkeley schools and continue to be proud of the dedicated teachers, patient and hardworking principals, and the devoted parents who make our district a strong as it is. I am proud to be volunteering my time, my vision and my dedication to such a community. I plan to be a team player in achieving the goals that we set for ourselves and not carp from the bandstands.
I would like to work with the Daily Planet in the future to ensure that your reporters have the opportunity to write about the successes in our district. Positive stories abound. All your staff needs to do is ask the right questions, and the story ideas will come flowing your way.
Roia Ferrazares is Council President of the Berkeley PTA.