Ty Alper is running for the Berkeley School Board. Here are his answers to my questions.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your School District and how would you tackle it?
The single biggest challenge facing the District is ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed in the Berkeley public schools. We are a city that strongly supports public education, and values diversity and social advancement. I am running for school board because I think it is absolutely critical that every parent and guardian in the city believes that their children can go to a Berkeley public school and get the educational services they need, whatever those needs are. We are not there yet, but I believe we can get there. To do so, we need to 1) spend our precious resources on programs that are proven to work (using meaningful data, not just year-end test scores and anecdotes to evaluate programs); 2) ensure that our teachers are empowered with sufficient, quality professional development, particularly as we implement the Common Core standards over the next few years; and 3) harness the resources of our neighbors at the University of California, for the research, teaching, and policy assistance it can provide. As the only candidate running who is a current Berkeley parent, the only candidate who is himself an educator, and the only candidate who is supported by both major unions in the District, I believe I am well positioned to help the District achieve its vision.
Do you believe there are systemic problems with racial/sexual/gender-based or other discrimination in your district’s schools? How would you tackle them?
I think the Berkeley schools are tolerant, welcoming sites of learning, and I am proud to say that is the case. That said, I think even well-meaning teachers, administrators, parents, and students sometimes act on implicit biases that have a racially disproportionate impact. This can manifest itself in a number of ways: in classroom interactions between teacher and student, interactions between teachers and parents, and interactions among parents. It is perhaps most apparent in the disproportionate rates of discipline for our students of color, particularly our African-American boys. This is an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed, because when discipline is doled out in a racially disproportionate manner, it is not only unfair but can have lifelong consequences, and impact students’ attitude towards school and learning. As a social justice lawyer who has long represented clients of color in the criminal justice system, I see this every day. I am a strong advocate of both culturally-responsive interventions and positive behavioral interventions, as well as restorative justice practices. Berkeley has had some initial success with restorative justice programs in its school in the past couple years; I would like to see those programs scaled up throughout the district.
Do you support school dress codes? Specify.
I think schools should be able to have appropriate dress codes, but they should allow for students’ religious, cultural, and personal beliefs. I applauded the efforts of my friend Matt Haney on San Francisco’s school board, who led a revision of the District’s old dress code, which was unduly restrictive and prone to uneven enforcement.
Do you believe religious texts, practices or songs should be part of the school’s curricula? If yes, please specify how.
No, I don’t believe that religious texts, etc. should be part of a public school curriculum, except of course in a class that is on the topic of religion.