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Chancellor calls for a unified civic effort to restore public education

"The message is very simple: Investment in education is an investment in our future," Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a speech Thursday before a San Francisco nonprofit that is creating innovative partnerships to help get schools back on track. The alliance is a nonprofit organization that brings together government, university, community and philanthropic interests to find ways to better prepare the city's 56,000 public schoolchildren for college and careers.

Speaking before an innovative San Francisco partnership devoted to improving the city’s schools, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau Thursday called for a unified civic effort to persuade the state to reinvest in public education.

“The message is very simple: Investment in education is an investment in our future,” Birgeneau told the audience gathered for the second annual San Francisco School Alliance benefit luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.

The alliance is a nonprofit organization that brings together government, university, community and philanthropic interests to find ways to better prepare the city’s 56,000 public schoolchildren for college and careers.

Berkeley, Birgeneau said, is an active partner in the alliance’s effort to reach that goal: “that each young person is successfully prepared for higher education, employment and citizenship in the 21st century.”

He spoke after the audience heard from San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Carlos Garcia, who laid out his commitment to measurable improvements in his schools, and from lunch co-chair Warren Hellman, who is head of the San Francisco School Alliance advisory council and a graduate and major supporter of Berkeley.

Later in the program, alliance Executive Director Terry Bergeson moderated a discussion of one of its public-private partnerships, which brought funders from the Gap and the Pearson Foundation together with a San Francisco school to build a program that prepares students for the work world.

Birgeneau told the crowd that being involved in public education holds a deeply personal dimension for him.

“Not only was I the first person in my family to graduate from college,” he said. “I was the first to graduate from high school.”

The chancellor highlighted the many ways that Berkeley works to help California public schools, once among the nation’s finest, to regain some of the ground they’ve lost.

In addition to investing significant resources — both financial aid and student services — to ensure the success of low-income students and those who are the first in their family to go to college, Berkeley also is involved in public K-12 education through its Graduate School of Education and its Center for Educational Partnerships. Birgeneau called on outgoing GSE Dean David Pearson and incoming Dean Judith Warren-Little to stand and be recognized by the audience, which included many Cal graduates.

The GSE’s Center for Urban School Leadership runs the Principal Leadership Institute (PLI), funded by philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring. The PLI, an anchor program of Berkeley’s Leadership Connection for Educational Justice, trains teachers to become administrators in urban schools. Some 66 of its graduates now work in San Francisco schools, Birgeneau said (and several of them came up to greet the chancellor after his speech).

In addition, the San Francisco School Alliance has provided $500,000 worth of funding over three years for GSE’s Coaching Initiative for new principals and assistant principals and for professional development through Equity-Centered Professional Learning Communities in San Francisco schools.

Through the Center for Educational Partnerships, Berkeley maintains a number of partnerships with the San Francisco Unified School District, including early academic outreach and curriculum development programs, a counseling initiative and internships for Berkeley graduates and graduate students in San Francisco schools to champion a college-going culture.

Birgeneau also spoke about the successes of Berkeley’s Cal Teach program and the campus’s efforts to implement Math for America in the Bay Area.

But all of that is not enough to reverse a trend that, Birgeneau told the group, will leave California one million college graduates short of what the economy will require by 2025, according to a recent projection by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California. That date is not far off: The college class of ’25 is already in school.

At the same time, higher education is under strain because of massive cuts by the state, which is in an ongoing budget crisis.

“The message to our legislators must be that California’s resurgence as the economic engine of our nation requires the presence of a world-class public education system from pre-kindergarten through higher education,” Birgeneau said.

Echoing the message of the alliance and its luncheon theme, he called on business leaders, civic leaders and philanthropists to work together with educators, students and their families and community to find “The Way Forward.”

“Everyone’s support is needed,” he said.