Berkeley Lake Elementary School
4300 S. Berkeley Lake Road; Duluth, GA 30096
Years Principal 1983–1993 Shirley (Davis) Beard 1993–1994 Jan Hall 1994–2003 JoAnn Brown 2003–2008 Leigh Westcott 2008–2012 Dr. F.A. McLeod 2012–2017 Dr. Susan Bearse 2017–Present Dr. Lesley Pendleton
School Colors: Purple
School Mascot: Berkeley Bear
Principal Shirley Davis-Chapman greeted the students on August 29, 1983, as Berkeley Lake Elementary School formally opened its doors for students. Located inside the city limits of Berkeley Lake at 4300 Berkeley Lake Road, Duluth, the school derived most of its 884 students as a result of rezoning from Peachtree Elementary and B.B. Harris Elementary schools. Most of the 40 teachers were from the two feeder schools. The community of Berkeley Lake welcomed its new residents with a reception at the lakeside chapel on August 26.
During that first year, the enrollment continued to grow and concluded with a total of 1,089 students. The ‘Berkeley Bear’ became the official mascot of the school, with the students wearing T-shirts featuring bears, the school’s newspaper being named The Berkeley Beehive, and the faculty communique being entitled The Bear Essentials. Berkeley Lake's colors were set as royal blue and cream.
The 1985-86 year began with 1,238 students, 68 staff members, and nine portable classrooms. Work on a new addition to the building was begun in March.
Barbara Lunsford joined the other 111 total staff members as assistant principal for the 1986-87 school year. There were 12 new classrooms in an added wing, one portable classroom, and 1,343 students. With a new addition completed at Peachtree Elementary, 259 students from Berkeley Lake were rezoned to Peachtree effective the next year.
“Take A Byte Out of the Future” was the theme for the 1989–90 school year. With the opening of Chattahoochee Elementary, many students were rezoned. Berkeley Lake had 40 K–5 classes and four self-contained classes. We participated in the Kroger “Earning for Learning” program, where grocery receipts were collected and turned into Kroger. Every $200,000 earned us an Apple computer. For every 10 computers earned, the school received a free computer. Berkeley Lake was one of the first schools in the county to receive a free computer.
In 1989, Berkeley Lake and Peachtree Elementary were the first GCPS schools to host a Kindergarten Roundup. The Kindergarten Roundup was held the week after the county-wide kindergarten registration. Parents and rising kindergartners came to the school, where the students visited in a kindergarten classroom for about one hour, while the parents got an overview of the kindergarten curriculum.
1989–90 saw PTA membership at 100%, various Hurricane Hugo relief projects, and the PTA scrapbook won 3rd place. The kindergarten grade level collected cans for recycling, in order to “adopt” a toucan at the zoo. With our emphasis on technology, the first school-wide Apple computer lab was opened. Berkeley Lake, along with Rockbridge Elementary, got the first and only Jostens Integrated Learning Labs as models for Gwinnett. Berkeley Lake was recognized as being “technologically savvy”.
1992–93 brought about the realization that there were going to be big changes happening at “the Lake”. Simpson Elementary, the new Berkeley Lake relief school, was under construction and would open in the fall of 1993. The principal of Berkeley Lake, Shirley Beard, was named the new principal of Simpson Elementary. All students south of the Peachtree Parkway dividing line were rezoned to Simpson.
1992–93 was also the 10th year that Berkeley Lake had been opened. There were various celebrations throughout the year. One of the celebrations saw each class bringing in a sheet cake. All sheet cakes were then put together to form a giant “patchwork sheet cake.” The picture of this patchwork cake was published in the paper. We also had a breakfast open house, where anyone who had been associated with Berkeley Lake could come back and visit. Students collected pennies and purchased a life-size carved “Berkeley Bear” for the front hall.
In 1994–95, Berkeley Lake again got a new principal. JoAnn Brown, a Simpson Elementary assistant principal. Other administrative changes were a new assistant principal, Maria Chininis, who came to us from Hopkins Elementary. In 1995-96, Ms. Sharon Reddick was brought on to job-share with Mrs. Chininis.
August of 1996, brought us “Reaching for the Stars.” ESOL teachers, along with the rest of the faculty, hosted the “ESOL Family Night”. Families of our non-English speaking population brought in native foods and some dressed in their country’s native costumes. All staff, students, and their families were invited to celebrate the diversity of Berkeley Lake.
A lot was happening at Berkeley Lake during 1997–98. As we “worked together to build a brighter future”, a new gym was built, kindergarten camp— an opportunity for upcoming kindergarten students— was first held, a water pond was built in front of the building, and one of our first graders won at the county level in the Reflections contest.
Berkeley Lake was getting a major renovation during the 1998–99 school year. We definitely were a “hard hat” area. A new addition was added on where the old gym had been. Throughout the year and summer of 1999, the media center was expanded, the cafeteria was enlarged, we gained a conference room, 15 classrooms, two computer labs, and an office area reconfiguration.
Camp Invention came to Berkeley Lake in the summer of 1999. For one week, campers took electronics and other machinery apart to see how they were constructed, created their own inventions, and enjoyed being part of such a creatively stimulating camp experience. At the end of the week, parents were invited in to see their children’s inventions. But, most of all, we eagerly anticipated our new addition which included new music and art rooms as well as a room to house all of the broadcasting equipment— 5th-grade students, who did the morning and afternoon broadcasts, are enjoying having a “newsroom”.
2003–04 was starting out to be another bustling year. Our enrollment rose to 1,210. With the retirement of Joann Brown, Leigh Westcott was appointed as our new principal. Leigh had been an assistant principal at Mountain Park Elementary and Bethesda Elementary.
In 2004–05, we decided to “Dive Into Learning.” Chesney Elementary opened as a relief school for the Duluth cluster. Our enrollment dropped to 1,110 due to this rezoning.
2004–05 saw a lot of firsts at Berkeley Lake – first Bingo Night, first Lego Club, and our Berkeley Lake Running Club ran in the Peachtree Junior Road Race.
In 2008, our school saw another leadership change as Principal Leigh Westcott transferred to become principal of R.D. Head Elementary. The new principal at Berkeley Lake was Dr. FA McLeod. Dr. McLeod served as the leader of Berkeley Lake until her retirement in 2012. At that time, the Gwinnett County Board of Education tapped Dr. Susan Bearse to lead BLES. Dr. Bearse served as the school’s principal until her retirement in 2017 when Dr. Lesley Pendleton was named to lead the school.
In the spring of 2019, Gwinnett County Schools switched to digital learning for all students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, BLES families were supported with a food drive, free lunch and breakfast, and loans of Chromebooks for those who needed them. In-Person leaning resumed in the Fall of 2020 but many families opted to keep their children learning online as a search for a vaccine continued.
BLES provides a number of extracurricular and leadership opportunities for students including Student Council, Safety Patrol, Peer Mediators, Broadcast Team, School Store, Green Team, Math Conundrums, Math Exemplars, PTA Reflections, Kindergarten Camp, Camp Invention, Club Invention, Art Club, Chess Club, Chorus, Strings Club, and the Duluth Kiwanis-sponsored K-Kids Service Club. Competitive student teams included Witzzle Pro Math, Readers Rally, Running Bears, and WordMasters. Some of the most popular activities for students include the Peer Mediators group, the IT (Information and Technology) Girls Club, the Green Team, and the chorus.
Our school represents the global population of our district as it serves a very diverse group of students and families. We celebrate our diverse cultures each year with an International Night and began work to become a Trauma-Sensitive School in the 2018-19 school year. Berkeley Lake Elementary is a proud member of the Duluth Cluster. While the school sports the purple and white associated with the Duluth schools, BLES has held on to its mascot— Berkeley the Bear. This allows the school to hold on to its proud history while also showing its cluster spirit.