What does Berkeley want from its new schools head?

Retiring BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett: the search for his successor should conclude by May

A series of public meetings and workshops with teachers, administrators and classified staff took place over the last four days as part of the search for a new Berkeley schools superintendent to replace Bill Huyett, who is retiring on June 30.

Interested members of the community are also being encouraged to complete an online survey as part of the search (the survey in Spanish is here).

Carolyn McKennan and Maggie Carrillo Mejia, from search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, led the meetings and workshops which will be used to draw up the profile for the new appointment. McKennan and Carrillo Mejia will present the profile to the Berkeley Unified School District board at its meeting next Wednesday.

The last of the public meetings took place in the Malcolm X Elementary School gym last night. Other than two journalists and a translator, only five people showed up for the meeting. According to Mark Coplan, spokesperson for BUSD, the other public meetings had similarly modest turnouts.

Despite the small turnout, McKennan and Carrillo Mejia led a lively discussion focused on three questions: what are the strengths of Berkeley schools that would convince a candidate to move, what are the challenges, and what are the desirable characteristics of a new superintendent?

Among the strengths cited at the meeting were parent involvement, parcel taxes and community support for Berkeley schools, diversity, “great teachers”, and class sizes. Among the challenges: a large part of the discussion focused on the achievement gap, but other issues cited included dealing with the teachers’ union, out-of-district enrollment and safety.

A strong personality

There was seeming unanimity among those who attended that the new superintendent needed to be a “strong personality” who “is not afraid of stepping out of the comfort zone”.

McKennan and Carrillo Mejia said that the four-year tenure of Huyett was typical of urban school districts nationally. “I hope the next guy stays ten years, but urban superintendents have shorter shelf lives,” McKennan said. She added that school superintendents are still overwhelmingly male (although both McKennan and Carrillo Mejia are former superintendents), and the number of superintendents of color or Latino remains small.

According to McKennan, she and Carrillo Mejia are likely to interview 10 to 15 candidates from the pool of applicants their search uncovers. Five to seven candidates are likely to be proposed to the school board. That shortlist will each have a two-hour interview with the board, following a script of questions. A finalist group of three candidates will then be examined in greater depth — this includes a tour of the schools with board members, a second, freeform interview with the board, and individual dinners with the board.

The search timetable calls for a decision on a final candidate on May 19, but McKennan said that would not be the date for the final announcement, because final background checks and contract negotiations would take some time. “We like to make the board work hard for its candidate,” McKennan said.

Berkeley schools superintendent Bill Huyett to retire [12.06.11]

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  • cl3

    Someone like Alfie Kohn.

    “The real alternative to being Number One is not being Number Two; it is dispensing with rankings altogether” — [No Contest, chap. 9]

    “It doesn’t matter how motivated students are; what matters is how students are motivated” – [“The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation,” Chronicle of Higher Education]

    “Rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much” — [Punished by Rewards, chap. 4]

    “Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions” – [The Homework Myth, chap. 10]

    (quotes pasted from Wikipedia)

  • Elmwood_Neighbor

    They could save some money and use the information they collected at this same kind of event held the past two times a new Supt. was hired. My guess is that the wishes and hopes of the citizens of Berkeley haven’t changed all that much.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    someone not afraid of change or worried about ruffling feathers…

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    the reason no one shows up is because after someone is hired the Supp forgets about the wishes of the majority and focuses on the agenda of a few! we’ve been through this before over and over NOTHING EVER CHANGES AROUND HERE!

  • I have a perspective on the low turnout.

    Back in February, a call went out for groups that wanted to meet the selection consultancy to make themselves known so that meetings could be scheduled.

    I made numerous attempts to arrange a discussion between the search consultancy and the members of the Berkeley Accountable Schools Project, starting back on February 23rd.

    Director Daniels included me on the list of people (and groups) who wanted to participate in the sessions.   Daniels later confirmed that I was “definitely” on the list that was sent.  But no invitation to a forum ever materialized. 

    When I reported the omission , Daniels pointed me to Mark Coplan, to whom I then wrote on two occasions.  Coplan definitely has my address as he bcc:ed me on a broadcast communication this week, but he never responded to my request for a forum time and did not include my group in the schedule for the consultant meetings with interested groups.  He has not responded to my phone calls either.

    To be very clear:  Daniels did everything possible to include us (without that implying that he endorses us — he’s just being an engaged elected official).  He relied on BUSD staff to make that happen, and it did not get done.

    I called the consultancy today and they too confirmed that Mark Coplan owned the schedule for their days in Berkeley and made all arrangements for groups that asked to participate. 

    I won’t speculate as to motives for the lack of follow through, but it explains why I wasn’t present.  If Coplan gets back to me with an explanation for leaving us off the agenda, I’ll post an update.

  • Chris

    The online survey is a joke. 

  • SarahB

     I agree. I took it a few days ago and thought — these options are in some sort of special school district bureaucratic lingo. It felt like it was meant to meet the requirements of getting community input, rather than actually letting the community speak. Which is how I felt the last time I went to a community meeting with Huyett — he really didn’t want to hear from us.

  • Bear in mind that there is a very limited number of people who can do this job, are looking for a position, are willing to work in Berkeley, and can afford to live here.  Soliciting input is a necessary step, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves about how much impact it will have even if the Board is very interested in addressing respondents’ concerns.  I have no way to prove this, but my bet is that the outcome of the hiring process would not change if no input were sought.

  • Completeley Serious

    I want someone who will stay and create continuity.

  • berkopinionator

    33% of the salary to be paid upon the completion of 5 years or more of service.

  • Cammy

    How about a policy where parents can choose what school to send their children to – (the closest?)

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     and only receive a pension if you stay at least 5 years

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     i agree at least for the families that are walking distance to a school…it makes no sense in the supposed “eco” friendly city that we live in that families and buses are driving back and forth all across town when a lot of kids would walk to school if they lived a walkable distance to the school.

  • Bill

    I think it’s a good idea but that you have to be careful about something that seems this simple.   Depending on the density of students within “walking distance” to a school you might end up with more poorly balanced schools with regards to size.  We have the luxury of  relatively small elementary schools that, were I again an elementary school  parent, I wouldn’t want to give up.  We also liked the rich ethnic mix of the elementary school our kids went to since by the time they got to Middle School and BHS they was a lot more self segregation less educational mixing. 

  • bgal4

     How about a commitment to improve these distressing facts:

    Decade long decline in math and English proficiency
    at Berkeley High reported; decline in college readiness
    Did you know Berkeley High students as a whole are less ready for college math and college
    English than other students in Alameda or California? This is one of the
    many alarming facts contained in the report prepared by Berkeley High in
    anticipation of a school visit by the WASC accrediting team on March
    19-21.  The full report is
    available at: http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/information/wasc/
    Berkeley High is undergoing its first accreditation review by Western
    Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 2005. The required self-study
    progress report presents a disappointing picture of Berkeley High
    academic achievement. Despite years of investment in high school reform, overall academic performance has declined
    at Berkeley High over the past decade.  
    With resources far surpassing most school districts, one
    might expect that Berkeley High School, serving 35% of district enrollment
    with over 3,400 students, would be an example of high academic achievement and
    a narrowing achievement gap.  A
    strikingly different picture emerges from the WASC report  “Areas of Need” (p. 60-62):
    Overall BHS proficiency in math
    dropped over the past ten years, while during that same period county and
    state proficiency rates rose according to California Standards Tests
     • All racial subgroups have seen drops in
    proficiency in math compared with seven years ago. (CST)
    Overall BHS proficiency in
    English declined from 2003 to 2011. (CST)
    After the elimination of extra periods for science labs, chemistry test results showed an increase in students “below basic” and
    “far below basic,” from 35% in 2009, to 46% in 2011. (CST)
    Additionally, the
    achievement gap has worsened particularly for African-American
    •  Only 1% of BHS African-American students
    scored proficient in Algebra 1 test and 0% scored proficient in Algebra
    2.  (CST)   (successful completion of Algebra
    by 9th grade is a 2020
    Vision Indicator)
    • Only 11% of BHS
    African-American 11th graders are proficient in English
    compared with 31% of African-American 11th graders statewide.
    Berkeley Unified
    School District is one of the richest school districts in the state.  With more than $12,951 per student,
    compared with the average $8,717 per student, BUSD should be one of the top
    performing districts (Ed-Data website, Fiscal, Demographic and Performance
    Data on California’s K-12 Schools).  Resources are not predictive of
    student achievement in Berkeley.
    Unlike many communities, Berkeley has invested heavily in
    our schools for over 25 years.  Local parcel taxes for school
    enrichment, class size reduction, and school maintenance boost average revenue per student by 48%
    above the statewide average, and doesn’t include additional resources from
    local charitable foundations, PTAs and the city of Berkeley’s education
    What’s happened at Berkeley High?  Ten years ago Berkeley High was a
    comprehensive high school with a broad curriculum, a seven-period school day,
    double-period science and an honors math program.  Following Oakland USD’s lead, Bill and
    Melinda Gates Foundation money and subsequent federal support for small
    learning communities, Berkeley High was broken up into small schools and
    “redesigned”.  The instructional
    day was reduced from seven to six periods; extra periods for science labs were
    eliminated; the honors math track reduced; “advisories” replaced instructional
    time in academic subjects.  None
    of the reforms were data driven. 
    The Gates Foundation dropped “small schools reform” years
    ago when an independent evaluation of the data revealed that such reforms had
    no positive impact on student achievement. On the other hand, in BUSD hundreds
    of thousands of dollars have been paid to consultants to provide professional
    development to district staff on small school redesign and equity
    initiatives.  Despite these
    resources, the achievement gap has worsened and ALL subgroups at Berkeley High
    show declines in academic achievement. 
    Since 2010 Oakland USD has found small school reform to be economically
    unsustainable and is in the process of reconsolidating small schools into the
    previous comprehensive high schools. 
    The District needs
    to reverse the downward trend of student achievement and worsening
    achievement gap at Berkeley High. 
    Reforms have not increased student proficiency in math, English and
    science.  The trends show things are getting worse, not better.
     Resources should be systematically realigned toward strengthening
    curriculum and instruction in core academic subjects.  BUSD has the
    resources; they need to be targeted
    effectively.  BUSD needs educational
    leadership that is not afraid to address the current data trends and correct
    the weaknesses in the high school program.  Unfortunately, the WASC
    action plan doesn’t adequately address the issues raised by the data.
     Despite accreditation, Berkeley High is graduating far too many students
    who are not proficient in math, science, reading comprehension and writing
    skills.    Without these skills, Berkeley High students face
    increasingly limited career and educational options in a competitive global
    by Priscilla Myrick


  • Bruce Love

    Getting past “small schools” is going to be a difficult sell.

  • because…?

  • Bruce Love

    They each have lots of stakeholders, they compete for resources.

  • Stefan Lasiewski

    The WASC Visiting Team had a meeting today at 3PM to discuss these results. 

    http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/information/wasc/ says:

    The WASC Visiting Team will be on our campus March 19, 20, and 21st.  When their visit is over, the team will meet with the BHS staff to report commendations and recommendations.  Students, parents, and community members are welcome to attend this meeting, which will be held in the BHS library at 3:00 pm, on March 21st.”