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.
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]