Questions about Heatley’s role in Prop 8 resolution swirl

Anti-Heatley campaigners at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The pending appointment of Edmond Heatley as superintendent of Berkeley schools has been vocally protested this week by parents and teachers who are concerned about his role in the passage of a resolution in support of Proposition 8 when he was superintendent in San Bernardino County’s Chino Valley school district. But the then-president of the Chino Valley board said yesterday that Heatley was merely putting together an agenda item on his instructions. Proposition 8 sought to outlaw marriage equality in California.

Yesterday, teachers at Oxford Elementary School wrote to the school board “in strong opposition” to the hiring of Heatley: “We write to you today as advocates for ALL students and families. We oppose the hiring of Dr. Heatley, and are appalled that he is the sole finalist for the position of superintendent.” An informal survey on Berkeleyside yesterday had 401 votes (74%) advocating the board withdraw Heatley from consideration, 74 (14%) urging more time for investigation, and 66 (12%) urging that the board keep Heatley as a finalist.

Neither Berkeley school board members nor Heatley responded to Berkeleyside’s requests for interviews. 

The memo from Heatley was part of the agenda packet for the Chino Valley school board. It presented a background to the resolution in support of Prop 8, and asked that the board “take action and give direction to the Superintendent” on the resolution. Michael Calta, president of the Chino Valley school board in 2008, commented on Berkeleyside that the resolution was his, and the agenda memo accompanying it was Heatley’s communication of background provided by Calta.

Calta, who has moved to San Antonio, Texas, spoke to Berkeleyside last night, reiterating his belief that Heatley was not expressing a view in the memo.

“Any role [Heatley] played was to make sure anything that was written in the background corresponded with what I said,” Calta said. “I think he saw this as school board business rather than school district business. It sounds to me, he’s thinking to himself this is school board business, I’m not going to get involved.”

A number of Berkeley observers, however, read Heatley’s covering memo differently.

“A fair reading of that background is it’s written as an argument to persuade the board,” said Ty Alper, Clinical Professor of Law at UC Berkeley Law. Alper established a website on Heatley and Prop 8 on Wednesday. He posted a lengthier analysis of the Heatley memo and Calta’s views there:

It is the “Background” section that tells us what we need to know about Dr. Heatley.  In that section, Dr. Heatley presents an argument that is unmistakably intended to persuade the Board to adopt the resolution in support of Prop 8.  For example, Dr. Heatley notes the number of jurisdictions that have passed laws opposing same sex marriage.  And he notes that “only one other state” has recognized same sex marriage.  There would be no point to these passages other than to persuade the Board that Prop 8 is in line with the national norms.  He then repeats one of the most commonly-heard talking points from the Yes on 8 campaign, that defeat of the initiative would mean school districts will “inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum” in response to a re-definition of marriage.  Finally, he notes that the resolution “recognizes” – not “states,” or “claims” but “recognizes”– that “the ideal learning environment for children is within a nurturing home governed jointly by a mother and a father.”  This is an argument in favor of the resolution.  I don’t see how it could be read any other way.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, also said that the memo did not read like a neutral presentation of background on Prop 8. She particularly highlighted the memo’s discussion of curriculum — “If Proposition 8 is not successful, then school districts throughout California will inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum to align with the Court’s recent redefinition of marriage” — as a “veiled threat”.

Campbell echoed Alper’s concerns by noting “there are lots of ways” administrators can present a resolution that makes clear their wish to distance themselves from the matter.

“This [resolution] wasn’t out of the norm of what school board members would do,” Calta said. “To me it’s not fair to use this against him. There are other issues if you’re going to make a decision.”

One Berkeley resident, who has been deeply involved in local schools and wishes to remain anonymous, wrote to Berkeleyside that the argument that Heatley was not taking a view was not credible:

“Heatley was not obligated to fulfill the request of the board member who was ostensibly the individual bringing forward the resolution in question. Bringing forward a resolution for consideration is itself a political act. Once he had agreed to be the person to bring this resolution forward, Heatley’s options were to recommend it for action or recommend that no action be taken. Having brought the resolution forward, recommending it for action is is effectively an endorsement, recommending that no action be taken would communicate that he did not endorse the resolution. If he had wanted to remain neutral, he should have declined the board member’s request to write the memo bringing the resolution forward and invited the board member to do so himself.”

Heatley opponents have raised other issues about him as well. His training at the Broad Superintendents Academy worries some who see Broad as inextricably connected to a business-driven perspective of education. Heatley also has forged a reputation for making major decisions without much consultation: in Clayton County, Georgia, his current post, he announced a shortened Wednesday schedule just before the start of this school year, and he tried to retroactively implement a conversion of snow days to teacher furlough days. His resignation of his Clayton County post on August 29 — one day before a BUSD delegation was due to arrive to conduct on site due diligence — also remains unexplained.

If Heatley’s appointment is shelved by the Berkeley school board, it will be back to the start of a search process triggered by Bill Huyett’s retirement announcement last DecemberA high-profile, very consultative search led by consultants from Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates produced a short list last spring. But according to sources, the board was deadlocked 3-2 over two finalists in that search and neither side was willing to compromise. In August, the board named two senior BUSD administrators as joint interim superintendents. The surprise announcement of Heatley as the lone finalist — before due diligence was completed and a contract agreed — was made on August 31, in response to news leaking out of Georgia, according to sources.

Superintendent candidate supported Prop 8 in Chino post (09.14.12)
Heatley’s Broad Academy connections attract criticism
Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny (09.05.12)
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent (08.31.12)
Berkeley school district names two interim superintendents (08.23.12)
Two interim superintendents to take reins at BUSD (08.16.12)
What does Berkeley want from its new schools head? (03.14.12)
Berkeley schools superintendent Bill Huyett to retire (12.06.11)

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  • Ladies and Gentlemen,
    It’s time for me to bow out of this healthy discussion.  I’ve exhaustively stated my position on a number of related issues. I thank many of you for your civility and focus on the arguments and wish the very best for you all, your community and school district no matter who gets chosen as your next Supt.  If I can be on any future assistance I can be reached at   :)

  • PragmaticProgressive

    According to my argument, “marriage” doesn’t have a single, context-free referent.  At different times and in different places, it has meant different things, including the ones you listed. And social pressure from entrenched ideologues (the dark side of the “ideal” to which you keep referring), also explains why at various points, people have felt compelled to enter into unhappy hetero marriages.  

  • PragmaticProgressive

    And yet it is practiced by fundamentalist offshoots whose tolerance for cognitive dissonance permits them to collect welfare and child support for families 2->n while still espousing “starve the beast” views about government.  

    In any event, you keep invoking “historical ideals” to defend your preferences.  This is odd because your own faith tradition (and the other great religions) all contain a variety of family configurations.  The point is that “marriage” is historically contingent and time’s arrow has thankfully taken us beyond the ascendancy of your “ideals.”  

  • The Sharkey

    That doesn’t change my point at all, which is that an “alternative” style of marriage was originally favored by the founders of your own religion, which you are now using to denounce alternative marriages.

  • Tristan

    Thank you Michael, for helping cement that Heatley will not make it to Berkeley. You have undoubtably dug this whole deeper and deeper. A whole which Heatley was alteady digging himself just fine.

  • Guest

    Well, reading comprehension and understanding sarcasm are two very different things…

  • BNR

     Reading Lance Knobel’s report on the KQED website, I am also concerned that by choosing Heatley the Board had prioritized raising standardized test score averages for minority groups over and above providing a well-rounded education in the arts and music for all students. Are some of the teachers worried that Heatley represents a single-minded focus on average test results and that he would actually implement policies that would divert resources away from music, art, physical education, and civics?  Are we going to make schools places where kids get drilled for months on right answers to ridiculously simple tests in global terms rather than gain some opportunities to develop their creativity, learn great ideas off the standardized test grid, and work cooperatively? What will prepare students better for modern work? What will make them better citizens? What will prepare them for a life of happiness? I really hope that this discussion does not get monopolized by billionaire reformers, disciplinarians, and professional activists and equity lawyers who have a tendency to confuse their vocational activity with justice itself.
    I want to hear from our teachers about what they want.

  • guest

     Marriage by rape also is defined in the Bible.  (Yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like.)

  • Anonymous

    Whoa you are super annoying please leave. 

  • John Holland

    Question 3 was a yes or no question left unanswered.

  • John Holland

    Michael Calta wrote:

    I’ve established my opinion and its basis.

    No you haven’t.

    You’ve provided opinion, but no basis.

    Please provide anything… Anything that documents that a heterosexual married family provides a more ideal learning environment compare to a married homosexual family.

    Does it even exist?

    I disagree with you on the history of marriage, as do Mitt Romney’s twelve Mormon great-grandmothers, but that’s a separate discussion.

  • Done there. Been that.

    “…than gain some opportunities to develop their creativity, learn great ideas off the standardized test grid, and work cooperatively…”

    Sounds like great curriculum for a career in detailing cars. Which is what’s open to those without the skills necessary to pass basis proficiently testing.  

  • Done there. Been that.

    “…I disliked Heatley immediately, based on my own online research…”

    Browsing online is good for finding new chili recipes. To fully appreciate powerful forces battling over billions of dollars, with our children’s future hanging in the balance, it is not so good.

    “…I do not like the teacher’s union here in Berkeley at all…”

    Really? I admire them for the quality of their effort. The edu-labor unions in Berkeley are extremely competent. They do a superb job of negotiating the best compensation, benefits and job security for their members. That’s their mission. And despite their constant propaganda they have nothing to do with teaching. 

  • The Sharkey

    And where, I wonder, did you find the information that makes you want to support this bigot who bounces around from school to school and abandons his post whenever he gets a better offer?

    If you want to pretend to admire a group for doing a good job at something you don’t like in order to make a point or be contrarian, knock yourself out.

  • BNR

     No, I was thinking more along the lines of how students have to be prepared to work in R&D groups, quality circles in modern production, and networks of the modern corporation. High stake standardized testing is not good preparation for success in the modern workplace, much less the development of civic skills and curiosity. Consult the work of the Co-Director of the Harvard Leadership Group at Harvard’s Ed School Tony Wagner. Do you want the best private schools to act on what he recommends while the public schools are pressured to become prisons of discipline? I want a Superintendent who keeps up on such controversies in regards to testing culture. She or he need not agree, but they need to know, and have an open-mind in regards to the latest research on  standardized testing culture as a basis for student and teacher evaluation.

  • BNR

     Just to be clear about this. I object to standardized testing though my child had near perfect scores on her last STAR exams, and would have scored  pretty much as highly if she had taken the exams for a grade level above. I hate to have said this, but I am saying it anonymously. And I feel it’s necessary to do so in order to fend off the charge of sour grapes. I just suspect that standardized testing culture is wasting teachers’ time and preventing them from doing what would best educate the kids. Again I want to hear from the teachers.

  • laura

    O’Malley repeated the Kris Worthington line faulting BPOA, the notion is false, and the issues far more interesting and complex than overtime pay.

  • 4thechildren

    I worked in Clayton County and all I would say is that the people of Berkeley need to do their research about anyone being hired for the superintendent position. I was not very happy with 
    Dr. Heatley’s leadership and I found that our board made a very unwise decision to hire him as our leader. All of our children, from GA to CA need leaders who are for helping them reach their highest potential learning levels. 

  • 4thechildren

    I’m glad you have spoken out to the people of BUSD because they need to know the truth. More of us in the Clayton County and Chino Valley school districts need to speak out because the children are adversely affected. The BUSD family need to do their research and maybe even ask for a public forum so that you can ask questions directly to the candidate and advocate for your students! 

  • John Holland

    After reading the memo more than 20 times, I have to say I’m not certain Dr. Heatley owns any of the prejudiced thought expressed in the memo in question.

    Published out of context, the memo, of course, seemed abhorrent, and I think that explains the reactions of so many people here, myself included.

    Michael Calta linked to the meeting minutes from the meeting where this resolution was proposed. I read through the PDF, and agree that this was a standard format for resolutions introduced to the board, and the “background” section of the memo was not a personal position authored by Dr. Heatley.

    The awkward phrasing of the “Recommendation” section makes it difficult to understand exactly what Dr. Heately’s intent or latitude was. But in reading other resolutions, these recommendations typically took the form of whatever actions are expressed in the “Background” of the resolution.

    Some people have suggested it would be improper, or even illegal for Dr. Heatley to take a position on the ammendment. If so, clearly the popular narrative here is wrong, and Mr. Heatley has been slurred and potentially libeled as Pro-Prop 8.

    On the other hand, regardless of whether it was legal, professional, or proper, Mr. Calta said, as school board president, “If he [Heatley] had taken a position, I would have no problem with it.” So, this again raises the question as to whether Dr. Heatley had latitude to take a position on the resolution. If the President of the school board was OK with Heatley taking a position why didn’t he? Though Mr. Calta wouldn’t have had a problem with it, would it still have been improper?

    With regards to the “background” section, it’s most certainly accurate, as clearly the “background” sections were typically penned by others, and Mr. Calta accepts authorship. It’s highly unlikely that Mr. Calta is taking a fall for Mr. Heatley in that way. In contrast, Mr. Calta has ascribed authorship of the “Recommendation” section to Dr. Heatley, and there is no reason to doubt that. It’s really all about what the recommendation sections means. Quite possibly it is procedural.

    I’m beginning to think Mr. Calta’s simple narrative might very well be the most accurate.

    However, I would like to say that regardless of author, I still don’t believe that the “Background” resolution is supported by empirical data, and that it was an intellectually false and discriminatory resolution. I just don’t think there’s any good evidence that Dr. Heatley shared the homophobic opinions expressed in the resolution. So, I, at this point apologize to Dr. Heatley: I’m sorry for jumping the gun so quickly and labeling you unfairly, Dr. Heatley. It was sloppy and ugly. I’m sorry. Without Mr. Calta’s context and the headline of the story, it was an honest and shamefully embarrassing mistake. 

    As one of his proxied employers, I still like would like to know how Dr. Heatley felt about this experience in Chino Valley, and what his philosophy is as a leader and educator towards the sentiment as a resolution. Not as a litmus test, but, since this has emerged in his own personal background, it would be instructive to hear how he handles this issue, and these types of situations.

    tl;dr: I think the popular interpretation of this memo might be a very big mistake that needs to be corrected (if possible), but there are still unanswered questions.

  • guest

     BNR – you make great points.  Please let the Board know your ideas.

  • guest

     Or what version of history one had been reading.

  • Our Family Coalition

    Our Family Coalition’s Response to “Questions about Heatley’s role in Prop 8 resolution” can be found here:   Mission StatementOur Family Coalition promotes the equality and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families with children. We foster community leadership in advocacy efforts that promote social justice. Our Family Coalition | www.ourfamily.org1385 Mission Street, Suite 340, San Francisco, CA 94103Ph: 415.981.1960  | Fax: 415.981.1962
    Find us on:  
    Supporting equity for all families and children. 

  • Anonymous

    Are you being sarcastic?