In most years, an incumbent running for school board in a well-regarded school district would be considered a shoo-in. But the storm over the unfilled Berkeley Unified superintendent post jeopardizes Beatriz Leyva-Cutler‘s run for re-election. Leyva-Cutler faces stiff competition from Judy Appel and Tracy Hollander in the race for two open school board seats. A fourth candidate, Norma Harrison, is running a symbolic, non-serious campaign.
Leyva-Cutler, Appel and Hollander are not seeking dramatic change for Berkeley schools. That’s understandable. The recent statewide API results show good improvements in the schools, there’s been some progress in closing the achievement gap, and the district has managed to build a financial reserve that should guard against the harshest budget consequences if Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 fails to pass on Tuesday.
Without major policy differences, the candidates are stressing their own perspectives and skills.
“You can’t find another community member so vested in our schools,” Leyva-Cutler said. “I’ve been involved in early childhood education for over 30 years.”
As executive director of BAHIA, the Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement, Leyva-Cutler has a professional role in bilingual education as well as early learning. After one four-year term on the school board, she stresses the importance of continuing her work on the board for the 2020 Vision initiative which addresses the achievement gap, and developing a master plan for English language learners.
But Leyva-Cutler was also on the board during the tumult over Edmond Heatley, who the board unanimously selected as the lone finalist for the superintendency. Heatley eventually withdrew his candidacy after protests over his role in a board resolution supporting anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, and questions about his management style in Clayton County, Georgia.
“The community gave us great feedback,” Leyva-Cutler said, in response to questions about the Heatley controversy. “We need to make sure this time that the search firm is very clear in terms of what we’re looking for: someone who is an instructional leader and knows how to build collaborations with teachers, principals and the community.”
Leyva-Cutler concedes that the board fell short in the superintendent search.
“It’s going to be a new board,” she said. “Karen [Hemphill] and I are going to be the most seasoned. All of the board members are fairly open to our having some kind of governance training. In my tenure, that’s something we never had.”
Appel and Hollander are the challengers, and both have raised considerably more money than Leyva-Cutler in the most recent filings (Appel has raised $20,723, Hollander $15,530, and Leyva-Cutler $10,685). Both, however, have had to build name recognition across the city, using a profusion of yard signs and advertisements on Berkeleyside, for example.
The steady drumbeat of Hollander’s campaign is her background as a classroom teacher. In forums, on her ads and yard signs, Hollander emphasizes her teaching credentials, although she last taught her own classroom 12 years ago. Hollander was also president of the Rosa Parks Elementary PTA and is now secretary of the Longfellow Middle PTA.
“From the time I was a teacher in the classroom, I’ve been on the end of a lot of policy decisions, and I’ve experienced what that’s like,” Hollander said. “There were a lot of disconnects between policymakers and what’s in the classroom. I think it’s important for people who are making policy decisions to have that voice represented.”
The Berkeley Federation of Teachers, however, has endorsed Appel and Leyva-Cutler.
Appel stresses her own engagement with Berkeley schools, particularly working on the anti-bullying curriculum, Welcoming Schools. She is executive director of Our Family Coalition, which helped develop the Welcoming Schools program. Appel also was president of the Oxford Elementary PTA, and served on the Oxford site council. She’s one of two community representatives on the superintendent’s budget advisory committee.
“I have a really solid set of skills through my 25 years of working in the public interest — as an attorney, doing community development, now as an executive director — to help us move forward in a district that I feel is already really strong,” Appel said. “One of my skills is turning vision into action, helping plot a path toward success. That’s something I hope to bring to this board.”
Although there are not major policy differences between the candidates, they do stress different priorities. Appel has four: quality education “for students at all levels of achievement,” spending wisely, safe schools, and parent engagement.
Hollander focuses on two: creating the optimal environment for teaching and learning, and being “accessible, visible and transparent.”
Leyva-Cutler also has four: a stronger focus on teaching and learning, using data and program evaluation to identify initiatives that are successful and “bring those programs to scale that address the opportunity gap,” the English language learner master plan, and working with the city to find better solutions for homeless students.
Both Appel and Leyva-Cutler emphasized both the importance of Prop 30, and also the ability of the school district to cope if it doesn’t pass on Tuesday.
“We have to recognize all that we have,” Appel said. “I see districts all across the state in real crisis. Because we have a generous electorate, we have the opportunity to do more. [Co-acting superintendent] Javetta Cleveland has done a great job of keeping us in the black. But I hope we can get to the point where our economy has picked up, we’re stable and we can make different choices.”
“First, everybody should make sure to go out and vote for Prop 30,” Leyva-Cutler said. “We have a reserve and that’s the good news. The bad news is it will go quickly. We’re giving ourselves some time, but as soon as the elections happen we either breathe a sigh of relief or we immediately roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Bates outraises opponents by 70%; S supporters give $90K [10.30.12]
2020 Vision symposium highlights progress in Berkeley [10.15.12]
Berkeley Schools show gains on standard tests [10.12.12]
School board forum displays strong anti-Broad views [09.28.12]
BUSD board vows to be more inclusive in new chief search [09.20.12]
BUSD potential chief: had “too much explaining to do” [09.18.12]
Lessons learned from the Edmond Heatley fiasco [09.18.12]
Heatley withdraws candidacy for BUSD superintendent [09.18.12]
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