New Berkeley superintendent Evans: ‘This is my ministry’

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Donald Evans: ‘I thought Berkeley would be a great fit for me.’ Photo: Lance Knobel

On his third day as superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District, Donald Evans’ office still had a just-moved-in feel, with few personal effects on the walls or his desk. Pride of place on the desktop was a freshly bound copy of the school district’s annual budget, already looking well thumbed.

Berkeleyside met with Evans so early in his tenure not to grill him about Berkeley issues — he understandably said he needs time to develop his thinking on the specifics — but to hear from the new superintendent about what brought him to Berkeley, and what he views as the major challenges of the post. 

Evans comes to Berkeley after serving as superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District for two years. He has been an educator for 26 years, working in San Diego, Palo Alto and Oakland, and he earned his doctorate in education from the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley in 2010, in association with the Leadership in Educational Equity Program.

The school board’s selection of Evans in April this year after a nationwide search, came after two failed searches last year, including the announced intention to hire Edmond Heatley from Georgia and his subsequent withdrawal from consideration.

Evans said he considered applying for the Berkeley superintendency in both searches last year, but only decided to move from Hayward on the third round.

“I’m always here,” said Evans, an Oakland resident. “People don’t realize I’m always riding my bike through here, and just love the community. I tell everybody, ‘You will see me at Restoration Hardware. You’ll see me in the restaurants.’

“Berkeley is very eclectic,” Evans said. “You have a lot of different types of people, and it has an intellectual energy that I find extremely stimulating. I thought that it would be a great fit for me, to be in an environment that has this eclectic, intellectual, stimulating environment. As a superintendent, you want to be challenged in a way where you’re growing, but you’re also contributing in a community that’s forward‑thinking.”

Evans said he thought his recent connections to the Graduate School of Education should prove beneficial.

“You have one of the finest research‑based institutions right here, but it’s being underutilized in a way that we could be a leading district in the country,” he said. “How can you have this top university that has one of the top education departments, yet they’re not a major factor in terms of promoting top practices throughout the district?

“Don’t get me wrong. There are some great practices here,” Evans said. “But I’d like to see how we strengthen that link between the two of us. How do we collaborate?”

Evans had an immediate answer when asked how he’d describe his management style.

“I’m very collaborative,” he said. “Before I make a decision, I want to hear everybody’s voice. Some people don’t like that. But I feel like you might bring out something that I probably have not thought about that could be critical for me in making a major decision. It’s really important for me to understand why you think and how you think in terms of how we move this organization forward.

“I think if I didn’t do this work, I’d definitely be a community activist,” Evans said. “It’s just so important to me to hear what the community has to say.

“For some people, this is a job,” he continued. “This is not a job to me. This is my passion and, in many ways, this is my ministry. I love what I do. I’m not one of these people who come to work and, ‘Oh, god…'”, he sighs.


A basketball net signed by students from Evans’ early years teaching in San Diego. Photo: Lance Knobel

Evans said he plans to hold a series of town hall meetings starting this fall to hear community opinions and concerns. He plans at least three: one at each of Berkeley’s middle schools for geographic convenience, but with an open agenda.

The achievement gap and implementing the common core are the two priorities Evans focuses on in conversation. In Hayward, he worked with the community on the Hayward Promise Neighborhood Partnership, a collaboration similar to Berkeley’s 2020 Vision. When he served as Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education in Compton Unified School District, test scores went up after several years of stagnation, and truancy and expulsion rates went down.

Evans said he is determined to use evidence-based practices to improve achievement.

“What I see in education is that we don’t always use money wisely,” he said. “Many times, we don’t look at the impact of the funding in terms of: did this particular program make a difference in terms of student achievement?

“What I have seen is, even though it doesn’t work, we still continue to do it,” Evans said. “We continue to do it. Like it’s magically going to work, when we know for years it hasn’t worked. Why are we continually using the money for the same thing that hasn’t worked?”

In the sparsely decorated office, the only clue to Evans’ life outside the office is a small basketball hoop, signed by some of his students from his early years teaching in San Diego. What are his interests outside the job he describes as his ministry?

“Oh my god, I’m a basketball fanatic. Raider fan. Sports fanatic – I have my little Raider cup,” he said. “I literally cry when my Raiders lose. I’ve got it really bad.”

Hayward chief named Berkeley schools superintendent (05.22.13)
Hayward Chief is finalist for BUSD superintendent spot (04.19.13)
School board launches new superintendent search (02.13.13)
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)
Heatley withdraws candidacy for BUSD superintendent (09.18.12)
Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny (09.05.12)
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent (08.31.12)

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  • BUSD Mom of 3

    Welcome, Dr. Evans! Please make good behavior, respect, and accountability top priorities for the students. Without those requirements, teachers can’t teach… Thank you.

  • Bill N

    I like that he said: “What I see in education is that we don’t always use money wisely,” he said. “Many times, we don’t look at the impact of the funding in terms of: did this particular program make a difference in terms of student achievement?”

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Let’s make educating BERKELEY STUDENTS a priority

  • Hildah

    I think that in the future the City should request that City Managers and school superintendents relocate to Berkeley. Many towns and Cities have this policy. I wish Dr. Evans a successful tenure at BUSD.

  • TN

    It is against current state law to require that public employees live within the jurisdiction of the agency that they work for. Public employees can be required to live close enough to fulfill their jobs. For instance, police and fire personnel can be required to live close enough to respond from home quickly enough in the case of a major emergency.

    All the efforts like “Oakland First” or similar proposals in San Francisco to require public employees to live in the city for which they worked have failed legally.

  • Hildah

    Thank you for the information. My experience was in another state. Too bad since top administrators are responsible for budgets they should have to suffer them too.

  • ebv

    Yes, WELCOME Dr. Evans, Please do all you can do with our students. They are our future and our lives are in their hands. And we want great people there for us as we grow older.


    BUSD spends an obscene amount of money violating it’s Union contracts and defending those poor decisions legally. And losing.

  • Bill N

    Could you be more explicit? Honest, a real question not a snarky comment.

  • guest

    BUSD spends an obscene amount of money by failing to agressively negotiate union contracts. Dr. Evans the public is behind you. Your mandate is to bring accountability to these sacred cows. Give us something besides employee entitlement for our money!

  • guest

    Dr. Evans,

    At the end of your tenure at BUSD, these are some of the important questions whose answers will determine the extent of your success:

    With the generous opportunities we tax ourselves to provide: Are gifted white students as well served as troubled black and brown students?

    Did you establish any employee evaluation criteria relating teacher performance to student performance?

    How did you use the power of your office to end fraudulent registration and its disastrous effects on our, and neighboring districts?

    Enthusiasm and team play might make this position a great item on your resume. But critical thinking and courage could make you an unique force for real change.Your choice…a BUSD grad and parent.

  • Andrew Doran

    I’m curious, Freudian slip or intentional that you seem only concerned with gifted white students, not gifted students in general, especially in comparison to troubled black and and brown students rather than troubled students in general?

    And let me see if I understand another apparent assumption underlying your first question above: students who you have labeled “gifted” but who somehow fall short of your expectations are missing something that it is the responsibility of the district to provide, but those who perform below expectations that you have identified as “troubled” have tapped out the system and it is clearly the result of a lack of something at home? Is that about right?

    It’s a false dichotomy anyway. As a BUSD graduate and parent myself, and someone who could best be described as a “gifted white student” the Berkeley Schools and Berkeley High served me just fine. I went off to a top notch private east coast school as did an amazingly large number of my fellow classmates. Another large number of my classmates simply fell through the cracks and failed to graduate at all. They would best be described as “troubled”, and I fail to see how putting more educational effort and resources into helping them succeed is either misguided or must be seen through some zero sum game lens that you seem to suggest.

    Now, this whole idea of whether or not we are paying for the education of students from neighboring communities is serious. I would certainly like to hear a reasoned response from the district on this one as to whether the figures bandied about have an alternate explanation.

  • guest

    Per Andy: “Another large number of my classmates simply fell through the cracks and failed to graduate at all.”

    What a crock…about cracks! What cruel and dismissive perspective!

    It’s 2013 Andy. We’ve got a two term black AND white president. It’s common knowledge: familial cultures determine academic outcomes more strongly than the education system could ever hope to.

    Go to a BHS football or basketball game and we’re a predominately Black school. Go to ‘Back to School’ night and it’s damn near all White, with increasing levels of Brown.

    There are some truths you can’t hide.

  • guest

    Ministry? Just what we need, another preacher. When he shouts “Can I get a witness!”, let’s hope it’s metaphorical.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I also found that remark disturbing. Public schools officials are not supposed to “minister” to anyone.

  • Andrew Doran

    I’m not exactly sure what you think is a crock. “Falling through the cracks” is a pretty common phrase. I was referring to the kids who for whatever reasons could not manage to get themselves in order and were not caught and kept from failing by those charged with educating them. This is a failure of our community then and now. Parents, teachers, neighbors, citizens. What exactly did you read into my post that makes you characterize this as dismissive? On the contrary, it was in response to the original poster’s apparent contention that too many resources are spent on these students at the expense of other students that they think are under served. I disagree with this both on it’s face (Berkeley has and still does graduate large amounts of highly successful graduates) and in it’s construction (that the two are mutually exclusive).

    I can not make heads or tails of your comments regarding the demographics of Berkeley. All I can offer is that I am 100% sure that the mandate of the public schools is to educate the general public. That is both a truth and the law. Do you have a suggestion as to how to strive to always do that better tomorrow than we do today, given the demographic makeup of Berkeley that you so clearly have figured out and categorized by “familial culture” and feel the need to imbue your comments with? Or are you suggesting that all is preordained by skin tone? Again, I fail to see where your observations of demographics lead as far as your thoughts on educational policy because you make them and then leave us hanging as to what you expect me to do with the information.

  • Andrew Doran

    sorry about the multiple posts. Took awhile for the one from last night to get moderator approval, maybe due to my more colorful language from the middle of the night. I rewrote this morning thinking it got lost or denied.

  • guest

    A.D…you ask for an educational policy suggestion, here it is:

    I. Quarterly, BUSD uses nationally recognized standardized tests to determine wether a student is progressing appropriately in core reading and math classes. Failing this test triggers interventions including home visits by counselors and Saturday remedial classes and no participation in school athletics.

    II. Near the end of the school year. BUSD uses the same nationally recognized standardized tests to determine wether a student is ready for the math and reading levels of the next grade. Failing these tests places the student in a remedial program until they pass the test. Summer school, home visits, Saturday remedial classes and no participation in school athletics continue.

    The immediate results of this program are:

    An end to fraudulent registration. Who wants to spend seven years in high school when you can graduate as an illiterate in four elsewhere.

    It will identify the students whose families truly desire an education for their children and we can devote our precious resources to them.

  • guest

    What’s a crock is….your classmates didn’t just fall through cracks, they worked their way slowly and painfully through them at BHS, while a lot of highly paid incompetents and enablers sat motionless, clicking their tongues.

    They moaned and teared as sheep of color were lost and neither the student or their family was ever brought to task. Why? Because BHS and BUSD want to be loved more than they want to teach.

  • guest

    Andy…While were at it here’s a little history (which, if we can’t remember, were condemned to repeat) and a recent progress report

    The “zero sum” lens you mention was originally introduced by BHS:

    BHS suffers not only from social promotion, but outright fraud:

    Oh but things have changed!…Really?

    Excerpt: 2012 Base Academic Performance Index (API) Report
    Black or African American: 659
    White: 923
    [State target: 800 out of possible 1000]

  • Andrew Doran

    Perhaps I’ve been away for too long. If Ms. Hansen’s allegations you quote above are truly representative of what the small schools program is actually up to at Berkeley High, my father is turning in his grave. This is obviously a topic you care deeply about. I wish you were a little better at making first impressions.

  • guest

    Andy…Impressions are the last thing on my mind. If I’ve read your comment correctly, your father also cared deeply about outcomes, not impressions. Allow me to speak plainly:
    To graduate a student from high school without adult level reading and math skills is a capital offense, against the student, and our society. It condemns a human life to unending low wage slavery or worse, the criminality borne of hopeless desperation.
    Yet BHS/BUSD does this routinely. And they pride themselves on it. How can this be?
    First, they view the task of teaching as a ‘process’ not tied to a specific result: As long as they (the teachers) are giving what they consider to be a convincing effort, then the results are immaterial to their continued employment. (In what other serious endeavor would this be tolerated?)
    Second, BHS/BUSD attempts to support their role as compassionate educators by shielding their students from the reality of their deficits. They shun the recognized standards of achievement while earnestly ‘Honoring’ everybody.
    Third, Their sense or urgency is in no way commensurate with the effect their performance has on the lives of their students and society. BHS and BUSD administrators brightly consider the system a ‘work in progress’. How many BHS grads were shoved off a minimum wage cliff by Scuderi’s hug last June…because they were graduated with inadequate reading and writing skills.
    How do we change this, Read the previous post.