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Teens want superintendent who will listen

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Thursday February 15, 2001

Some 20 Berkeley High Students weighed in Wednesday on one of the most critical questions facing the Berkeley Unified School District – what qualities should the new superintendent possess? 

The teens, most of whom who were from the Youth Commission and Youth Together, met after school in the Learning Center with the consultant leading the superintendent search, Jake Abbott from Leadership Alliance.  

The consensus appeared to be: we want someone very different from former Superintendent Jack McLaughlin. 

Diversity was high on the list of desired qualifications. McLughlin is Caucasian. 

Abbot, who lives in Walnut Creek, said he understood the students’ concern. “Look at California. It’s majority minority,” he said, noting that only a few school districts, such as Piedmont, have majority Caucasian students. 

He underscored that his consulting firm has access to minority applicants. 

The ability and desire to interact with  

students was also important to the students sitting around the table with the consultant. “I don’t know if McLaughlin did a good job of keeping openness between students and himself,” said one young man. “I don’t think he reached out,” said another.  

That means not only meeting with students, but attending events such as poetry slams and theater productions, they said. 

Several students said they felt the former superintendent was good at planning new buildings, but, said one: “I wouldn’t want a superintendent who is short-sighted on communication and good on construction.” 

The students also said the new superintendent should not only be in touch with the school, but also with the community. 

And the new superintendent needs to focus more on the high school, students said. 

“Jack McLaughlin did a good job on literacy and dual language immersion” in the elementary schools, said Niles Xi’an Lichtenstein, student representative to the school board. But the high school was not served as well as it ought to be, he said. 

In particular, the new superintendent should be familiar with running small schools within the larger school, which is the direction in which BHS is moving, he said. 

Abbott said he had met with 50 people during the day and for them, as well, a focus on Berkeley High is important. “The achievement gap is a big issue,” he said. 

The search will be concluded by the end of May and a new superintendent will be on board July 1, the consultant said. 

Abbott declined an interview with the Daily Planet. School Board President Terry Doran said, in the agreement with Leadership Associates, the board president would act as the spokesperson for the superintendent search team. The consultants are concerned with the process, Doran said. “They don’t want incorrect information to be put out (by having) diverse spokespoeple to talk to the press.” 

Doran said the search team met with a variety of groups Wednesday, including the District Advisory Committee, the head of the NAACP, former assemblymember Tom Bates and former mayor Loni Hancock, and the District Diversity Committee. Today he will be meeting with others, Doran said.  

Leadership Associates is holding a public meeting to get input on the superintendent search tonight at 6:45 p.m. at Longfellow Arts & Technology Magnet Middle School Theater, 1500 Derby St. Groups which want to meet separately with the consultants should call Queen Graham, 644-6147.