Page One

Interim superintendent won’t seek post

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Wednesday May 09, 2001

In a surprise reversal, Stephen Goldstone, interim superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the permanent position. 

Although he praised the Berkeley school district as having “all the elements” needed to become the best in the state, Goldstone, 62, said that the changes that need to happen in the district would simply take more years to implement than he has to give. 

“The more I learned about the district and the more I understood the needs, the more I realized that it’s going to take an extended amount of time to make sure that the necessary changes really stick,” Goldstone said Tuesday. 

Goldstone estimated the next superintendent would need six to seven years to “institutionalize” changes so that the school district can meet its full potential. 

School district administrators and others expressed disappointment with the interim superintendent’s decision. Many praised him for putting students first, reaching out to teachers and parents, and taking on the tough issues in the district. 

“I’m really disappointed,” said Berkeley Board of Education Vice President Shirley Issel. “I was really looking  

forward to considering his application, along with the other candidates.” 

The school board is set to begin interviewing candidates from around the country for the superintendent position later this week. It aims to have a new permanent superintendent in place by July 1. 

“He’s been extremely helpful to us while he’s been here,” Issel said.  

“People really like working with him, and it’s a shame not to have the opportunity to continue.” 

“I feel he’s made an incredible difference in the short time that he’s been here,” said John Muir School Principal Nancy D. Waters. Waters said Goldstone has listened to principals, identified their support needs, and worked effectively with the district’s central office staff to see that those needs are met. 

“He really gave them this service-oriented directive,” Waters said. “He encouraged central office come and visit the classrooms and to be reminded why we’re in this business.” 

Oxford School Principal Kathleen Lewis said the support she received from Goldstone last week, in the aftermath of a Oxford student’s death from bacterial meningitis, was “absolutely extraordinary.” 

In his three months with the district, Goldstone has clearly demonstrated his passion for the work of educating children, Lewis said.  

“If you work in the school district, you need to feel connected to children,” she said. “Lots of superintendents are good business people and lots of superintendents can work a room, but my experience is...that (Goldstone) is good with people and that he’s an educator.” 

Many praised Goldstone for getting the district through a difficult budget season, avoiding the pitfall of having people on different sides of budget decisions become locked in confrontation. They further lauded the way he has been a positive public spokesperson for the district, even while he spoke frankly behind closed doors about how the district needs to improve. 

Issel credits Goldstone with “breaking through the denial” around the level of dysfunction in the district’s central office by hammering home the point that academic challenges cannot be met until the central office does a better job.  

The central office has been criticized in recent years for a variety of failings, including failure to hold staff accountable, failure to distribute useful information in a timely manner and failure to give teachers and principals the day to day support they require.  

“You can’t attack the achievement gap with an infrastructure gap, and he has really hammered on that particular drum loud enough for everybody to hear it banging,” Issel said. “He has a vision of a system that works and an idea of how to get there.” 

Issel and others said Tuesday, however, that they respected Goldstone’s reasons for withdrawing his name from consideration for the district’s top job. 

“I do believe these are the kinds of problems that will take five to seven years to really correct,” Issel said. “Having someone leave in the middle of that process puts the process at risk.” 

Berkeley PTA council president Mark Coplan suggested Tuesday that Goldstone could stay on for another year as interim superintendent, so he could push through tough reforms without worrying about “political fallout”. 

But board director John Selawsky said there had been no talk of such a strategy, and that indeed it would be premature to consider that option until the board interviews candidates for the permanent job. 

“It’s a nice idea, but personally I’m uncomfortable putting that out there because I think it sends kind of a mixed message” to other candidates for the position, Selawsky said. 

Goldstone, a Vallejo resident, said he would be available to help with the new superintendent’s transition over the summer. After that, he said he might consider working as a consultant, or perhaps taking an interim superintendent position with another district.