A group of about 50 teachers, parents, principals and administrators turned out before the school board meeting Wednesday to bid a fond farewell to Berkeley school district
nterim Superintendent Stephen Goldstone. Goldstone will step down July 6 to make way the recently selected permanent Superintendent, Michele Barraza Lawrence.
“My heart is broken,” said Cheryl Chinn, principal of the Malcolm X Arts and Academic Magnet School, at the farewell reception Wednesday. “This is one superintendent who stepped up to the plate and made really serious decisions about what needed to be done in Berkeley.”
Chinn and other principals present Wednesday credited Goldstone with making real improvements in district central office services that have been “dysfunctional” for years.
Berkeley Arts Magnet principal Lorna Skantze-Neill said this in the first year in memory where key instructional materials she ordered in the spring, to prepare for the coming school year, were actually delivered to the school before then end of the school year. In the past she has been lucky to see all the materials by the end of the summer, she said.
“He made more changes than any (superintendent) I’ve ever seen,” Skantze-Neill said.
Principals, teachers and parents alike applauded Goldstone Wednesday for making a constant effort to get out into the community and listen to what people had to say – in marked contrast to earlier superintendents who they said seemed to focus on other parts of the job. He was a constant presence at PTA meetings, principal meetings, school dramatic performances and more, they said.
“I just don’t believe he was one person,” said Washington School Principal Rita Kimball, still marveling at the way Goldstone seemed to be everywhere at once.
Kimball said Goldstone made it clear that providing services and support to the individual schools – and the students that fill their classrooms – was his top priority.
When he visited Washington, said Kimball, “He looked like, ‘I have all the time in the world. This is what I’m here for.’”
Christine Lim, associate superintendent of instruction for the district, said Goldstone went to great lengths to maintain staff morale within the district. For the Day of the Teacher in May, he asked administrators to come to work by 5:30 a.m. so they could polish up more than 300 apples and deliver them to Berkeley High teachers by hand, Lim said.
“You should have seen their faces,” Lim said. “It was like you had given them 100 dollar bills.”
But Goldstone’s most lasting legacy, said Lim and others, may be his move to completely restructure the district’s business office. By creating a clear line of command from the superintendent on down, they said, Goldstone’s reorganization could bring greater accountability to an office where, as one observer put it, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand it doing.”
“It’s so big because for so long the principals have felt that the business office has been so unresponsive and dysfunctional,” Lim said.
In some cases, school principals couldn’t get the accurate, timely information they needed to plan their school budgets, Lim said, leaving them to wait in frustration as important decisions went unmade.
Goldstone, an avid beach-goer from his time spent working in southern California school districts, said Wednesday he plans to vacation in Mexico with his wife this summer before deciding the next move in his career. He is very interested in other interim superintendent jobs in the Bay Area, he said, should they become available.
His only fear, he told those gathered at the reception Wednesday, is that his next interim superintendency might not be as rewarding as his time in Berkeley.
“This have been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life,” Goldstone said. “And it’s because of all of you.”
When he began the job in February, Goldstone said he was somewhat apprehensive that, as an interim superintendent, he might not command the respect of more long-term appointee. But, he said, “that has not been the case (in Berkeley).
“People have been so very supportive,” he said.