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BHS tries team leadership approach

By Jeffrey Obser, Daily Planet staff
Saturday October 27, 2001

In the wake of Principal Frank Lynch’s departure last week, Berkeley High School’s vice principals will run the school as a team until a new principal can be found.  

“(We) built the model being optimistic that we could get someone by second semester, but if we couldn’t, it could certainly go through the end of the year,” Superintendent Michele Lawrence said. 

Vice principals Mary Ann Valles and Laura Leventer will be co-principals, vice principal Mike Hassett will primarily oversee the ninth-grade program, and Executive Vice Principal Larry Lee will oversee day-to-day operations and discipline. 

In addition, the district placed job announcements Thursday for two new deans, who will oversee student discipline and report to Lee. 

“We’ve had deans in the past, but it is a new position,” said Chris Lim, the associate superintendent for instruction. 

District administrators met with Berkeley High staff on Wednesday to unveil a detailed list of the duties for each of the vice principals. 

Valles, who led the San Francisco schools technology program until coming to Berkeley High last summer, will primarily look after attendance, grades, and student services. Among those are counseling and the Student Learning Center, which provides tutoring. She will also continue to act as liaison to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges as the school struggles to be renew its accreditation next fall. 

Leventer, the high school’s former math department chairwoman, will coordinate scheduling, field trips, the Web site and “E-tree,” assemblies, clubs, and relations with the Parent Teacher Student Association. She has been designated lead contact person for parents and the press. 

Hassett, a longtime English department chair before taking on his administrative post, will be the lead person on testing in addition to the ninth-grade retention programs, including the new Critical Pathways program, which is intended to remedy the “achievement gap” among African-American and Latino students. 

“Don’t be deceived by the short list of tasks he has,” Leventer wrote in a community e-mail Thursday. “This is probably the most challenging job there is and Mike is the most qualified for it.” 

Lee, who served as interim principal for three years before Lynch’s predecessor, Teresa Saunders, will manage the buildings and everything from disaster preparedness to relations with the Shattuck Avenue merchants and others in the surrounding community.  

Lawrence said she had decided against hiring an interim principal this time because she was “concerned... not to throw another variable into a school that has had so many over this period of time. And seeing how well the four administrators work together, I was convinced that that relationship could sustain the school.” 

Lawrence said during recent meetings with representatives of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which has demanded changes at the school before renewing its accreditation next fall, she has pared down the 11 areas of concern it cited last spring to five: Discipline and safety, attendance, decision-making processes and collaboration, retaining low-achieving ninth-graders and teacher training. 

These goals, she said, would be spread among the vice principals. 

“I felt that by more clearly aligning the responsibilities that each of them could shepherd through one of those important aspects of meeting the WASC requirements,” Lawrence said. 

The new plan also calls for a “shared governance committee,” made up of teachers, administrators, and small school leaders, with the power to vote on school policy and longer-term decisions. 

“There will be command decisions that will be made by the co-principals and vice principals, but a lot of decisions you want more input from staff members,” said Leventer. “There’s always been something where teachers felt they didn’t have a voice in administrative decisions and they wanted a sub-group. What we’re doing here is to pull that subgroup into the administrative body in order to be more focused.” 

The shared governance committee will have a representative from the School Site Council, mandated by the state to oversee staff development and the site plan. It will combine functions of an older shared governance committee that lacked decision-making power and another made up of department district chairs. 

Teachers are to elect three of their own to the committee: one representing the union, another the Parent Teacher Student Association, and another “at large,” Leventer said. 

“We actually want teachers to come up with the system to do that, since it shouldn’t come from administrators,” she said.  

A teacher who asked that her name not be used said the new plan suits the school better than having a single principal. 

“I think they’re working towards a model that we should look at as a permanent plan for administration,” the teacher said. “I think a cadre or team is a much better model for a school this size.” 

School Board President Terry Doran said the board and superintendent needed to look at the principal’s job in its current form and “ask what are the aspects of the job that are driving people away.” 

“We need to solve that and come up with some answers before we begin trying to find a new principal,” Doran said.