In the latest departure of high-level administrators from Berkeley’s school system, Berkeley High School co-principals Mary Ann Valles and Laura Leventer announced Wednesday that they would resign at the end of the school year.
Valles and Leventer, who were expected to serve as vice principals in the fall when Patricia Christa takes over as the new head of Berkeley High, said the loss of the top job played little role in their decisions to leave.
Valles and Leventer join a growing list of key officials who are leaving Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) at the end of the school year. In the last four weeks, all three of the district’s associate superintendents have announced that they will be leaving, with two taking superintendent jobs elsewhere. The departures have raised questions about the stability of BUSD, which will face a budget deficit next year that could reach $8 million.
Leventer has requested a one-year leave of absence to deal with a family medical crisis but, according to BUSD Superintendent Michele Lawrence, she is likely to return as a teacher rather than as an administrator. Valles has accepted a position as principal of Bancroft Middle School in San Leandro.
The pair took over as co-principals in October 2001 after the sudden departure of former principal Frank Lynch. The arrangement was a temporary one and neither Valles nor Leventer applied for the full-time position Christa will take starting July 1.
Christa said she was disappointed by the departures and the loss of the institutional memory that Valles and Leventer offer.
“I don’t like to see history walk out the door,” Christa said. “But it’s something I’ll deal with.”
Joan Edelstein, president of the Berkeley High School Parent Teacher Student Association, said the departures are likely to undermine the district. “I think it’s going to be a problem just in terms of the stability the school district needs,” Edelstein said.
The administration is downplaying the impact of the departures. Superintendent Lawrence said their jobs will be more difficult in the short term, but added that she’s confident the district will pick up the slack.
The biggest hole will be in the central office, where only a new business chief, Eric Smith, has been hired to replace the superintendent of business and operations, Jerry Kurr. Lawrence does not plan to fill the vacancies left by Associate Superintendent of Human Resources David Gomez or Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Christine Lim for at least a year.
“I just can’t see filling them financially at this point,” said Lawrence.
Berkeley High School has been on shaky ground since 1999, when the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) threatened to rescind accreditation if the school did not progress in 11 identified problem areas ranging from student safety to the “achievement gap” separating white and Asian students from blacks and Hispanics.
Despite early warnings about inadequate progress, WASC determined in June 2002 that Berkeley High had improved significantly and extended the accreditation by three years.
Parents and district officials credit Valles and Leventer for winning WASC’s seal of approval.
“Getting us to WASC accreditation was a big accomplishment,” said Alan Miller, a Berkeley High English teacher.
Miller said the school, which has had three administrations in the last four years, will miss Valles and Leventer.
“They provided a lot of stability,” he said. “We need all the stability we can get.”