As if ongoing budget and contract problems and the task of hiring 60 new teachers were not enough, Berkeley Unified School District must replace five of its 16 school principals and the district director of food services this summer.
Food Service Director Karen Candito has already left the district for another job, while principals Alex Palau of the Berkeley Alternative High, Nancy D. Waters of John Muir Elementary, Kathleen Lewis of Oxford Elementary, Shirley Herrera of Rosa Parks Elementary, and Michele Patterson of Willard Middle have resigned their positions and will leave at the end of the school year.
While there is a possibility that the principals of Oxford, Willard, and Rosa Parks may be reassigned to non-principal positions within the district, Palau says that he is leaving the district to “stay home for a year with my 8-month-old daughter” and Waters is returning to her native Florida.
At least three of the positions are being vacated following some controversy.
Last spring, more than three quarters of Rosa Parks’ teachers signed a letter of no confidence to Superintendent Michele Lawrence asking that Principal Herrera be transferred from the school for what they called “unreliable leadership” and “inequitable treatment of students, teachers, and staff.”
Stating that the principal was “working in the best interest of that school and the children that she serves,” Lawrence left Herrera in place, transferring four teachers from the school instead. Three other teachers transferred out on their own.
Last January, Berkeley Alternative students, parents, and staff protested to district officials after alternative school students were barred from participation in Berkeley High’s homecoming, junior and senior prom, and cheerleading activities. After Palau and BHS principal Jim Slemp traded accusations through the newspaper, the superintendent convened meetings between representatives of the two schools, and the ban was eventually lifted.
Candito also leaves the district’s food program after mixed results. While Berkeley Unified’s food service department has received such national honors as the Golden Carrot Award (given by the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for food service facilities that offer innovative programs that help improve child health and reduce obesity), the department has received regular complaints at board meetings and within the district for losing money. Last winter, a collection of 26 Berkeley residents—including Berkeley High PTA President Lee Berry—requested that the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury investigate financial mismanagement at Berkeley Unified School District’s Food Services Department.
Candito said she was leaving the district voluntarily “because I got another opportunity.”
She said she has been hired as the director of food services for a county correctional department “in a location I’d rather not publicize.” She said it is a position that will allow her to “work to improve health issues on a larger scale. Unfortunately, jails have more funding than schools in the present state budget climate. But I hope what I’ll be able to do in corrections is going to come back and help school nutrition. I’ll have more leeway; at least I will, in my dreams. I hope it turns out to be a reality.”
Candito said her biggest accomplishment in her four years at Berkeley Unified was “building a strong foundation and infrastructure for the school services department. I’m leaving the department fully integrated into the school system and platform.”
Candito added that she wanted to “thank the Berkeley School Board and the Superintendent for their support in school nutrition. I’ve never seen any board or administration more committed to healthy children. They’ve been wonderful. While it’s really exciting to move on to another challenge, I’m sad to be leaving. The Berkeley community is wonderful, and my staff was great.”
While BUSD Public Information Officer Mark Coplan called the principal turnover “higher than usual,” he said that “part of the fact is that we only had one principal hiring in the last two years—Jim Slemp at the high school. Things are just catching up.”
Coplan said the district anticipates no problem in filling the positions because “Berkeley is a district everybody wants to come to.” He said that the district expects “a few dozen applications from outside the district, and we may have some teachers moving up who have been working on their principal credentials.”
Coplan said his office is currently putting together a recruitment brochure to send out to school districts across the state, as well as to credentialling graduate programs for school administrators. Cutoff date for response to the principal jobs is the end of April.
Board director Shirley Issel called the outgoing principals “highly valued members of our staff. I hope they continue their careers here.”
Issel said that moving back from an administrative position to teaching may actually be preferable to some of the principals.
“People enter the profession because they want to help kids,” she said. “Returning to the classroom might end up being an attractive option for them.”
Meanwhile, 20 of the 60 new teacher hirings will fill the spots of teachers who are retiring or leaving the district for other reasons, while the remaining 40 are new positions made possible by Measure B class-size reduction funds.ª