Faced with replacing nearly one-third of its 16 school principals next year, the Berkeley Unified School District is looking to reform its hiring process, including adding more staff and community input.
A modification of the principal selection process will be considered at this week’s BUSD board meeting. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the second floor meeting room chambers at Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
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 are all leaving their positions at the end of the school year.
BUSD’s “Board Policy on Community Involvement in Principal Selection Process,” originally adopted in 1975 and last revised 15 years ago, provides for a 10-member screening committee (five parents, three certificated staff, and two classified staff) to review the applications of principal candidates, conduct interviews, and to recommend three finalists to the superintendent in an unranked list. The policy calls on the superintendent to make a final recommendation to the board from the three finalists from the advisory committee list.
In her recommendation to the board, Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that her administration had planned to revise the principal selection policy, “but that work will not be completed in time to begin our efforts to select the new principals.” Instead, Lawrence is asking that the existing policy be waived and a temporary policy be put in place to select the five new principals.
“While granting waivers to any policy should never be taken lightly,” Lawrence wrote to board members, “we believe that the spirit and intent of the policy is to ensure community participation in this important decision and [this] request would augment that involvement.”
The proposed new policy removes the specific number of members to serve on the screening committee, calling for the elementary school panels to have teachers as its “highest proportion” (reversing the policy of having parents in the majority). The proposed policy asks that two screening panels be set up for the Willard Middle School selection, with a technical panel composed of a majority of teachers and a “community interest” general panel composed of a majority of parents.
Lawrence’s proposed policy adds an undefined scoring mechanism to the process and is silent on the number of recommended candidates from which the superintendent must choose. The recommendations also did not address how the selection of the replacement at Berkeley Alternative High School will be handled.
Outgoing principal Alex Palau, who served for five years at the alternative school, said last week that he “hopes staff and parents will be deeply involved in the principal selection committee. In order for the program to work at the alternative high school, you need a buy-in from the staff and parent community.”
Palau said that one of the challenges of Berkeley Alternative’s new principal will be to “continue a culture of caring. The students have to understand that the school administration cares for them and is working to provide services to help them that are not part of the traditional educational mandate. That will bring about student trust, and once the students trust the school administrator, it makes it easier for the administration to work with them on their educational needs.”