BUSD Selects BHS Superintendent Finalists

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday November 30, 2007

The Berkeley Board of Education selected the finalists Monday to fill the post of superintendent for the Berkeley Unified School District. 

The board started the selection process in September after Superintendent Michele Lawrence announced her retirement. Lawrence will step down Feb. 1. 

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said up to six candidates had been picked for interviews scheduled for Dec. 8 and 9. 

Although board vice president John Selawsky said he could not comment on the number of finalists, he described the final pool as diverse. 

“We have some current superintendents in it,” he said. “The goal is to interview them all in a one- or two-day period and then after the board agrees on the finalist to bring that person back for a final interview.” 

Selawsky said the board will announce the new superintendent after visiting the candidate’s current district. He said the announcement will likely be made before the end of the year. 

Some have criticized the board for what they called a secretive selection process. Mission Viejo-based Leadership Associates, the search firm hired by the board to guide the search, and board members have said it was important to keep the search confidential. 

“I continue to have grave concerns about this process,” said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “I think the board has missed an opportunity to advance a city-wide, community-wide approach to the challenges facing our district by having this closed-door, secret process, rather than a process that opens the door to community input. Three of the most important stakeholders in this district, parents, teachers and students, are completely excluded from any meaningful input into the decision.” 

Michael Miller, coordinator of the group Parents of Children of African Descent, agreed that the search process kept the public marginalized. 

“It’s quite distressing,” he said. “We want not only a qualified individual but someone who can meet the broad needs of our community ... While Michele Lawrence brought her skills in fiscal management at a time when our district was in financial difficulty, we now need a superintendent with the passion, skills, and experience to address issues of race and class and make student achievement the number one priority.” 

Selawsky said confidentiality was imperative for creating a strong pool of candidates. 

“Once it comes down to the final person it’s a different thing,” he said. “All personnel matters are confidential. If current superintendents end up not getting the job then their relationship with their community members get soured ... As a result we have to ensure them confidentiality.” 

Some Latino parents said that there was insufficient notice given to parent groups about the community meetings held in September. 

“There was excellent translation provided, but that was only at one meeting,” said Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, director of Centro Vida, a Berkeley Spanish-immersion preschool, a member of the Berkeley High Governance Council and parent of a Berkeley High junior. “I don’t think a lot of parents are even aware that there is a process underway or that there was an opportunity to talk about what they want in a new superintendent. Communication is the biggest barrier.”