Parents Question Arts Magnet Leadership

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 09:56:00 AM

About 20 angry parents from Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School (BAM) rallied in front of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) headquarters Tuesday, May 19, to protest what they said was poor leadership at the school. 

The group expressed frustration with the district, saying that BUSD has been unresponsive to their claims that Berkeley Arts Magnet leadership has proved unable to help struggling students, especially students of color, and has alienated teachers and parent volunteers.  

Most of their complaints were leveled at the school’s principal, Kristin Collins.  

Collins was a middle-school teacher in the Berkeley public schools before replacing Lorna Skantze-Neill as BAM principal three years ago. 

Superintendent Huyett said, “The school district has met with parent leaders and has communicated with them,” but would not comment further. Messages left for Collins at BAM were not returned by press time. 

In an April 20 letter to Huyett and the Berkeley Board of Education, at least 17 parents—the number grew to 40 families three days later—asked that some sort of accountability and mentoring be put in place for Collins to ensure better communication and support for all teachers. 

District officials met with parents on April 23 to discuss their concerns, and Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith wrote them a letter a week later saying that the district would work with Collins to “help her succeed in her job as principal.” 

Smith added that both he and Huyett had received letters from staff and parents who supported the principal and the direction in which the school is moving. 

At least six of the parents delivered another letter to Huyett and Smith after the rally, saying that they had lost confidence in Collins and that Smith’s letter gave no clear indication of how the district would resolve their concerns. 

“Some parents have said that Ms. Collins may have our kids’ best intentions at heart, but she needs help,” said Becky Leyser, parent of a BAM kindergartner and a third-grader, who is also dean of students at the Starr King School for the Ministry. “We have been saying all along that Ms. Collins needs assistance in being able to take care of things, but at this point my confidence level is really low.”