Berkeley High Community Members Weigh in on Principal Selection Process

By Raymond Barglow www.berkeleytutors.net
Tuesday May 04, 2010 - 07:15:00 PM

About 25 parents and other community members met at the Berkeley High School Library last Tuesday evening to present to the district board their ideas about what they are looking for in a high school principal.  

Superintendent Bill Huyett and Assistant Superintendent Lisa van Thillo outlined for those in attendance the selection process for choosing a principal. “High schools,” said Huyett, “are like little cities”: a principal must manage many systems and handle quite complex personnel and resource allocation issues.  

Huyett referred to a Rand study indicating that it is the principal of a school, along with highly qualified teachers and a coherent curriculum, who makes a school work well. Hence choosing an effective principal for Berkeley High is of crucial importance. Huyett said he appreciates community interest and input: “Good schools have engaged parents … parents push the school.” 

That input was amply forthcoming at the meeting. Here are some of the opinions voiced: 

There is at Berkeley High “competition for scarce resources. A strong principal would allocate resources equitably.” 

“Berkeley High is divided into small schools. There is strength in that, but we are really divided and quite parochial.” A principal needs to think about what is “good for the whole school.” We need “a genuine appreciation of diversity that is more than political.” 

A number of parents voiced their concern about the achievement gap at BHS between high-performing and underperforming students. Reducing this gap must be a priority for an incoming principal: “I don’t know why we have such a high gap. A principal must deal with diverse students in a diverse school district.” 

Several speakers said a new principal should pay more attention to safety issues at the school, and alluded to dangers their children have faced. One person said “I have found that school committees are cherry-picked. If you don’t agree, you are kicked out.”  

Another parent submitted that integrity and curiosity are key values that the school should foster. 

Huyett said that the deadline for new applications for the principal position has passed, and that there have been 45 applications. In May, the application process, involving perhaps a site visit to schools where applicants currently work, will proceed. Two panels will interview the applicants: a “technical” panel consisting of school staff, and a community panel consisting of representatives of community groups. Neil Smith will lead the technical panel, and Huyett will coordinate the community panel.  

In response to audience questions about how panelists will be chosen, Huyett said that “the Superintendent will look to see that we have diversity on our panels.” Lisa van Thillo will also be involved in this selection process. Some teachers have expressed a concern about teacher panelists being chosen in a fair way from the six small learning communities.  

Interviews of applicants by the panels will get underway this week. 

The thoughtful tenor of the meeting on Tuesday evening, in which a wide variety of views were voiced and considered, indicated a commitment to openness and dialogue. As Peggy Scott, parent representative to the school governing council, remarked: “Diversity is really about respecting everybody and appreciating their differences.”