Edmond Heatley, the only finalist for the BUSD superintendent post

The credentials of Edmond Heatley, the only finalist for the vacant Berkeley schools superintendent post, have come under fire from the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, as well as from individual teachers and parents.

The BUSD board is scheduled to decide on Heatley at its meeting next Wednesday night, but vocal opponents of the appointment are expected to be out in force for public testimony at tonight’s board meeting. The board is also expected to discuss the Heatley appointment in closed session tonight.

The focus for much of the criticism is Heatley’s training at The Broad Superintendent’s Academy, a program designed to take people who may not have education backgrounds and train them to lead “large urban school districts, state departments of education and high-growth public charter systems”. Broad Academy graduates run many of the nation’s largest school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, where teachers are now on strike.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, sent her executive board an email on Monday raising questions about the Broad Academy connection.

“The Broad Foundation has a long history of promoting ‘disruptive change’ in the form of tying teacher evaluations and teacher pay to standardized test scores (both of which can erode collaboration among teachers), encouraging charter schools and endorsing a ‘top down’ style of leadership,” Campbell’s email stated. “We are providing detailed information to Board members about the Broad Foundation, and asking them to give it serious consideration in their deliberations, and to consider the impact of their choice on teaching and learning in BUSD. We will speak to the Board about this on behalf of BFT at the Board meeting on Wednesday.”

Campbell told Berkeleyside that she was also concerned that the Broad Academy’s approach was designed more for large, urban districts, not 9,000-student districts like Berkeley. But, she said, she was keeping an open mind on Heatley.

“People are individuals, and you can’t paint them with a broad brush,” she said, not intending the pun. She also said it’s difficult to judge Heatley’s tenure in Clayton County, Georgia, his most recent post, because the state is a Race to the Top participant, the Obama administration’s program to encourage a series of reforms with federal funding.

Yvette Felarca, a teacher at King Middle School, has been among the most vocal opponents of Heatley’s possible appointment. She has posted an open letter to the school board on the site of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.

“I am writing to urge you NOT to hire Edmond Heatley as the district’s new superintendent,” the open letter states. “Mr. Heatley’s record reveals an administrator who is heavy-handed, opposed to unions and most importantly opposed to students… We should not hire a superintendent who is a former Marine and who has demonstrated a military-style, dictatorial approach to public school students, teachers, and staff–especially in Berkeley which prides itself as a bastion of free speech and anti-militarism.”

Felarca also cites the Broad Academy as promoting “anti-union, pro-charter school policies”, and aiming to “transform public education into the free-market model and travesty of corporate America”. She also points to the problems neighboring Oakland Unified School District had with Broad Academy graduates over a six-year period. Three state-appointed administrators — Randolph Ward, Kimberly Statham, and Vincent Mathews — were all Broad alumni, but OUSD remained mired in financial and organizational difficulties.

School board director Karen Hemphill told The Daily Californian that the criticisms were off target. “When you look at his experience and what he’s achieved, it very much perfectly represents what the community has said what they wanted in a superintendent,” Hemphill said.

Statements from school board president John Selawsky have suggested that Heatley’s appointment is a near certainty. “The board believes we have our superintendent,” he told Berkeleyside two weeks ago. “We just need to fill in the details.”

The BFT’s Campbell, however, said that if the decision was straightforward, she believes the board would make its decision at tonight’s meeting, not next week.

“The logical conclusion to me is that it’s an open question,” she said.

Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny (09.05.12)
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent (08.31.12)
Berkeley school district names two interim superintendents (08.23.12)
Two interim superintendents to take reins at BUSD (08.16.12)
What does Berkeley want from its new schools head? (03.14.12)
Berkeley schools superintendent Bill Huyett to retire (12.06.11)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...