The Berkeley School Board at its Wednesday night meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A seemingly chastened Berkeley school board announced Wednesday night that it will restart its search for a new superintendent in early 2013  and will be more open and inclusive in the process.

Before opening the meeting to public comments, Leah Wilson read a statement from an iPad that the entire board had put together, presumably at its Tuesday closed-door session when it was scheduled to discuss Edmond Heatley’s selection for superintendent. But Tuesday morning, before the meeting, Heatley withdrew his name from consideration.

“We agree with and respect Dr. Heatley’s conclusion that despite his experience, skills, and achievements as an educator, Berkeley is not the right fit and we support his decision to withdraw,” said Wilson. “The Board acknowledges how difficult this time has been for everyone involved. We are and will be committed to serving and supporting all our children and their families. When we re-initiate this search after winter break, the Board is committed to doing so in a manner that reflects our community’s request for greater inclusivity and transparency.”

She added spontaneously: “We have heard you. We have read you. We appreciate all the time you have given to this endeavor.”

Responding to the board’s announcement today, Tom Killilea, President of the Berkeley PTA Council, said: “My main concern last time was that the process was opaque with nothing coming from the Board on progress or plans. The community was mainly involved in the early stages in defining a profile of the candidates after the search consultants were hired.”

The school board announced that Neil Smith and Javetta Cleveland, who had agreed to be interim co-superintendents, had agreed to share the position for the entire 2012-2013 school year. Smith had been the district’s Deputy Superintendent and Smith was Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.

In contrast to last week’s meetings, when many parents and teachers testified to express their opposition to what they saw as Heatley’s support of Proposition 8 and “disruptive change” as put forth by his alma mater, the Broad Academy, there were very few people who spoke out Wednesday night. Two teachers from BAMN, the coalition that endorses affirmative action “by any means necessary,” said that Heatley’s top-down management style and pro-charter school philosophy would not have been a good match for Berkeley.

“We want to challenge the Board to reconsider any idea that this district is broken and needs fixing,” said Cathy Campbell, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “This idea is inaccurate, and if it is the guiding light of the next round of this search it will lead to another fruitless effort. This idea has dented morale and needs to be reexamined immediately.”

Edmond Heatley: withdrew his candidacy for Superintendent

The school district has already spent almost a year looking for a new superintendent. Bill Huyett announced in December 2011 that he would retire in June 2012. (He ended up staying until August). The district hired a search firm and conducted a number of meetings with parents and faculty to garner input on what qualities a new superintendent should have. But the board rejected the first round of candidates identified by the search firm, and reopened the process.

On Friday, August 31, around 2 pm, right before the start of the three-day Labor Day weekend, BUSD sent out a press release announcing that Dr. Edmond Heatley, then head of the Clayton County Unified School District in Georgia, was its sole finalist. The release praised Heatley for his work in narrowing the achievement gap in the 50,000-student district, helping it regain its accreditation, and restoring it to fiscal health. A delegation from Berkeley flew out to Georgia to conduct due diligence and discovered that Heatley had resigned his position before they arrived, even though he did not have a firm offer in hand.

Soon news outlets, parents, and teachers uncovered other aspects of Heatley’s background that some contended were not a good fit for Berkeley, most notably that he was a graduate of the Broad Academy and that he had authored and presented a memo supporting Proposition 8 to the Chino Valley Unified School District, where he served as superintendent from 2005-2009. There was a groundswell against him, as well as the process used to select him, that eventually led Heatley to withdraw his candidacy.

BUSD potential chief: had “too much explaining to do” [09.18.12]
Lessons learned from the Edmond Heatley fiasco [09.18.12]
Heatley withdraws candidacy for BUSD superintendent [09.18.12]
Questions about Heatley’s role in Prop 8 resolution swirl [09.14.12]
Superintendent candidate supported Prop 8 in Chino post [09.14.12]
Heatley’s Broad Academy connections attract criticism [09.12.12]
Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny [09.05.12]
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent [08.31.12]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...