caption goes here
Donald Evans: ‘I thought Berkeley would be a great fit for me.’ Photo: Lance Knobel
Donald Evans: ‘I thought Berkeley would be a great fit for me.’ Photo: Lance Knobel

On his third day as superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District, Donald Evans’ office still had a just-moved-in feel, with few personal effects on the walls or his desk. Pride of place on the desktop was a freshly bound copy of the school district’s annual budget, already looking well thumbed.

Berkeleyside met with Evans so early in his tenure not to grill him about Berkeley issues — he understandably said he needs time to develop his thinking on the specifics — but to hear from the new superintendent about what brought him to Berkeley, and what he views as the major challenges of the post. 

Evans comes to Berkeley after serving as superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District for two years. He has been an educator for 26 years, working in San Diego, Palo Alto and Oakland, and he earned his doctorate in education from the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley in 2010, in association with the Leadership in Educational Equity Program.

The school board’s selection of Evans in April this year after a nationwide search, came after two failed searches last year, including the announced intention to hire Edmond Heatley from Georgia and his subsequent withdrawal from consideration.

Evans said he considered applying for the Berkeley superintendency in both searches last year, but only decided to move from Hayward on the third round.

“I’m always here,” said Evans, an Oakland resident. “People don’t realize I’m always riding my bike through here, and just love the community. I tell everybody, ‘You will see me at Restoration Hardware. You’ll see me in the restaurants.’

“Berkeley is very eclectic,” Evans said. “You have a lot of different types of people, and it has an intellectual energy that I find extremely stimulating. I thought that it would be a great fit for me, to be in an environment that has this eclectic, intellectual, stimulating environment. As a superintendent, you want to be challenged in a way where you’re growing, but you’re also contributing in a community that’s forward‑thinking.”

Evans said he thought his recent connections to the Graduate School of Education should prove beneficial.

“You have one of the finest research‑based institutions right here, but it’s being underutilized in a way that we could be a leading district in the country,” he said. “How can you have this top university that has one of the top education departments, yet they’re not a major factor in terms of promoting top practices throughout the district?

“Don’t get me wrong. There are some great practices here,” Evans said. “But I’d like to see how we strengthen that link between the two of us. How do we collaborate?”

Evans had an immediate answer when asked how he’d describe his management style.

“I’m very collaborative,” he said. “Before I make a decision, I want to hear everybody’s voice. Some people don’t like that. But I feel like you might bring out something that I probably have not thought about that could be critical for me in making a major decision. It’s really important for me to understand why you think and how you think in terms of how we move this organization forward.

“I think if I didn’t do this work, I’d definitely be a community activist,” Evans said. “It’s just so important to me to hear what the community has to say.

“For some people, this is a job,” he continued. “This is not a job to me. This is my passion and, in many ways, this is my ministry. I love what I do. I’m not one of these people who come to work and, ‘Oh, god…’”, he sighs.

A basketball net signed by students from Evans’ early years teaching in San Diego. Photo: Lance Knobel
A basketball net signed by students from Evans’ early years teaching in San Diego. Photo: Lance Knobel

Evans said he plans to hold a series of town hall meetings starting this fall to hear community opinions and concerns. He plans at least three: one at each of Berkeley’s middle schools for geographic convenience, but with an open agenda.

The achievement gap and implementing the common core are the two priorities Evans focuses on in conversation. In Hayward, he worked with the community on the Hayward Promise Neighborhood Partnership, a collaboration similar to Berkeley’s 2020 Vision. When he served as Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education in Compton Unified School District, test scores went up after several years of stagnation, and truancy and expulsion rates went down.

Evans said he is determined to use evidence-based practices to improve achievement.

“What I see in education is that we don’t always use money wisely,” he said. “Many times, we don’t look at the impact of the funding in terms of: did this particular program make a difference in terms of student achievement?

“What I have seen is, even though it doesn’t work, we still continue to do it,” Evans said. “We continue to do it. Like it’s magically going to work, when we know for years it hasn’t worked. Why are we continually using the money for the same thing that hasn’t worked?”

In the sparsely decorated office, the only clue to Evans’ life outside the office is a small basketball hoop, signed by some of his students from his early years teaching in San Diego. What are his interests outside the job he describes as his ministry?

“Oh my god, I’m a basketball fanatic. Raider fan. Sports fanatic – I have my little Raider cup,” he said. “I literally cry when my Raiders lose. I’ve got it really bad.”

Hayward chief named Berkeley schools superintendent (05.22.13)
Hayward Chief is finalist for BUSD superintendent spot (04.19.13)
School board launches new superintendent search (02.13.13)
School board forum displays strong anti-Broad views (09.28.12)
BUSD board vows to be more inclusive in new chief search (09.20.12)
Heatley withdraws candidacy for BUSD superintendent (09.18.12)
Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny (09.05.12)
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent (08.31.12)

Would you like to have latest Berkeley news in your email inbox once a day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Avatar photo

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...