Enikia Ford Morthel, a high-level administrator at San Francisco’s public school system with an extensive background in public education, will most likely be the next superintendent of the Berkeley school district.
On May 1, the school board unanimously voted to select Ford Morthel as the finalist for the job. She is expected to be approved for the job at the May 18 board meeting.
“I am honored and humbled to serve the Berkeley community,” said Ford Morthel in a statement released by the Berkeley Unified School District.
Ford Morthel is coming from San Francisco Unified, where she worked as the deputy superintendent of instruction and previously as an assistant superintendent. She earned her master’s degree in education at UC Berkeley and worked in public education in Bay Area schools for the last two decades.
In an interview, she referred to education as her “calling” and her “ministry.”
“I am compelled to disrupt many of the -isms that exist in education, the inequities that I see,” she said. “I truly see education as a form of social justice.”
After getting her start as a third-grade public school teacher in Hayward, she quickly rose to become principal of Harder Elementary. She later served as the Chief of Schools for an East Oakland charter school network, Education for Change Public Schools. She is also a senior lecturer on urban education at Loyola Marymount University.
She said she was drawn to BUSD’s values as a district — it is known for standing against hate and racism — and its diversity, explaining that, unlike most districts, the majority of classrooms in the district reflect the community. It’s for these reasons that Ford Morthel described BUSD in a statement as “uniquely positioned to be a proof point that all children — regardless of race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status or zip code — can learn and thrive.”
She said her decision to leave SFUSD was not related to the chaotic few years faced by the district, which is now embroiled in a debacle over its payroll system, which has left some teachers unpaid. Multiple San Francisco school board directors were ousted in a recall election.
“It has been a hard time for education, period,” Ford Morthel said.
She said she was excited to “come back to the city that shaped me as an adult,” referring to her time at UC Berkeley, “and as an urban social justice educator.”
As superintendent, Ford Morthel intends to “make some changes in a system that’s pretty stubborn, to make sure that every student has access to what Berkeley says: excellence, equity and engagement.” But Ford Morthel told Berkeleyside that she doesn’t have an agenda on what to do or how to do it going into the job. She plans to do “really intense and authentic listening,” and to learn both from the district’s challenges and its successes.
On her LinkedIn, Ford Morthel describes herself as “an urban educator and community activist, dedicated to creating public education experiences that are revolutionary, relevant” and responsive to students and families.
By this, Ford Morthel said she means that students and caregivers should have a voice in shaping the education system: “Schools should not be a place where you just come and sit and get. It’s a place where I really want it to be a community feel,” she said. She also prides herself on the “turn-around of ‘underperforming” schools’ and incubation of new schools.”
“Ms. Ford Morthel has an exemplary history of improving academic and opportunity outcomes for historically underserved populations and has done phenomenal work in SFUSD to support Special Education, African-American, Latinx and English Language Learner students,” BUSD Board President Ka’Dijah Brown said in a statement.
Ford Morthel is the second superintendent in a row to come from San Francisco Unified.
Before serving as superintendent of Berkeley schools, outgoing Superintendent Brent Stephens was the chief academic officer for SFUSD. In February, Stephens announced he would be leaving BUSD to spend more time with family. In March, it was announced that he will become the next superintendent of Lafayette School District.
This story has been updated with an interview with the new superintendent.