Berkeley Unified School District begins interviews for new superintendent

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The Berkeley Unified School District will begin interviewing applicants this week for the superintendent position that will be vacated by current District Superintendent Bill Huyett when he retires in June.

At a special closed session meeting on May 2, the district’s Board of Education selected between seven and 10 of the 57 applicants to interview. Interviews are expected to go on for about a week.

Three finalists will then each have dinner individually with the board in order for its members to interact socially with the candidates, according to the district’s spokesperson Mark Coplan. Members of the district’s unions, PTA, board members and others will also visit the school districts that currently employ the candidates.

“Presumably, the logical candidate for a district of our size will be a currently seated superintendent,” Coplan said. “We’re not really a starter trial ground for a new superintendent.”

The board has hired an organization specializing in superintendent and principal selection — Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates — to conduct the search. The organization will present the board with its findings before a final decision is made in the beginning of June. The new superintendent will start their term on July 1.

The consulting organization released a leadership profile report on March 21 based on surveys, interviews and focus groups conducted in early March with community members, students, administrators, parents and current and former board members. A total of 855 participants — more than half of whom were parents — answered questions about which issues were most important to them, as well as which qualities they would like to see in the new superintendent.

According to the report, “one area that  is of major concern to virtually every group … is closing the achievement gap … There is concern that the achievement gap is not being addressed in meaningful ways and some students may not be able to fully access all the District has to offer them.”

Specifically, participants identified lack of engagement, equity and involvement among Latinos, families of color and Berkeley Technology Academy students as main concerns for the district. Desired attributes included being an effective listener and communicator, experience as a superintendent, strong leadership and active engagement in the community.

“The biggest challenge is probably a community that is incredibly generous and incredibly giving to our schools, but is also incredibly involved personally and directly,” Coplan said. “For an incoming superintendent that could be a little daunting.”

According to Coplan, the position is very attractive to already-successful superintendents because of the district’s financial health, which will allow the incoming superintendent to focus on “educating our kids and not dealing with budget cuts.”

Coplan also said the new superintendent’s salary will probably be higher than at their previous position because of the Bay Area’s cost of living, but whether it will be higher than Huyett’s current $237,000 per year salary will be determined during the negotiation process once a candidate is chosen.

“There’s definitely a strong interest in coming to a place like Berkeley,” he said. “This is a dream job for a successful superintendent.”

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