Local educator about to close book on long, lauded career

Levy Yun/Staff
Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett is retiring from his position.

Bill Huyett may not have started out in education, but it is very much where he has ended up.

A 38-year career in public education, capped with a four-year tenure in the Berkeley Unified School District, will come to an end this spring when Huyett steps down from his position as district superintendent.

“It’s kind of a strange feeling … I’m still doing the job, but I’m kind of settling into retirement also,” Huyett said.

The retirement — which Huyett announced in December and which will officially take effect June 30 — will mark the end of a life-long career Huyett did not always intend to pursue.

While a student at The University of Virginia, Huyett was a member of a number of organizations, spent time tutoring and had a stint as the student council secretary.

“I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s when we were trying to make the world a better place,” he said. “It was my agenda to devote myself to this cause.”

Despite the future his extracurricular activities seemed to foreshadow, Huyett’s studies followed in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather, leading him to earn a degree in mechanical engineering.

The story changed, however, when he entered his first, and last, engineering job.

“As a young engineer, I was at the drafting board a lot,” Huyett said. “I’m a people person (so) I didn’t really like the solitude of the work.”

Eventually, Huyett’s political mentality brought him back to the public sphere. He got his teaching credentials in math education and, in 1974, began his career in education, teaching math and physics at Elk Grove High School, which is located southeast of Sacramento.

At that point, education, it seemed, had become a recurring theme in the life of the 23-year old Huyett, who was by then married to his high school sweetheart, Anne. Anne was the daughter of a school principal and would later go on to become a teacher herself.

“My wife, Anne, and I met in a high school math class,” he said. “How romantic, considering I became a math teacher.”

In the decades that followed, Huyett assumed various roles in schools in Dixon and Lodi, ranging from teacher to superintendent, before coming to the Berkeley school district in 2007.

According to Huyett, one of his most significant contributions as an educator was work he did beginning in 1989 on a state document called “Second To None”  — a three-year study that prompted the small schools movement in California.

Huyett later helped found, and became the principal of, Florin High School in southern Sacramento, which he said served as a model for the small school movement.

Huyett said that he believes that, since he assumed his role as the Berkeley school district’s superintendent, he and his team have had notable success in keeping the district afloat in tough financial times as well as in creating a coherent standards-based curriculum and minimizing the racial achievement gap in the district’s elementary schools.

“(He) has really made his mark on Berkeley, in the schools and in the community,” said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.  “As an educator and as a boss he will be missed.”

Even in retirement, Huyett said he has plans to consult with education firms, though more of his attention will be dedicated to his hobbies and to spending time with family.

In his down time, Huyett and his wife plan on indulging their interest in the arts, music and golf. They intend to travel to France, he said.

The Berkeley Unified School District’s Board of Education will pick a firm that will begin the search for a new superintendent sometime in February, Huyett said.

“I like to go in and make things better and move on to the better challenges,” Huyett said. “Finding challenges will be a challenge for myself now.”

Weiru Fang covers Berkeley communities.