Controversy arises with possible appointment of BUSD superintendent

Dr. Edmond Heatley

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education deliberated over the appointment of its anticipated new superintendent at their closed meeting Wednesday, amidst contention over his past leadership.

It was announced Friday that Dr. Edmond Heatley was named the sole finalist in the board’s long search for a permanent superintendent and had tendered his resignation from his three-year post as district superintendent and chief executive officer of the Clayton County Public Schools near Atlanta, Ga.

After 13 years as a Marine, Heatley began his career in public education in 1996 teaching students with disabilities in Norfolk Public Schools. Since then, he has held a variety of educational positions, including assistant superintendent for educational services with the Grant Joint Union High School District in Sacramento and superintendent of the Chino Valley Unified School District.

“He told me he was resigning to take another position,” said Pam Adamson, chairman of the Clayton County board.

According to a Clayton County Public Schools press release, Heatley’s resignation will be effective Sept. 30 — almost six weeks after the Clayton County district began the new school year.

Though district officials maintain that significant improvements were made under Heatley’s leadership in Clayton County — which has the fifth largest school district in Georgia — Heatley has come under criticism from the community over his management style, as reported by various Georgia newspaper outlets.

“I think that the board is aware of (these controversies),” said School Board Director Karen Hemphill. “Obviously, you have to do your due diligence in looking at the accuracy of the story, what’s being said.”

As of press time, Heatley was not available for comment.

Recently, Clayton County parents were upset when Heatley designated Wednesdays as minimum days for students in order to provide staff members with more training time, without sufficient notification to the board or the community.

Clayton County District Spokesperson David Waller said after consideration from the board, the initiative is still being discussed and the schools are not operating on that schedule for now.

John Trotter, chairman of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, or MACE, said he believed Heatley did not have enough experience with academics, coming primarily from a military background and having spent only two years as a schoolteacher.

“He was an awful superintendent,” Trotter said. “You can’t get experience except through experience.”

However, Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association, said Heatley met regularly and was very communicative with the organization, which represents teachers, administrators and other school officials.

“He has been more than willing to confer with us, but in the end he’ll end up making his decisions,” Chapman said. “To be fair, there are people who don’t care for him very much and there are those who did like him a lot.”

In 2009, Heatley disciplined 1,500 students who went on strike in protest of wearing school uniforms, a decision the school board supported, according to an article from the Clayton News Daily.

According to Waller, there has been a gradual upward trend in test score improvements in the district, which continued this year under Heatley’s leadership. Heatley was also able to restore the district’s accreditation, he said.

“The unfortunate reality (is that) he came into a very difficult situation here,” Waller said. “The budget cuts have just been brutal, and so he’s had to make some very tough decisions. Despite all that, he’s certainly leaving our system better than we found it.”

Last week, School Board Director Karen Hemphill led the Berkeley district team to Clayton County for a site visit and to speak with relevant officials about Heatley’s leadership. At the same time, the board’s search firm has conducted final background checks and has verified his recommendations, she said.

“The board thought enough of this candidate that he is our final candidate, and we invested in sending a (district team) to go to his current delegation,” Hemphill said. “A board doesn’t make that kind of investment unless he’s a serious contender.”

Daphne Chen covers city government. Contact her at [email protected].