School board slows down superintendent search amid controversy

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A BUSD schoolboard meeting from June 2011. The current schoolboard is having difficulty choosing a new superintendent.

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education announced its decision to slow down the process of hiring a new district superintendent, in light of community criticism.

Before public forums at the Wednesday meeting, board members announced that they are taking the process of hiring a new superintendent seriously and that they need additional time to background check and perform due diligence — which may take an additional week or two.

“The decision to hire a superintendent is probably the most important,” said board President John Selawsky at the meeting. “We have taken that responsibility very seriously.”

Following the announcement of Edmond Heatley as the sole finalist for the position last month, dozens of students, teachers and community members attended the Sept. 12 meeting to express disapproval of what they say is the candidate’s top-down management style, excessive emphasis on standardized testing and strong support of a proposition against gay marriage.

Those who gathered to tell the board not to hire Heatley expressed appreciation for the decision to slow down the selection process.

“I think that it’s due to the efforts of our organization,” said Justin Cheong, an organizer for the activist group BAMN. “The school board knows it can’t get away with hiring a superintendent in such an undemocratic way. We are going to keep on campaigning because the decision is not final.”

Heatley could not be reached for comment.

Community members at the meeting emphasized Heatley’s background as a graduate of The Broad Foundation — a national organization that seeks to transform public education through a free-market model.

“The Eli Broad free-market approach is antithesis of a democratic institution,” said Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and a BAMN national organizer.

Berkeley High School teacher Alex Angell, however, said rejecting Heatley based on his time at The Broad Foundation would be narrow-minded.

Many speakers at the meeting also referenced a Sept. 4, 2008, memo from Heatley — then superintendent of the Chino Valley Unified School District — urging a Chino Valley School Board resolution in support of statewide Proposition 8, which restricted same-sex marriage.

“(Hiring Heatley) will send a message to my 8-year-old daughter that her family is not as good as others,” said Berkeley High School teacher Sarah Cline. “I don’t believe you have the right to hire someone who does not reflect the values of our community.”

Selawsky said the board will not announce a final appointment to the position of superintendent by the school board meeting next Wednesday.

Contact Alyssa Neumann and Gautham Thomas at [email protected].