‘Absolutely elated’: Berkeley school district superintendent finalist aims to improve equity for students

Portrait of a man with a beard and a look of kindness and generosity in his eyes.
Brent Stephens /Courtesy

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In its search for strong community engagement, the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board named Brent Stephens as the final candidate for superintendent Tuesday.

Stephens is currently the chief academic officer of the San Francisco Unified School District, or SFUSD, where he oversees the district’s curriculum as well as the coaching and professional development for its teachers. Stephens has worked to improve special education and implement new curricula for SFUSD schools.

“I’m absolutely elated,” Stephens said about the announcement. “Berkeley has been committed to progress, to equitable outcomes, and I want to support the community (to) reach fair and equitable education for all students.”

Stephens currently lives in Oakland and is a graduate of the Urban Superintendents Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Throughout his career, he has worked as a special education paraprofessional, as a national board-certified Spanish bilingual teacher, as both an elementary and secondary school principal and as SFUSD assistant superintendent.

In 2015, California passed AB 1369, which required the creation of programs to help students with dyslexia. Alida “Lee” Fisher, SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education chair and a parent, has since then worked with Stephens, who provided access to research leading to early screenings and identification of dyslexia in San Francisco schools.

“Dr. Stephens has been a really collaborative and transparent leader,” Fisher said. “If his work (in Berkeley) is anything like his work in San Francisco, he’ll be quick to tackle problems that relate to equity gaps and opportunity gaps.”

Stephens has also worked with schools and partner organizations to reorganize math instruction for students. This initiative resulted in a 30 percent increase in the number of students taking math senior year of high school in all demographic groups.

Stephens has collaborated with the SFUSD African American Parent Advisory Council to implement innovative curricula in subjects such as ethnic studies. District liaison to the council Laticia Erving, who has worked with Stephens, stated that the council is “proud” of the work they do with Stephens.

“Berkeley is going to get a gem,” Erving said. “I hope that the things he has done here transfer over to Berkeley and that he continues to operate with a community lens.”

Stephens has also launched four new teacher preparation programs, including San Francisco’s first district-sponsored credentialing program, Pathway to Teaching. Within two years, all four programs raised the number of new teachers from 25 to 150 per year.

While the board has selected Stephens as the final candidate, further contract negotiations and site visits are still in progress. The board expects to ratify Stephens’ appointment May 8.

“Dr. Stephens is a dedicated instructional leader with decades of proven experience and success in addressing the opportunity gap,” said Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, BUSD board vice president, in an email. “We will work with the Superintendent to implement a collective unified vision for supporting the … success of all of our students.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ClaraRodas10.