Superintendent Candidate Draws Heat for Prop. 8 Support
KQED's STEPHANIE MARTIN: Erase the chalkboard and begin the assignment all over again.
That's what some angry residents in Berkeley are demanding from school board members charged with choosing a new superintendent.
Just two weeks ago, the board appeared to have settled on Dr. Edmond Heatley, an administrator credited with helping a troubled district just outside of Atlanta, Ga., regain its financial footing and its accreditation.
But last night, board members announced they're suspending next week's scheduled vote on Heatley.
He's faced criticism since the board announced he was the final candidate. But what appears to have triggered the strongest outcry is newly surfaced information about his public support for Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that's now tied up in the courts.
U.C. Berkeley law professor Ty Alper is one of the many parents who are speaking out.
TY ALPER: I have nieces who attend Berkeley public schools who are raised by same-sex parents, and they shouldn't have to go to school run by a superintendent who has publicly stated and has urged a school board to adopt a statement that their families are inferior to other families.
MARTIN: Reporter Lance Knobel with KQED News Associate Berkeleyside has been covering the controversy. Lance what is this statement Ty Alper is talking about?
LANCE KNOBEL: In 2008, when Edmond Heatley was the superintendent in Chino Valley in Southern California, he sent a memo to his board of education, urging a resolution in support of Proposition 8, and some of the wording in that memo, I think, really is upsetting many people in Berkeley. For instance, he has the line "If Proposition 8 is not successful, then school districts throughout California will inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum to align with the courts recent redefinition of the definition of marriage. This resolution also recognizes that the ideal learning environment for children is within a nurturing home governed jointly by a mother and father as primary educators of their children."
As you might guess, Berkeley has a very different policy, a very different outlook. Since 2010, the schools have had a curriculum that's very much about LGBT equality, about gay-friendly policies, about encouraging diversity, encouraging acceptance of diversity. And, of course, many of the families in Berkeley, many of the people who teach in Berkeley schools come from all sorts of diverse family arrangements and setups, and Berkeley is actually very proud of its welcoming attitude toward that.
MARTIN: Has Heatley responded at all to this latest controversy?
KNOBEL: Neither Heatley, nor any of the school board members have yet said anything. Heatley has not said anything from the very start, which is perhaps not surprising, because he hadn't formally been offered the post. One of the strange aspects of this is that the school board went public with the finalists before they'd actually concluded a contract with him.
On the school board side, they, since last night's meeting, seem to have gone to ground completely. I tried to contact all of the school board members from early this morning, and I've had no responses.
MARTIN: There's other information about Heatley that's raising red flags -- his leadership style, for example. What about that is causing concern?
KNOBEL: I think there are two things on that that is causing concern for some people. But to be fair, there are other people who think perhaps a different kind of leader would be good in Berkeley.
The first thing that some people object to is Heatley trained at the Broad Superintendents Academy - Eli Broad's foundation funds a number of different initiatives for education leaders. And some people, particularly people active in teachers' unions, have objected to what they see as the Broad ideology, which favors more charter schools, more high-stakes testing, a whole series of things with so-called education reform movement. And that's not necessarily a series of policies that is congruent with what Berkeley traditionally has had. There are concerns about that.
I think there are some other people who -- Heatley's background before he became a superintendent -- he was a career Marine officer, and so some people are thinking: Is this going to be the kind of guy who takes a very, sort of top-down approach, rather than a collaborative approach?
As I said, to be fair, there are some parents in Berkeley who say, well, you know, maybe a different kind of leadership would be a very good thing, because there are some issues some parents feel that haven't really been dealt with over the years, and perhaps someone needs to come in and shake that up. But I think that's in the minority.
MARTIN: As I mentioned, though, administrators in his last district praised Heatley for turning the district around. What achievements helped him rise to the top of Berkeley's candidate pool?
KNOBEL: I think there were a few things, that at least on their first scan, impressed the school board here. One is Heatley came into a very troubled district - a district that had lost its accreditation, big financial trouble. Clayton County, which is just south of Atlanta, has a lot of poverty, and so, things like the achievement gap, the underperformance of African-American students was a really severe problem. Their test results have improved in Clayton County. The budgets have been sorted out. The accreditation was restored.
Now, some people are saying the reason the budget was sorted out is he cut things like art and sports. You know, that gives teachers time to concentrate more on teaching to the test. It's hard from a distance to analyze how impressive those achievements are, but on the surface, I think it was particularly his seeming success in narrowing the achievement gap that attracted some of the school board members.
MARTIN: Even though you haven't been able to talk to Berkeley school board members today, do you have any sense of where they're going next with this?
KNOBEL: I think the fact that last night they announced they were going slow on the process, having maintained since they announced Heatley as the only finalist on Aug. 31, they've been maintaining that the Sept. 19 board meeting was going to be when they appointed Heatley. It seemed like they were on a ballistic course to that result. Last night they said, well we're going to go slower, there's more things to examine. I think it's highly unlikely that this candidacy will go through. I think the strong expectation in Berkeley is that the school board is going to have to start again, perhaps re-advertise the post, maybe engage a new executive search consultant, because Heatley is the only candidate at the moment, and I don't think he's going to be an acceptable candidate in Berkeley.
MARTIN: Lance Knobel, thank you.
KNOBEL: Thank you Stephanie.
This is an extended text version of Stephanie Martin's interview.