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Why Can’t Berkeley High Seem to Retain a Principal?


Following the unexpected notice sent to the families of all students at Berkeley High announcing Principal Sam Pasarow’s indefinite leave of absence, many could not help but compare the position of being a principal at BHS to that of teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That is: “Why does Berkeley High have such a difficult time retaining a principal for a sustained period of time?”

For those of us familiar with J. K. Rowling’s literary masterpieces, the comparison above could not make any more sense. In the Harry Potter series, the teaching position for the Defense  Against the Dark Arts class is constantly shifting. Not one teacher is capable of holding the post for more than a year, for various reasons. Here at BHS, this has become the case for the principal position.

In 2014, Kristin Glenchur had been appointed to serve as interim principal of BHS for the 2014-2015 school year, replacing Pasquale Scuderi, who had been promoted to serve as Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for the Berkeley Unified School District. Scuderi, who served as principal for four years, had been preceded by Jim Slemp in July of 2010 after a seven year term. However, in the years prior to Slemp’s designation, Berkeley High was bedeviled by both the lack of a consistent principle as well as a series of detestable arsons. One of these arsons took place on April of 2000, which ravaged the school’s main office, consequently taking out all communication networks within the school.

This particular arson was estimated to have cost the district and its insurance provider as much as $15 million in damages. But the arson’s consequences did not end there: students indulged in a walkout led by the class of 2000 in order to protest scheduling errors and a lack of college counselors due to the immense severity of the fire, the school newspaper reportedly campaigned against the school’s new tardy policy and police roundups during lunch, teachers halted all after-school activities to protest their salaries, and a student assistant was captured tampering with school computers to alter student grades in exchange for pay. By the time the school year ended, principal Theresa Saunders had already resigned, making her the fourth principal to leave BHS within a span of ten years.

Although there is not an exact explanation as to why the position appears to be jinxed, the fact is that, like Hogwarts, BHS is composed of a very large and diverse student body, meaning that almost any action taken by a principal in response to an issue surrounding the school is bound to generate some controversy.

For instance, in the course of the 2014-2015 school year, BHS experienced the abrupt cancellation of the physics lab class, a walkout in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, a civil rights investigation in response to sexual harassment claims, the stabbing of a fellow student, around fifteen to twenty youth fights, the restriction of access into the school in fear that a fight might break out, the recalling of the school’s yearbook due to offensive comments, and the vandalizing of surrounding property by BHS students.

Looking at the many events listed above, it is not surprising that the reaction and response made by the school’s principal would be under strict scrutiny by both the families of BHS students and members of the community. Just like any teacher at Hogwarts, every principal at BHS is bound to have his or her priorities, as well as his or her respective efficiency proportional to his or her methods and beliefs when handling a situation. Another important factor to take into account is that just like Hogwarts is subject to the regulations established by the Ministry of Magic and its departments, BHS is subject to any changes made by the Berkeley Unified School District and its administrative team. Despite the fact that the details regarding reason for Pasarow’s leave of absence remain undisclosed at the moment, one thing is clear: principals, although it may not seem like it, are crucial to both the way the school runs, as well as the content of what we learn. This explains why each and every principal must be up to par with the standards of their superiors, as they will be held accountable for the quality of teaching that takes place in the classroom as well as the safety of the students. In the same way a witch or wizard in J. K. Rowling’s magical world must learn to properly defend his themself from menacing creatures and dark magic, students must learn to properly stand up against injustice and discrimination, especially now that Voldemort has been elected.