Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Superintendent Donald Evans will retire on July 31, which he announced at a BUSD School Board meeting on January 9. His reason for retirement is to spend more time with his family.
Dr. Evans began serving as BUSD’s superintendent in May of 2013. Under Dr. Evans, BUSD adopted the Toolbox Curriculum, social and emotional education for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. It expanded restorative practices and strengthened policies to address bullying and sexual harassment in response to activism from student leaders. He also successfully expanded specialized programs and services to increase the accessibility of BUSD’s education to its students, and implemented the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which is a “three-year plan that describes the goals, actions, services, and expenditures to support positive student outcomes that address state and local priorities,” according to the California Department of Education website.
More recently, under Dr. Evans, BUSD transitioned to Universal 9th grade, expanded Career Technical Education, and adopted new English Language Arts curriculum materials for elementary and middle school students. In 2018, the California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) honored Dr. Evans with the Marcus Foster Distinguished Educator Award. Dr. Evans started the First Annual Recruitment Fair for African American administrators. Along with Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Learning Policy Institute, the fair annually brought together top African American researchers “to help identify, support and provide strategies for educational justice for African American and other underserved students in California,” as stated by Burress on the BUSD website.
On January 17, Dr. Evans and other educational leaders discussed student achievement and new initiatives, gave an update on the LCAP, and answered questions during Dr. Evans’ State of the District Presentation.
Dr. Evans expressed his long-held passion to address barriers to equity and stressed that solutions to these barriers must include a focus on the classroom.
At the presentation, reflecting upon his upcoming retirement after a long career, Dr. Evans expressed his long-held passion to address barriers to equity and stressed that solutions to these barriers must include a focus on the classroom and on structured phonics instruction. Dr. Evans believes that professional development for teachers and instructional staff and the sharing and promotion of best instructional practices are central to the work of both excellence and equity in the classroom. “The most important thing is what is happening in the classroom,” he said during his presentation.
Dr. Evans emphasized the importance of assessments of student progress, staff accountability, and a “basic philosophy of high expectations.” He also stressed the critical role of professional development for teachers, building strong relationships with students on the individual level, and creating a sense of belonging for students.
However, in regards to the section of his presentation labeled “African-American Success Project,” Kira Norwood, the political director of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Berkeley High School (BHS), said that Dr. Evans has not shared any of his projects with the BSU. “I can’t say anyone other than the African American studies department faculty, staff, and volunteers really stand for any black students at BHS. They are the ones that show us every day that they actually care,” Norwood said. Norwood stated that BSU members are “all aware and fed up with the injustices that they notice,” with a significant problem being the lack of consequences for hate speech and hate crimes at BHS. Norwood is also critical of restorative justice, something that Dr. Evans emphasized and supported in his presentation. “Restorative justice is not justice. It’s a playtime session for the teachers to ‘give us a space to share our opinions’ but if they were listening at all, we can do that on our own,” Norwood said. Norwood also stated that the BSU wants the school to stop disciplining students for petty crimes, and start punishing students for things that negatively affect not only the life of the perpetrator, but also the lives of the victims.
As for recruiting and screening applicants for the position of superintendent, the BUSD School Board has hired Leadership Associates, according to Charles Burress, BUSD Public Information Officer (PIO). Leadership Associates, a California-based firm that has found superintendents for hundreds of California’s school districts, will meet with BUSD School Board members to discuss what the Board is looking for in the next superintendent. After that, Leadership Associates will receive input from BUSD staff, such as teachers, as well as members of the community, then will begin finding applicants. “Once the finalist candidates have been selected, they will be interviewed by BUSD,” said Burress.
BUSD will hold meetings where members of the public can voice their opinions on applicants, but there will be no public vote for the superintendent. The names of applicants for superintendent are revealed only to the board in Closed Session.
Leadership Associates believes the quality of the applicant pool is “directly dependent on the confidentiality of the process,” according to the proposal it submitted to the President of the board, Judy Appel.Leadership Associates will charge BUSD $26,500 for the search plus $3,500 for travel expenses. BUSD will sign a contract with Leadership Associates soon, as board director Ty Alper stated in a Board meeting on January 23. “At this time the board cannot answer any questions [about Dr. Evans’ replacement] as the board only did a verbal public announcement [on January 23] as to the search firm that the board agreed to work with,” said Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, vice president of the BUSD School Board.
Dr. Evans said he hopes to be involved in the hiring process.