New Berkeley High Principal: ‘Dream' Job

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In an effort to cure Berkeley High School's "soft anarchy," the school board appointed veteran administrator Frank Lynch to the position of principal this week.

Lynch, who started work Tuesday, comes from a brief 18-month stint as superintendent of the West Sonoma County district, a three-year term as superintendent of King City district, and more than a decade as principal of high schools in Carmel, Calif. and Petaluma, Calif.

With a doctorate in education from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Lynch said he has wanted to work at a large comprehensive high school in a large urban area.

"This is a dream - I see this as a great professional opportunity," he said. "Berkeley High has a great reputation."

He noted the school's above-average test scores and 22 National Merit Scholars last year.

The new principal arrives in the wake of a tumultuous year marked by arson fires, student walkouts, grade tampering and administrative resignations. A transition team draft report, led by veteran superintendent Darrel Taylor, reported that "a soft anarchy prevails at Berkeley High School," caused by a lack of communication and the staff's inattention to the school's rules.

The draft report recommends a "team approach" led by the administrators to solve some of the problems, which include the frequent turnover of principals, lack of respect for the administration, regular flouting of attendance and disciplinary rules, and disunity among the staff members.

Lynch said his first major task is to gain credibility with the community and staff, teach them how to work with each other and determine their strengths and weaknesses.

"The major thing I'll tackle first is communication - making sure that staff, parents and students are heard loud and clear," Lynch said. "I think the staff has been holding things together, and I want to provide leadership to make their jobs easier."

Lynch went on a retreat with district and school administrators yesterday to learn better the school's needs and concerns.

Lynch said he prides himself on bringing stability to rocky situations, working on lasting projects and building a rapport with the community.

He also said he will enjoy working with Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, whom he credits with turning major decisions over to the high school site rather than micromanaging it from the district level.

Lynch said he departed from his last job as superintendent "amicably," noting that by the time he took over, a new school board was elected and they had moved in different ideological directions.

The school board chose Lynch, who lives in Petaluma with his wife Maureen and four children, from five candidates found in a national search by an interview panel of parents, teachers, students and staff. The panel forwarded two candidates to the school board for final interviews.

McLaughlin said the interviewed candidates were one of the strongest pools he has seen, and that the district was very fortunate to employ such an "outstanding" administrator.

School Boardmember Ted Schultz said, when he asked Lynch a question regarding decision-making processes, Lynch seemed to grasp ideas that reflected experience and knowledge of high school issues.

"He understood that you can't keep on talking about making a decision - there's a certain point where one has to move on and make the decision," Schultz said. "My sense is that he has good judgment."

McLaughlin said Lynch has the experience, skills, patience and listening abilities needed at the high school.

"We were looking for a great communicator, and he fits the bill," McLaughlin said.

Vice Principal Mary Ann Valles, in charge of student services, took her post Aug. 1 and said structural problems caused previous failures at the school. Noting parents' complaints last year of sacrificing days of work to correct their children's class schedule, Valles said the school's organization needs to be improved.

The new administrative team faces a number of challenges of great concern to the students, some of whom characterized the school as "chaotic" at the end of the school year.

Rachel Williams, who will be a senior next year, said the counseling services are still a problem, noting that the master schedule of classes was not available until mid-summer and contained many class conflicts.

Williams said that, last year she spent four hours waiting for a counselor, only to discover that he could not fix her schedule because the classes were all full. She added that the school badly needs more staffing.

She added, however, that while the disasters at the school have made it appear "horrible," she is still being adequately prepared for college.

Will Lerner, editor-in-chief of Berkeley High School's student newspaper, The Jacket, said he is concerned that "involuntary switching" would continue, which can force students to change their schedules up to three weeks into the school year to accommodate new students.

"I'm skeptical about how six counselors can handle 3,200 students," Lerner said, noting that he waited in line for five hours last year to fix his schedule.

Another problem the school faces is the "achievement gap" between the students heading toward college and those who aren't, said senior Mia Arakaki. She said students who take advanced classes are often permanently separated into an elite group.

Parent Desmid Lyon said a large percentage of students opt out of the four-year college track. She said the school does not prepare non-college-bound students for decent jobs.

Berkeley High also needs to concentrate on fixing basic infrastructure, parent Naomi Schapiro said.

"There are no pay phones in all the halls, and no widespread speaker system - essential things a school should have," Schapiro said.

Overall, however, the mood remains optimistic at the prospect of a new administration.

"It was as if Murphy's Law was in complete effect all last year," said Barry Wiggins, the school's security manager for five years. He said he is happier now, particularly because of the new team effort.


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