“It’s been an intense three-year period. I’m really proud of all of the things the district has accomplished during this time, and it’s also been exhausting,” said Brent Stephens, the superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD). “I’m finding myself at this moment wanting to spend more time with family and have a little bit of time to rest.”
On February 9, Stephens announced that he would be leaving his position as superintendent at the end of the 2021-22 school year, choosing not to renew his contract with the district. Stephens has worked as BUSD’s superintendent for the last three years.
“I joined the board a little bit before Dr. Stephens got there, so the majority of my time as a board member has been under Dr. Stephens’ leadership,” said Ka’Dijah Brown, president of the BUSD school board. “I’ve had the opportunity to have really strong and important conversations about our schools, our priorities, and our roles, and it’s really been a joy for me to be able to work with Dr. Stephens.”
Juan Raygoza, the principal of Berkeley High School (BHS), shared similar sentiments.
“I’m going to miss Dr. Stephens,” Raygoza said. “In my year and a half working with him as my direct supervisor, I think he’s been extremely accessible and transparent about the state of the district. He’s highly invested in wanting to see success for Berkeley High and for Berkeley High students … and he follows that up with his actions.”
Stephens’ time as superintendent was self-described as a tumultuous one, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating many difficulties. Stephens referenced the environment of uncertainty — further exacerbated by constantly shifting guidelines — as the single hardest element of his superintendency.
However, Stephens still reflected positively on his time in the district.
“It’s been an amazing experience over the last three years,” Stephens said. “Berkeley is filled with dynamic, engaged, opinionated individuals who care deeply about public education, and I’ve been lucky to work with such smart people, both in schools and the central office.”
Finding a brand new superintendent to fill Stephens’ role has now risen to become a priority for the district. Stephens’ contract ends on June 30 of 2022, and according to Raygoza, finding someone able to start soon after he leaves is critical. The process of finding a fitting candidate may be a difficult one. However, leaders hope to involve the Berkeley community in the process.
“The board will continue to meet and determine what the next steps look like, but what’s important about the superintendent search process is that it is one that includes the entire school community,” Brown said. “What I love about Berkeley is that we’ve always been like this: we’ve always been a community-based city and we will have a search process that reflects that.”
In agreement with Brown’s goals, Raygoza discussed the importance of BHS having a part in the search for a new superintendent.
“We’re about a third of the district, and I really want to make sure the high school has seats at the table,” Raygoza said.
For BHS students, both Brown and Raygoza encourage them to get involved in the search process in whatever ways possible and continue advocating for their wishes.
“I would love, when students have the opportunity, to get their input about what they would like to see in our next superintendent and what values they think our superintendent should have,” Brown said. “We want to hear from all [BHS students].”
The strength of the Berkeley community and its ability to speak out is part of what makes Stephens so confident that this transition will be a positive one. Stephens said he will remain dedicated to his role throughout the rest of the school year, and maintains his faith in Berkeley, which Brown agreed with.
“Our district has a really strong foundation,” Brown said. “This transition won’t be a moment where we fall apart or crumble, but a moment of pride to look back and see how far we’ve come and how far we are going to continue to go.”
In terms of Stephens’ future plans, personal growth is something he is prioritizing.
“This is a moment of reflection for me and my family,” Stephens said. “It’s one that I’ve been promising myself for quite some time.”
Brown mirrored his attitude in regards to the district, looking forward to the possibilities of a new superintendent.
“I’m excited for whoever comes next,” Brown said. “[Berkeley] has a really strong community of students, families, community partners, and teachers, who hold [Berkeley] values close to their heart, and … [the new superintendent] will experience the Berkeley that I love so much.”