Exedra Asks | Q&A with interim Superintendent Dr. Donald Evans

We’re less than a week away from the start of another school year, and while it’s too soon to say how “normal” it will be for returning students and staff, PUSD’s new interim superintendent Dr. Donald Evans says he’s looking forward to keeping the district moving forward over the next year as the Board of Education conducts its search for a permanent superintendent. 

The Exedra sat down (via Zoom) with Dr. Evans on August 5 for a quick check-in to learn more about his priorities for the upcoming year and how his past experience might inform his time in Piedmont. 

“The board has asked me to look at our [PUSD’s] systems and operations and look for efficiencies — and to give recommendations,” said Evans. “To take a look at what’s working and what might need to be changed.” Evans said he is also engaged with the board as it updates its vision and mission statements. (PUSD posted a video of this public session HERE.)

In his 30+ years in public education, Evans has seen (almost) everything. “Funding is always a concern” he said. “But one of the biggest challenges right now is finding teachers. Young teachers in particular can’t afford to live in the Bay Area.” He noted that in Berkeley, housing was not only an issue for staff, but for some students and families.

PUSD teachers are not immune from these challenges. At the May 13 Board of Education meeting, teachers rallied for a COLA raise and many shared stories of personal hardship as they tried to find adequate housing in the Bay Area. Evans said negotiations with APT would begin again at the end of the month and that salary and safety issues related to COVID are back on the table. (PUSD sent families an email outlining its COVID policies this week — it is dropping the daily health screener, recommending — but not mandating — masks, among other changes.)

The teacher shortage in California has been well-documented and predates the pandemic. (See related article below.) As of August 5, PUSD lists 25 open certificated and classified positions on EdJoin, including the recent principal opening at Beach Elementary School, biology and health science teachers at the high school, special education paraeducators, and more. Evans said interviews for some of the [certificated] positions are happening now, and that math and science positions are typically among the hardest positions to fill. 

Berkeley and Piedmont are not so different, Evans said, despite their size and demographic differences. “Both communities have very informed and engaged parents,” he said, noting that community engagement was a big part of his job at BUSD and that he was used to engaging with a wide range of interest groups. In order to manage what could easily have been a 24/7 job, he adopted a “I can’t do everything you want me to do, but I can do some of the things” approach. If there is a difference, he said, it’s that Piedmont’s size makes for more intimate and personal connections. 

In his email message to families this week, Evans said his goal is to “be visible and accessible to students and families.” He told the Exedra that the Superintendent Advisory Committee established last year would continue, but its role was yet to be determined. Evans also said PUSD will continue its close relationship with the City of Piedmont, especially its working relationship with the Piedmont Police Department. Earlier this week Evans met with Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers and accompanied him on a ride-along. The city does still have a dedicated juvenile officer whose job is to respond to any school-related incidents. 

Even the best school planners can’t anticipate every curveball might that come their way, and Evans seems to be ready for the unexpected. Right before he left BUSD, the impact of wildfire smoke on schools was a major disruption that districts had to manage; Evans says coping with natural disasters like earthquake preparation is always top of mind. With COVID, the pattern continued. And sometimes it’s an issue or cause that can catch a district off-guard. “You never know what is going to happen,” he said.

The first PUSD Board of Education meeting for the 2022-2023 school year is Wednesday, August 10 at 7 p.m. You can view the agenda HERE. The first day of school is also August 10.

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