SF school administrator is finalist to take over as Berkeley superintendent
Enikia Ford Morthel, a top administrator in the San Francisco public school system with extensive experience in public education, will most likely be the next Superintendent of the Berkeley School District.
On May 1, the school board voted unanimously to select Ford Morthel as a finalist for the position. She is expected to be approved for the position at the May 18 board meeting.
“I am humbled and honored to serve the Berkeley community,” Ford Morthel said in a statement released by the Berkeley Unified School District.
Ford Morthel comes from San Francisco Unified, where she worked as an assistant superintendent of instruction and previously as an assistant superintendent. She received her Masters in Education from UC Berkeley and has worked in public education in Bay Area schools for the past two decades.
In an interview, she called education her “calling” and her “ministry”.
“I’m forced to disrupt a lot of the -isms that exist in education, the inequalities that I see,” she said. “I really see education as a form of social justice.”
After getting her start as a third-grade public school teacher in Hayward, she quickly rose to principal at Harder Elementary. She later served as director of schools for a network of charter schools in East Oakland, Education for Change Public Schools. She is also a lecturer in urban education at Loyola Marymount University.
She said she was drawn to BUSD’s values as a district — it’s known for fighting hate and racism — and its diversity, explaining that unlike most districts, the majority of venues district class reflect the community. It is for these reasons that Ford Morthel described BUSD in a statement as “a unique place to be a point of proof that all children – regardless of race, ethnicity, language, socio- -economic or postal code – can learn and grow”.
She said her decision to leave SFUSD was unrelated to the district’s chaotic few years, which is now in the throes of a debacle over its payroll system that has left some teachers unpaid. Several San Francisco school board directors were ousted in a recall election.
“It’s been a tough time for education, period,” Ford Morthel said.
She said she was excited to “return to the city that shaped me as an adult,” referring to her time at UC Berkeley, “and as an urban social justice educator.”
As superintendent, Ford Morthel intends “to make some changes to a fairly stubborn system, to ensure that every student has access to what Berkeley says: excellence, fairness and engagement” . But Ford Morthel told Berkeleyside she had no agenda on what to do or how to do it before starting work. She plans to do “really intense, authentic listening” and learn from both the district’s challenges and its successes.
On her LinkedIn, Ford Morthel describes herself as “an urban educator and community activist, dedicated to creating groundbreaking public education experiences that are relevant” and responsive to students and families.
By that, Ford Morthel said she meant that students and caregivers should have a say in shaping the education system: “Schools shouldn’t be a place where you just come and sit and get. It’s a place where I really want there to be a community vibe,” she said. She is also proud of “turning around ‘underperforming’ schools and incubating new schools.”
“Ms. Ford Morthel has an exemplary history of improving educational outcomes and opportunities for historically underserved populations and has done phenomenal work in SFUSD supporting African American, Latinx and English special education students,” said BUSD Chairman Ka’Dijah Brown said in a statement.
Ford Morthel is the second consecutive superintendent to come from San Francisco Unified.
Prior to serving as Superintendent of Berkeley Schools, outgoing Superintendent Brent Stephens was the Academic Director of SFUSD. In February, Stephens announced that he would be leaving BUSD to spend more time with his family. In March, it was announced that he would become the next superintendent of the Lafayette School District.
This story has been updated with an interview with the new superintendent.