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Heatley named education commissioner for Bermuda

Edmond Heatley

Edmond Heatley

HAMILTON, BERMUDA — A controversial former leader of Clayton County Public Schools better break out the Bermuda shorts for his new job.

Shown in a bernews.com video standing at a podium in a suit and tie, former Superintendent Edmond Heatley was flanked by Bermuda officials wearing shorts earlier this week as he was introduced as the island territory’s new commissioner of education.

In his new role, Heatley will lead the territory’s Ministry of Education. He will begin his new position Sept. 11, Bermuda Board of Education Chairman Curtis Dickinson confirmed in remarks posted on the ministry’s website.

Despite the unconventional dress, Heatley’s introduction was solely focused on education.

“Dr. Heatley has a record of managing and leading change,” said Dickinson. “This appealed to the board as we continue our reform of public education in Bermuda. Dr. Heatley has an impressive CV and is someone to take our education system forward.”

Seventy applicants sought the commissioner’s position, said Dickinson. A panel that included Dickinson, other members of the board of education, Bermuda’s government and Bermuda College narrowed the list down to two applicants who were brought to the island for interviews.

As commissioner of education, Heatley will oversee the department of education’s operations, including schools, early learning curriculum, assessment, special education, professional development and business affairs. Bermuda officials touted in advertisements for the position that they were looking for someone with a “21st century vision, philosophy and approach to comprehensive and inclusive education.”

Qualities they looked for included the abilities to “inspire a common vision of leadership and achievement” among staff, be inclusive in decision-making, have a participatory management style, improve student achievement, be open-minded and “reflective” of life-long learning and maintain working relationships with staff, parents and the community.

“I have been able to do some research on the island and feel that we have a great opportunity to achieve greatness,” said Heatley in a statement released by the Ministry of Education. “My vision for the educational system here on the island is to provide our students with a world-class education that prepares them to compete and be successful globally.”

Bermuda will prove to be a fundamental change for Heatley, a retired U.S. marine. It is a self-governing British territory that has a premier who serves as the head of its government, but it regards Queen Elizabeth II as its sovereign.

As a superintendent in Clayton County, he worked in a county that was estimated to have 265,888 residents last year, and 67 percent of them were African-Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Bermuda has 69,467 residents and 53.8 percent of them are of African descent.

Clayton County Public Schools has about 52,000 students while Bermuda’s school system has an enrollment of about 6,000 pupils.

He will also take a pay cut for his new job. In Clayton County, he earned an annual salary of $250,000. Bermuda officials advertised the position on job search websites as having a salary equal to $171,893 in U.S. money.

In his remarks to Bermuda media, Heatley touted himself as “an agent of change,” and took credit for a partnership between Clayton County’s school system and Juvenile Court that was already in place before he came to the county. He also took credit for the county’s school system regaining its accreditation, although SACS had restored the accreditation on a probationary basis before he was hired in 2009.

The district did come off probation under his tenure, but it faced the threat of another SACS investigation as he left the district last year. Ultimately, SACS decided not to launch what would have been its third investigation of the district in 10 years.

He goes to Bermuda with a past filled with controversy, though. Before he came to Clayton County, he stirred controversy and drew the ire of parents in Chino Valley, Calif., when he pushed a controversial redistricting plan that called for the closing of some schools.

In Clayton County, the ex-drill sergeant was criticized by employees for his tough management style, and routinely ended up in tumultuous fights with the school board over proposed budget cuts, such as eliminating benefits for bus drivers, shortening school weeks and doing away with arts education programs. In 2011, he called for furloughing teachers, only to later change one of the furlough dates because it was the graduation day for several high schools, including one from which his own daughter was graduating.

He had to drop out of the search for the Berkeley (Calif.) Unified School District’s superintendent position last year, after being named as the sole finalist, after California media outlets uncovered a proposal he made years earlier to the Chino Valley school board that was interpreted as support for California’s controversial gay marriage ban.

In his address to Bermuda media, Heatley acknowledged there were unflattering reports about him, but was dismissive about what had been reported about him in the past.

“I am sure that some of you have done a Google search on my name and know that there are some controversial comments about me out there,” said Heatley. “Yes, I too, know what’s on the Internet and in the blogs, and I want to note that none of it is based on accurate information and fact. The reality of the matter is that anyone in a leadership position will have people who agree with their direction and leadership, as well as those who disagree with the decisions that are made.

“Unfortunately, some people feel it appropriate to attempt to garner support, however appropriately or inappropriately, through social media,” he continued.