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LRSD's glorified doorman: Cloyde McKinley Bernd takes over struggling urban school district.

When 48-year-old Cloyde McKinley "Mac" Bernd went back to Denver for his 30-year high school reunion, none of his former classmates could believe what he had become.

"I was kind of a malcontent in school," Bernd says. "I just wasn't interested in scholarly pursuits."

Bernd says the rebellious streak led to a lack of focus in the early years of his career.

Now, Bernd will be leading the Little Rock School District, the state's largest district and traditionally one of its most troubled.

He succeeds the retiring Ruth Steele as superintendent of a 50-school, 26,055-student system.

For six years, Bernd served as superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District in San Diego County, Calif. Before that, he was director of curriculum and instruction for three years for the Glendale Union High School District at Phoenix, Ariz.

Bernd claims he is not bringing anything from those jobs to Little Rock.

"My purpose in being here is not to bring anything from anywhere else," he says. "What I think I can bring is the ability to |form~ a consensus."

Bernd calls himself a glorified doorman.

He says it is his job to open doors, look through them and then guide everyone else in.

It is what he found behind those doors that enticed Bernd to move from southern California to Little Rock.

He's aware of the school district's history, but he feels he needs to help the district separate itself from the past.

Bernd says the 1957 crisis at Little Rock Central High School gave the district a worldwide image that, in many respects, it still must live with.

"We've been paying ever since," he says.

Bernd began work July 1. But he already is saying "we" like he has been in Little Rock for quite some time.

"When you're named in a lawsuit before you arrive, you pick up the 'we' pretty fast," Bernd says.

The lawsuit alleges that an unfair process was used to select cheerleaders at Pulaski Heights Junior High School.

The incident quickly initiated Bernd to the district and some of its problems. However, the cheerleading episode is nothing compared with the larger problems Bernd faces.

He must balance the district's budget. The new superintendent will make recommendations to the Little Rock School Board by the end of the month for $9 million in cuts from a $122 million budget.

There's also the ongoing court-ordered desegregation process.

Yet before any of those problems can be tackled, Bernd must overcome the obstacle Steele could never surmount.

It caused Bernd to consider not coming to Little Rock.

The problem?

Working with members of the school board.

Steele's tumultuous relationship with board members generated headlines and prevented certain goals from being achieved.

"We just never really meshed with her," says board member O.G. Jacovelli of Steele, who was hired by a 4-3 vote.

During the interview process, Bernd turned board members' questions back on them and asked whether it was true they weren't operating as a unit.

"I got the feeling that Mac Bernd was not there to say what he thought the board wanted to hear," says board member George Cannon, who served as LRSD superintendent from 1987 to 1989 and recently accepted a similar job at Monroe, La.

Bernd's direct questions and pointed statements had an impact.

"I loved it," Cannon says.

Following the board's 5-0 vote to hire him, Bernd contacted the two board members who weren't present to make sure they were in favor of the decision.

Bernd says he wouldn't have come if the vote had not been unanimous.

Steele says the unanimous vote may translate into a commitment to Bernd, allowing him to accomplish more than she could.

A 4-3 split is not the same as coming in with a 7-0 vote.

"I understand that now probably better than when I came in," Steele says.

First Impressions

It's the end of the working day.

"Mac" Bernd escorts a visitor into his office. Looking at his wrinkled shirt, which is coming untucked from behind without Bernd noticing, one suspects it has been a busy day.

At his desk, Bernd handles a coffee mug that reads "Mac" on one side and has a picture of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he restored on the other.

There are clues in Bernd's office as to his interests and personality. They include a framed triathlon poster that reveals the athlete within Bernd.

But he isn't an easy person to peg.

"When I first saw him, I was not at all impressed," admits Jacovelli.

Within five minutes, though, she was telling herself, "This guy really knows what he's doing."

"People tend to underestimate him at first, and you shouldn't," says Pia Harris, president of the San Marcos Educators Association.

Harris says Bernd's easy manner is a front. He can be quietly clever, according to those who know him.

Even those with whom he has had disagreements say Bernd is forthright and willing to listen.

"I've had my problems with Mac," says John Vitulli, chief negotiator for the teachers union at the California district. "We've argued on many, many occasions."

Then, Vitulli adds, "No matter what transpired yesterday, you can always talk to him today."

Vitulli remembers the first time he went to Bernd with a problem. Several female employees had complained of harassment, and Vitulli and other union representatives looked to Bernd to do something.

Vitulli told Bernd about the problem. He says Bernd "closed his eyes, and with his index finger and his thumb, he held his head at the bridge of his nose and just listened."

Bernd didn't raise his head until Vitulli and the others had finished speaking.

When he did, he said, "It will be taken care of."

And it was.

"He doesn't like to put things off," says LRSD board member Bill Hamilton. "He struck me as one who would deal head-on with the problems and controversies."

Vitulli says Bernd allowed people to circumvent normal grievance procedures and go straight to him with problems.

Bernd says he has to temper his desire for quick results and remind himself that leadership requires the ability to reflect.

Harris calls Bernd a workaholic who is probably toughest on those directly beneath him.

"I am sure he's quite dictatorial, too," Harris says.

She quickly qualifies what she means.

"He sold his philosophy on education, and they followed -- some maybe reluctantly. There was more than one time that I was thoroughly disgusted with his choices."

Still, Bernd would listen to her positions.

He just wouldn't change his mind.

"He's a little stubborn," Harris says. "Once he said no, that was it."

"He is headstrong," Vitulli agrees. "It is difficult to change his mind."

Joe DeDiminicantanio, who was assistant superintendent for curriculum in the San Marcos district for five years and now is acting superintendent, says Bernd gave subordinates freedom in their jobs.

Bernd would work to establish objectives and then monitor the progress. DeDiminicantanio says Bernd is incredibly focused. He is, according to his former aide, driven by the belief that all children can learn.

LRSD board members saw that side of "Mac" Bernd.

"He has a real commitment," Cannon says. "It drives all his actions."

Attractive Features

Cannon says there were several things that led Bernd's hiring, even though he was not the board's first choice. Henry Williams, superintendent of schools in Syracuse, N.Y., turned down the job, citing division among board members.

In addition to being a quick study, it was clear that Bernd had done his homework before interviewing for the job.

He reviewed videotapes of board meetings.

He studied the district's budget.

He went out into the community and interviewed people.

"He was ready to go," Hamilton says. "He had suggestions and alternatives."

Board members realized that Bernd already had dealt with problems similar to Little Rock's. Last year, for instance, Bernd had to cut $2.5 million from the $37 million San Marcos budget. The year before that, he had to reduce a $35 million budget by $1.5 million to balance the books.

The cuts weren't popular, especially those that occurred in athletics.

When Jack Ashby, the San Marcos High School athletic director, talks about the cuts, he cites a lack of understanding about how athletics can be used to keep students in school.

Asked to comment on whether he would have been happy to see Bernd stay in California, Ashby replies, "I don't think I will."

Bernd says he doesn't know where cuts will occur in Little Rock. He does say that "contrary to what people think, it's not going to be all fat" that gets cut.

"We'll be into red meat," he says.

Jacovelli disagrees.

She sees waste. Lots of it.

"If I ran my household the way the Little Rock School District has been run, I would be in jail," she says.

She intends to outline for Bernd what she views as wasteful spending.

For now, Jacovelli is confident Bernd will be the district's answer to budget problems.

"It was as though he were sent to us," she says.

Bernd's strengths match the district's needs, Jacovelli believes.

In the San Marcos district, which has a 40 percent minority student population, Bernd was able to raise test scores by 20 to 30 percent in five years.

DeDiminicantanio says those who don't believe in Bernd's system will never be convinced. That's why when the Little Rock opportunity came along, DeDiminicantanio told Bernd to seize the moment.

"I remember very clearly saying to him, 'This is the one,'" DeDiminicantanio says. "It was almost like destiny that he go to a place like Little Rock where he can prove some things."

Students in urban school districts often don't do as well as those in suburban areas.

"The effective schools model says it doesn't have to be that way," DeDiminicantanio says.

Bernd says the characteristics of effective schools are analogous to the characteristics of successful corporations as spelled out in the book "In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best Run Companies" by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. Those characteristics include a focused mission and strong leadership.

The effective schools model used by Bernd also touts the basics -- reading, writing and arithmetic -- much as successful corporations stick to what they know.

Bernd says an important component of the system is frequent testing and monitoring, which he compares to corporations listening to customers.

Bernd says the effective schools system is based on high expectations and a belief in students.

DeDiminicantanio is anxious to watch Bernd implement the effective schools model in Little Rock.

"It can become a national model," the Californian says.

Bernd's goals include beginning the effective schools process and ironing out budget problems. Relations with employee organizations also are a priority.

Bernd wants principals to have more classroom contact.

And he hopes to have a good working relationship with members of the school board.

Bernd also wants to establish a solid relationship between the business community and the school district. He was president-elect of the chamber of commerce where he lived in California. That link was valuable to the school district. For example, Bernd convinced real estate agents to use the school system as a selling point.

"They would not have done that if he had not relentlessly pursued it," Harris says.

Bernd has a lot on his agenda.

Still, he makes it clear he will not accomplish his goals alone.

"The role he doesn't want to play is that of savior," Cannon says. "Without support, they're ain't no such thing as a savior."

Bernd agrees.

"I am no savior," he says.

"Mac" Bernd would prefer to stick with the title of glorified doorman.

Bernd's Backups

New LRSD Superintendent Chooses His Cabinet

Before Cloyde McKinley "Mac" Bernd began work July 1 as the Little Rock School District's superintendent, he reorganized the district at the administrative level.

The LRSD's top level had consisted of a deputy superintendent, a manager of support services and two associate superintendents.

Bernd, who says he wants to be a hands-on administrator, didn't want information filtered to him through a deputy superintendent. He created four associate superintendent positions, each with its own job description.

Janet Bernard will serve as associate superintendent for school operations and climate. The position will entail making sure the schools are safe and present a warm, caring learning environment.

Bernard has been an elementary principal since 1985 in the San Marcos Unified School District in California. Bernd had served as the district's superintendent since July 1986.

Marie Parker will be the associate superintendent for organizational and learning equity. That is Bernd's title for what was the position of associate superintendent of desegregation. Bernd says the old title implied that just numbers were being counted. He wanted the title to reflect the district's goal of equity.

Parker comes from the state Department of Education, where she was associate director for planning and development.

Estelle Matthis is the associate superintendent for curriculum and learning improvement.

"It's not enough to put a curriculum out there," Bernd says.

Matthis' title with the district formerly was associate superintendent for educational programs.

The position of associate superintendent/manager for resources and school support is being filled by Earl "Chip" Jones. A new person should be in the job by the time Jones leaves in August.

Pia Harris, president of the San Marcos Educators Association, says Bernd is known for surrounding himself with good people.

And that, she says, is the sign of a competent administrator.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Little Rock School District superintendent
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 13, 1992
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