Berkeley leader to return to classroom

Mike Turner

Mike Turner spent the past two years setting instructional goals for Berkeley's schools, and now he'll have a front-row seat to determine if the changes are working.

Turner, who serves as Berkeley schools' chief academic officer, plans to step down from his assistant superintendent position and return to classroom teaching next school year. He'll remain at the district office through the summer and then turn his attention to high school pre-calculus and statistics.

Classroom teaching is simply what he loves to do, Turner said. At age 61, he's hoping the move back to the classroom will cap a 38-year career in education.

"I never feel more alive than I do when I'm teaching," he said.

Berkeley Superintendent Chester Floyd announced Turner's decision to the school board at their meeting Tuesday night, where a room full of principals and teachers gave Turner a standing ovation.

Turner has made the same switch before. After leading the district's instructional team for roughly five years, he accepted a teaching job at Goose Creek High in 2003.

Floyd lured him back to the district office in 2006, and Turner has spent the past two years redesigning Berkeley's instructional approach. All decisions made are now based on data such as test scores and graduation rates, and Turner also has emphasized the importance of the primary grades by reducing kindergarten class size and building the largest full-day child development pilot program for 4-year-olds in the state.

The superintendent called Turner "the top instructional leader of any school district not only in the state, but in the country."

"I hate to lose him, but some group of youngsters at some school is going to gain a superior teacher," Floyd said. "He just has a wealth of knowledge and understanding about what students need."

In addition to their Berkeley years, Floyd and Turner also worked together in Lexington District 1. The superintendent said he has enough confidence in Turner's ability to let him set the district's academic direction. "I'm smart enough to know when to get out of the way," Floyd said.

During his absence from the classroom, Turner honed his lecture technique at board meetings, where he often presents exhaustive reports on academic initiatives.

In some instances, board members start to chuckle when Turner approaches the podium, as they realize they are about to learn more than they ever wanted to know about computerized test scores, No Child Left Behind regulations and high school graduation rates.

Tuesday's meeting was a typical example, with Turner speaking for roughly 45 minutes on a district improvement plan required by the state Department of Education. Turner proposed pouring more resources into the primary grades by reducing class sizes in kindergarten at all schools and hiring reading specialists to intervene with struggling students. He answered questions about the cost of the plan by emphasizing that investing in the early grades will lead to better-prepared students eventually moving on to middle and high school.

When one board member asked Turner where he hopes to teach next year, he said he wasn't taking a position at any school for granted.

"I don't know," he said. "I have to interview."