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Houston Board Places Superintendent on Probation

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The Houston school board has placed Superintendent Joan Raymond on probation until March 1 after failing to reach an agreement with her to buy out her contract.

The board's 6-to-3 decision on Nov. 16 followed several weeks of closed-door negotiations in which some board members tried to persuade Ms. Raymond to resign.

At one point early this month, board members reported that Ms. Raymond had agreed to leave at the end of the school year, but she apparently later changed her mind.

Ms. Raymond could not be reached for comment last week.

The decision to place the superintendent on probation was a compromise because Ms. Raymond's opponents on the board lacked the votes to force her resignation.

Melody Ellis, who voted against the move, said some board members believe that Ms. Raymond has been moving too slowly to carry out the board's plans for restructuring.

Last June, the board devised a plan for moving toward site-based management that included a new, districtwide emphasis on performance rather than compliance with district rules. Some board members who wanted to fire the superintendent told the Houston Chronicle that she has resisted the plan and that her "authoritarian" style runs counter to the district's emphasis on giving teachers and principals more decisionmaking power.

But Ms. Ellis said she has seen "a lot of improvement in my predominantly minority district" since Ms. Raymond became head of the school system in 1986.

"Test scores have been on the rise, dropout rates have declined, and the facilities have been improved greatly," Ms. Ellis said. "So has the instructional program."

Ms. Ellis added that she believes that some board members will spend the next few months looking for a reason to fire the superintendent when Ms. Raymond comes up for review March 1.

Ms. Raymond has two and a half years remaining on her contract.el10lHer tenure has been marked by controversy as she has sought to implement a "get tough" policy intended to curb the failure rate of the city's secondary students. (See Education Week, June 15, 1988.)

Cathy Mincberg, the president of the board and a proponent of terminating the superintendent's contract, refused to comment last week on the board's decision.

Meanwhile, Robert S. Peterkin, superintendent of schools in Milwaukee, has announced his resignation effective when his contract expires June 30, 1991. At that time, Mr. Peterkin will become director of the Urban Superintendents Program and the Francis Keppel senior lecturer at Harvard University's4graduate school of education.

Mr. Peterkin had been serving on an advisory board for the program.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to work with a talented group of students and with a faculty at Harvard that has reexamined the curriculum and affirmed their belief in urban public education," said Mr. Peterkin, who has been superintendent in Milwaukee since August 1988.

In Columbus, Ohio, Ronald E. Etheridge, the head of the 64,000-student system, announced he will become superintendent of the 13,000-student Santa Barbara, Calif., school system on Jan. 1.

Mr. Etheridge told the Columbus board earlier this fall that he did not want his contract renewed when it expired next spring. (See Education Week, Oct. 17, 1990.)

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