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Q&A: Superintendent Reflects on New Job as Head of A.S.C.D.

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In July, Gene R. Carter, the superintendent of schools in Norfolk, Va., will become the executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. He will replace Gordon Cawelti, who has headed the association for the past 19 years.

In his new post, Mr. Carter will oversee an organization that has grown exponentially since its inception in 1943. Claiming more than 157,000 members worldwide, the Alexandria, Va.-based group provides a wide range of services to its members; its journal, Educational Leadership, is among the most influential in the field.

Mr. Carter talked about his new role earlier this month with Assistant Editor Debra Viadero.

Q. Why are you leaving the superintendency to head the A.S.C.D.?

A. Probably for a combination of reasons. I've always been interested in the area of supervision and curriculum development, and my graduate work has focused on those two areas and combining that interest with the desire to help professionals reach their potential. ... I guess, lastly, I see the association as being the premier professional association in this country, as well as on the international scene, and, given the changes that we are experiencing and will experience, as well as the opportunities that those changes will provide, I sought to be a part of the leadership of the association at what I would describe as a very critical turning point in our history.

Q. The A.S.C.D. for most of its existence has been known primarily as a membership-service organization. But recently it seems to be seeking a higher profile in international and national education issues. Is that an effort you plan to continue or expand?

A. While I don't want to be premature in making any pronouncements, we're living in a global economy, a world that has become smaller, a world that has changed significantly over the last decade, and, fortunately, a world that is moving in the direction of the democratic way of life. From my experience as a superintendent and looking [toward] my experience as an executive director, that suggests to me that our focus and ourattention cannot be limited to the geographical boundaries of the United States.

I support the concept of internationalization and see it as a direction that the association must certainly address.

Q. What about the association's involvement in national education issues, such as proposals on national standards and assessment and the school-choice issue?

A. Ironically, I think many countries are experiencing the same set of challenges and opportunities as the United States. My conversations with representatives of foreign nations who are involved in the educative process suggest there are far more commonalities than differences on such issues as standards, alternative-assessment methods, choice--all the issues that are being debated in the 1990's.

Q. Would the association be looking to strike a higher profile in those debates in this country?

A. I see the association as being interested in strengthening its voice in the national, as well as, potentially, the international scene, so as to become involved and to strengthen its potential to influence the major decisions that will affect education in this country and beyond.

Over the last two decades, the organization's membership has grown from about 12,000 to 160,000. What do you think has accounted for that growth, and do you think the organization's membership has stabilized?

A. There are pros and cons about growing. I think probably there will be a reassessment of the composition of the membership as it relates to numbers, in view of addressing the notion of quantity versus quality in the future. That is not to suggest that we're not going to continue to increase the membership.

But we want to be sure the needs of the existing members are being met in the most efficient way possible, and that suggests that we need to be responsive to the needs of the membership. The rapid increase in members also has implications for the governance of the association.

Q. What do you see as the most important curriculum issue facing American education?

A. There are some critical issues I would mention that I think must not only be addressed but have the potential to affect public education in a most significant way. One of those is obviously early-childhood education, where up front you try to increase the life chances of youngsters at a very formative period of their development.

The second area is addressing the unique needs of youngsters who have been termed to be at-risk. That is to suggest addressing the needs of the haves as well as the have nots, and focusing on quality and equality of opportunity.

The third area is that of improving student performance. Another would be looking to alternative assessment tools and strategies.

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