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In a Surprise, Schools Chief In Ky. Resigns

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Thomas C. Boysen, the veteran local superintendent who was tapped to put Kentucky's massive 1990 school-reform law into action, surprised observers last week by announcing that he will resign as the state's education chief this summer.

The announcement came only days after Mr. Boysen had named the schools where teachers will share $26 million in bonuses later this year for reaching improvement goals set by the state. He said the awards were evidence that the reform law was in place and working, the two goals he set out to achieve when he arrived in the state four years ago. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1995.)

"My mission was to take a powerful design and put it into place, and we've done that," Mr. Boysen said last week. "It's all on the ground now."

Opponents of the reform law contended last week that Mr. Boysen's departure was a sign that they are gaining momentum. Most observers, though, said they sensed that Mr. Boysen was just ready to move on.

Several political observers in Kentucky speculated that after announcing the bonanza of school rewards, Mr. Boysen realized he would face some tough sledding over the next few months. The first of two independent reviews of the state's assessment system was released last week. It cited progress but also called for changes by the education department. (See related story.)

While he said that no single factor led him to step aside, Mr. Boysen agreed with observers who said the timing for a change simply seemed right.

Despite upcoming program reviews, Mr. Boysen said he was confident that "there are no ticking time(See education chief has never been marked by any prolonged free rides.

Mr. Boysen has won high marks within the state for his personal dedication to the reform act's goals and his articulate advocacy on topics ranging from increased emphasis on teaching writing to overhauling state assessments.

Observers have also given Mr. Boysen credit for removing the highly political culture of the state education department.

Target for Slings and Arrows

At the same time, however, the commissioner has repeatedly frustrated many reform supporters with what they see as his inability to court state legislators, his micromanagement in the education department, and his failure to retain some of his chief assistants.

"It's been four grueling years where we've made so much more progress than any of our critics thought," Wade Mountz, the vice chairman of the state school board and a member of the team that hired Mr. Boysen, said last week. "He has been a lightning rod and taken all of the slings and arrows, but I have been impressed that he never took his eye off the vision of the law."

Given this lightning-rod role, many observers--and Mr. Boysen himself--acknowledge that his liabilities may have finally reached critical mass.

"Fighting appropriations battles and removing [local] superintendents, you accumulate resentments," Mr. Boysen said in an interview. "With so many of the things coming up, it seemed to me that someone with a clean slate would be very well positioned."

State board members are expected to meet this week to draw up a plan for finding a new chief. Officials said that despite the urgings of Gov. Brereton C. Jones that the board first look inside the state for a successor, the board is likely to launch a national search.

State education officials said the timing of Mr. Boysen's announcement should allow the search to be resolved before it could become a hot topic in the election for governor next fall.

The new commissioner also should be able to get to know legislators and reform-law supporters and opponents well before the beginning of the 1996 biennial legislative session. The law may face renewed criticism during the session, as it did last year. (See related story, 05/18/95

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