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Indianapolis Board Names a Successor for Zendejas

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In a swift move prompted by their bankrupted relationship with Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas, the Indianapolis school board has replaced the embattled schools chief with Duncan N.P. Pritchett Jr., a 29-year veteran of the system.

Ms. Zendejas, charging that the board's support of her reform measures had been lukewarm, announced in October her intention to leave the top spot a year before her contract was up. She said she would stay until the end of this school year.

Some board members, rankled by her surprise announcement, called instead for her to leave as soon as possible. Ms. Zendejas, 45, in turn threatened to stay until her contract was up in 1999.

But the board and Ms. Zendejas reached an agreement last month, and the superintendent put in her last day Dec. 19. Before she left, the board had tapped as her successor Mr. Pritchett, the assistant superintendent for facilities management, who served as interim superintendent in 1994-95.

The board will pay Ms. Zendejas $158,100--a year's salary and benefits--for her early departure. Contract negotiations for Mr. Pritchett were not yet complete as of last week, district officials said.

Known as a consensus-builder, Mr. Pritchett was considered a front-runner for the post along with Eugene White, the superintendent of the Washington Township district, which adjoins the 43,000-student Indianapolis system. Neither he nor Mr. Pritchett ever formally applied for the job.

Reforms To Continue

Rather, the seven-member board named the 50-year-old Mr. Pritchett to the job on a 4-2 vote Dec. 13. Board President Julie Scott, a strong supporter of Ms. Zendejas, abstained. Ms. Scott and the two board members who voted against his appointment said they were unhappy with the lack of competition in the selection process rather than with Mr. Pritchett, who came to the system as a teacher in 1969.

Their concern echoed stronger statements by Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and business leaders, who lamented Ms. Zendejas' departure and advocated a nationwide search for another leader. They voiced doubts about whether Mr. Pritchett would hang tough in holding principals and schools accountable, and they called for a selection process that reached beyond system insiders.

But Mr. Pritchett said last week that he intends to "continue the change process" that proved so divisive during Ms. Zendejas' 2 1/2-year tenure. "The change needs to be evolutionary," he cautioned. "We need to bring all the stakeholders together for the process," especially teachers, who have often felt left out, he said.

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