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Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Controversial Illinois Schools Superintendent To Step Down

Controversial Illinois Schools Superintendent To Step Down

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The controversial state schools chief in Illinois has announced that he will step down this month, just weeks after several Republican lawmakers recommended that his contract not be renewed next year.

In announcing his resignation last month, Superintendent Joseph A. Spagnolo Jr. said that in his four years in the top post at the state education department, he has laid the foundation for implementing a statewide accountability system and standards-based academic reforms, as he was hired to do.

"The most important thing we were able to do in my time here was to really focus the debate on teaching and learning," he said in a recent interview.

Superintendent Joseph A. Spagnolo Jr.

"If my successor takes what's in place and carries it forward ... this state will be in good shape for years to come," he said. He declined to reveal his future plans.

Achievements and Mistakes

State school board Chairman Louis Mervis recently praised Mr. Spagnolo as an education "visionary" whose leadership was crucial in setting up systemwide reforms.

By his own admission, though, Mr. Spagnolo's tenure has not been without some serious mistakes.

Lawmakers last year criticized Mr. Spagnolo, who previously served as the superintendent of public instruction in Virginia, after a routine audit turned up 45 instances of questionable management practices, including inadequate oversight of personnel and contracts. ("Audit Questions Oversight of Ill. Education Agency," March 26, 1997.)

Just this past June, the 55-year-old superintendent came under fire again when the education department sent pilot health and physical-development tests to students at 61 high schools that included what were deemed inappropriate questions about sex.

About 55 of the schools actually administered the tests to students.

Agency officials acknowledged that the tests were distributed before going through a routine screening process. Mr. Spagnolo then issued a public apology to the superintendents and principals involved.

Even so, some Republican legislators had asked the state board not to renew the superintendent's contract, which was scheduled to expire next year.

Interim Chief Named

Although Mr. Spagnolo said the flap over the tests did not contribute to his decision to resign, he conceded the seriousness of the incident.

"If I could have put the toothpaste back in the tube ... we would never have allowed those questions to go out," he said.

"Politics is difficult at best. This state raises it to an art form," said Mr. Spagnolo.

The state's nine-member school board recently appointed Robert Mandeville to serve as the interim superintendent starting Sept. 1.

Mr. Mandeville is a former state budget director who now serves as an executive assistant to Mr. Spagnolo.

He will lead the agency with the help of four members of a board-appointed interim management team until a new superintendent is selected.

A new state superintendent could be selected as early as Oct. 22.

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 23

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