Cameras Trail New Ky. Chief Along Statewide Tour

By Lonnie Harp — December 12, 1990 3 min read

For at least a few minutes last week, Thomas C. Boysen was just another face around the table at a state board of education meeting here.

But once the meeting adjourned, Kentucky’s first appointed education commissioner, who was making his maiden trip to the Bluegrass State, was quickly surrounded by television cameras and reporters.

Within moments, state board members and spectators long associated with Kentucky schools had cleared the boardroom and were talking among themselves in the halls outside or waiting for elevators.

Mr. Boysen remained at the podium, though, explaining to the Fourth Estate how he plans to administer the state’s landmark education-reform law.

Outside the door to the state education department’s executive offices, John Brock, the elected state superintendent, said the media attention reflected many Kentuckians’ curiosity about the California superintendent who has arrived to transform their schools.

“I think they’re going to find out real soon that he’s down to earth and sincere,” Mr. Brock said. “It’s going to be a good fit.”

Under the reform law passed by the legislature last spring, Mr. Brock’s position is to be stripped of its power, while Mr. Boysen, who was selected by a state panel last month, will lead the most comprehensive school-restructuring effort yet attempted at the state level. (See Education Week, Nov. 28, 1990.)

An hour’s drive west across the rolling farmland of Central Kentucky, most of the state’s local school superintendents waited at a Louisville hotel for the out-of-state commissioner with whom the reforms will soon be entrusted.

The encounter was to be an important one, for the superintendents are the group that has been the most leery about reforms they grumble were assembled by high-paid out-of-state consultants with little feel for the state’s complex education politics.

Once again, Mr. Boysen arrived flanked by cameras. Most of the superintendents recognized him because of all the television lights shining on him.

“There’s Boysen,” said one man standing near the back of the crowd. “When did he get here?”

“I didn’t see a white horse parked outside,” another said.

For most of his first day, Mr. Boysen was visible only in quick glimpses. After the luncheon at the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents meeting, the new commissioner was off to an elementary school in Louisville’s West End. There, too, camera crews dutifully followed him from classroom to classroom.

And finally, after a live television interview back at the hotel, the lights were turned off, and Mr. Boysen once again tried to blend into the crowd.

After his arrival in Louisville, several local superintendents said informal conversations with Mr. Boysen helped to ease many of their concerns about both the reforms and the new commissioner.

The superintendents’ group had lobbied hard for the selection committee to choose an in-state candidate.

Aside from some lost luggage--and an impromptu midnight trip to Suit City, a Frankfort clothing store--Mr. Boysen said his first glimpse of Kentucky and discussions with school officials went smoothly.

“I’m getting a sense of where the superintendents are coming from, and it’s fairly evident that they don’t feel like they’ve been included in the creation of the reforms,” Mr. Boysen said.

During his initial meetings with education constituencies, Mr. Boysen added, he hopes to get a feeling for how supportive other educators are of the reforms.

“We can’t think of this as a grim duty,” Mr. Boysen said. “And as I meet with the various groups, I’m going to keep my eye on that. Part of the ownership aspect of this is making sure that in the implementation, they are all going to have an important role. It’s my intention to set it up so that everybody looks good.”

The symbolic acts of his first day in Kentucky, he said, provide a capsule view of his top priorities.

“One of the significant things for me was visiting the school,” he said. “I wanted to do that to reinforce the message that this is going to happen in schools. I hope to be in schools a good bit.”

Mr. Boysen said he also hopes to strengthen public support for the reforms. “I think that is the nitty-gritty of it--the business of championing this reform and giving the public the impression that it is worthy of their effort,” he said.

“A lot of people are worried about the financial piece coming apart,” he added, if the $1.3-billion tax increase passed by the legislature to fund the reforms becomes a focal point of next year’s statewide campaigns.

“It’s important that all of these groups be sending the same message that they support these reforms,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 1990 edition of Education Week as Cameras Trail New Ky. Chief Along Statewide Tour