Hornbeck, Prominent Consultant, Tapped To Head Phila. Schools

By Ann Bradley — June 22, 1994 3 min read

After one of the two remaining candidates to lead the Philadelphia schools withdrew his name, the board of education last week offered the superintendency to David W. Hornbeck, a prominent national education consultant.

Board members did not take an official vote on Mr. Hornbeck. But Rotan Lee, the board president, said he expected the board to vote on a contract at the end of the month.

Mr. Hornbeck’s appointment came late in the evening on Sunday, June 12, after Arthur Walton notified officials that he was no longer interested in the post. Mr. Walton, a top official in the New York State education department, will instead become the sup
rintendent of the Albany, N.Y., schools.

In a letter to the board, Mr. Walton mentioned “political intervention and maneuvering’’ in the search, which had become fraught with racial tension in its final days.

Mr. Walton is black, while Mr. Hornbeck is white. Local newspapers reported that the board appeared to have split over the choice along racial lines.

Mr. Hornbeck was backed by Mayor Edward Rendell and a coalition of civic and business leaders.

A third finalist for the post, Mary Lee Fitzgerald, a former New Jersey education commissioner, withdrew her name after the Mayor made his support for Mr. Hornbeck known.

At a press conference last week, Mr. Lee urged the Philadelphia community to support Mr. Hornbeck, adding that the board was ready to “rally behind’’ the new superintendent.

“All’s well that ends well,’' Mr. Hornbeck said in an interview.

“It’s clear to me that everybody in Philadelphia is looking to the future,’' he said. “I’ve had many, many conversations since late Sunday night that all have been extremely positive and optimistic.’'

Mr. Hornbeck will succeed Constance E. Clayton, who served for 11 years as the superintendent of the Philadelphia schools before stepping down last summer. The district had been overseen by an interim superintendent until a successor could be named.

Systemic Reform

Mr. Hornbeck, a former Maryland state superintendent, is best known for promoting “systemic’’ education reform. That concept includes a focus on high standards and new assessment strategies, school-based decisionmaking, professional development, early-ch
ldhood education, coordinating schooling with health and social services, public support for reform, and holding educators accountable for student performance.

In Philadelphia, Mr. Hornbeck himself will be held accountable for producing results with the formula he has advocated as a consultant for, among other states, Kentucky, Washington, and Alabama.

“That’s what I want,’' he said. “That’s what this is all about.’'

“It’s not about policy--it’s about student achievement,’' he added.

Mr. Hornbeck’s first challenge will be to work with the board on the district’s budget, which is currently balanced only because it includes $30 million in revenues that the district hopes to receive. Mayor Rendell and leaders of the city council have ple
ged to help the schools get more state and city money.

Mr. Hornbeck said he expects to develop a strategic plan next fall through “widespread consultation’’ with local residents.

The plan, which Mr. Hornbeck said should be finished in December, will reflect where the board has been headed, his own reform plans, and recommendations to be made by a panel of experts appointed by a judge overseeing the district’s desegregation case. (
ee Education Week, April 13, 1994.)

‘A Very Difficult Situation’

Ted Kirsch, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Hornbeck is “coming into a very difficult situation’’ with the budget problems. The union is now negotiating a new contract, which Mr. Kirsch said he hopes to complete before
he new superintendent starts work.

“Without the necessary resources, it’s almost impossible for anyone to be successful,’' he said. “We can’t do more with less.’'

Christine Davis, the executive director of the Parents Union for Public Schools, said her group, most of whose members belong to minority groups, had supported Mr. Hornbeck’s candidacy.

The school system has “lots of very good demonstrations and pilots going on in all areas of school reform,’' she said, but needs a strong leader to move the initiatives to a larger scale.

A version of this article appeared in the June 22, 1994 edition of Education Week as Hornbeck, Prominent Consultant, Tapped To Head Phila. Schools