January 31, 2001 1 min read
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Dethroned: Clarice L. Chambers, the president of the National School Boards Association, is a leading spokeswoman on educational leadership.

Clarice L. Chambers

But the 25-year veteran of the Harrisburg, Pa., school board has been locked out of district headquarters. The city’s mayor, Stephen R. Reed, stripped her nameplate from the board’s conference room.

Her reversal of fortune came after her 8,200-student system in the state capital was identified as one of Pennsylvania’s lowest performers. Under a state law passed last year, Mayor Reed gained the power to name his own school board.

“I’m going around the country encouraging people to get involved in school work,” Ms. Chambers said recently. “But it gets disheartening when my district has been taken over by the mayor.”

While Ms. Chambers’ board was not disbanded, the new law allows it to meet just six times a year. Its lone function is voting up or down on the budget.

Recently, her board was forced to meet on the steps of the administrative offices, because the locks on the doors were changed after the December power shift.

“It smells of a Gestapo-like takeover to me,” continued Ms. Chambers. “They could’ve been more collaborative.”

Randy King, the mayor’s spokesman, said the drastic actions were needed. Since the takeover, which is being contested in court, second-period student report cards have gone out on time, he said, and new textbooks are in classrooms.

“Some first-period report cards for high school students did not get out until January,” Mr. King said. In addition, local, state, and federal officials are investigating alleged thefts of school equipment that may have occurred under the school board’s watch.

Meanwhile, Ms. Chambers, who steps down from her role as the NSBA’s top elected officer in March, garners praise from the Alexandria, Va.- based group.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director, calls her an extraordinary leader. “She has been an articulate spokesperson on the role boards must play to improve student achievement,” Ms. Bryant said.

—Robert C. Johnston

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2001 edition of Education Week


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