Tonight: Join us to celebrate Education Week’s 2021 Leaders To Learn From. Register to attend the gala.

Local Calif. Superintendent Tapped for Top Post in Ky.

By Lonnie Harp — November 28, 1990 4 min read

To guide their massive school-reform experiment, Kentucky officials have selected a veteran school administrator who, despite having never worked in the state, vows to do things “the Kentucky way.”

Thomas C. Boysen, superintendent of the San Diego County, Calif., schools, was chosen Nov. 16 to serve as the first appointed commissioner of Kentucky’s public schools under the education-restructuring law passed by the legislature this year. Backers say Mr. Boysen, who has also held administrative positions in Washington State and New York, has a “gut"-level commitment to the principles of equity, accountability, and participation that undergird the reform law.

Mr. Boysen, 50, was picked by a six-member search panel that had considered more than 120 applicants before naming three finalists and spent six hours in closed deliberations before its announcement. In the end, panel members said, their choice came down to chemistry.

“He had the best combination of qualities that we were looking for,” said William E. McAnulty Jr., chairman of the search committee, at a Frankfort news conference announcing the decision.

Educators who have worked with Mr. Boysen in California said he will quickly become a vigorous leader of Kentucky’s reforms.

“Tom is incredibly bright and well-read, and he is a deep thinker about what should be done in education,” said Wes Apker, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, who has known Mr. Boysen since his first job as superintendent in Pasco, Wash. Mr. Boysen also comes naturally to the job, Mr. Apker added, since the reforms’ emphasis on funding equity, school accountability, and new assessment techniques echo the new commissioner’s ideals.

“There’s a very close fit between what’s going on in Tom’s gut and the direction they want that job to go,” Mr. Apker said.

‘Status Quo is Not O.K.’

Mr. Boysen, who accepted a four-year contract at an annual salary of $125,000, will take office Jan. 1.

In addition to presiding over bold classroom-reform efforts, Mr. BoyHsen will face the immediate task of building a new state education de partment. Under the reform law, the state’s present agency will be dissolved on June 30, with the new department taking over July 1.

The long job description has yet to intimidate Mr. Boysen.

“One of the reasons I was so inter ested in this job is because the pasH sions I’ve had for the past 15 years in school leadership are the ones being pursued in Kentucky,” he said last week. “They have stepped up and said the status quo is not O.K.”

Mr. Boysen said he will organize a transition team to identify his imme diate priorities and will begin meet ing with state educators next week.

“Listening has got to be the num ber-one thing on my agenda, and I plan to do a lot of that,” Mr. Boysen said. “What I have in mind is sitting down eyeball-to-eyeball with people from Kentucky and others to talk about how we are going to do this the Kentucky way.”

During remarks that were tele vised at the press conference by satel lite from California, Mr. Boysen reas sured Kentuckians that he does not intend to flaunt his outsider status.

He also drew frequent parallels ! between the school-reform plan and basketball--a favorite pastime in the Bluegrass State--and listed the Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart alongside Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Horace Mann as leading proponents of better educa tion for poor children.

While praising Mr. Boysen’s em phasis on teamwork, though, Mr. Apker noted that his hard-charging approach and participatory style of management have led to criticism that he does not heed other voices.

“I think he listens, but I think he’s also very determined,” Mr. Apker said. “For some people, that doesn’t always sit well.”

Mr. Boysen said that while he en courages input, there also is a limit to debate. “It has to come to closure,” he said. “The paralysis of analysis is real. There comes a time when you have to get the play called, get up to the line, and run it.”

California educators said they do not doubt Mr. Boysen’s quarterbackH ing ability. While many superinten dents in that state’s county education offices take a back seat in local policy discussions, observers said, Mr. BoyH sen has become an increasingly vocal spokesman for school needs and has stretched the traditional boundaries of his position.

Such visibility will be among the (ew commissioner’s first tasks in Kentucky, reform supporters said. The lack of a leader has become a “growing problem,” according to obert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Aca demic Excellence, a citizens’ school- advocacy group.

Gaining a quick grasp of state politics will be critical to Mr. BoyH sen’s success, added Michael D. UsH dan, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and a con sultant on the Kentucky plan.

“Kentucky is not a terribly tran sient state, so for anybody coming in from the outside, one of the impor tant things to do is to kind of show them the flag,” Mr. Usdan said. “You have to touch a whole bunch of bases so people know this person as an in dividual. That’s important from the outset. This is a very political job.""I think that the role as spokes person is an important one, and I in tend to share that with the new state board when it is appointed in Janu ary,” Mr. Boysen said. The new com missioner plans to focus on themes of the Kentucky reform act that he has also advocated in San Diego. Mr. Boysen said he will bring with him a strong commitment to inreased student productivity, great er local control, and ensuring ade quate funding.

A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Local Calif. Superintendent Tapped for Top Post in Ky.