Tacoma Schools Chief Tapped for N.Y.C. Post

By Peter Schmidt — October 18, 1995 3 min read
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The New York City school board has hired an unexpected candidate, Tacoma, Wash., Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew, to serve as the new chancellor of the nation’s largest school system.

In choosing Mr. Crew, the board struck a compromise with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose interventions had complicated their search for a successor to Ramon C. Cortines. Mr Cortines’ resignation took effect last week.

Many observers were surprised by the 5-2 decision Oct. 7--one week after the board reopened its months-long chancellor search and a day after Mr. Crew reiterated his earlier decision to withdraw his candidacy.

“I accept your offer wholeheartedly and pledge all my energy to address our common goals,” the 45-year-old Mr. Crew told the board last week.

“It will take a little time to get to all the boroughs and neighborhoods, but I plan to hit the ground running,” he said. Mr. Crew is expected to begin his new job this week.

Mr. Giuliani welcomed the new chancellor’s appointment. The mayor had endorsed Mr. Crew’s candidacy after his two earlier favorites withdrew and his opposition caused the board to back away from another candidate.

‘A Circus’

“This process for the selection of a chancellor has been called a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit. Tumultuous. A circus,” one board member, William C. Thompson Jr., said in endorsing Mr. Crew’s candidacy. “It is time to let the noise end and the bickering and name-calling cease.”

Mr. Thompson praised Mr. Crew as “a talented, innovative educator whose child-focused approach to instruction stresses that every child is capable of learning.”

But one of the two dissenting board members, Sandra E. Lerner of the Bronx, protested that what led to the board’s decision “was not a process, but a lack of one.” The final decision was made “on the strength of a conference call,” she said.

“As much as I admire Rudy Crew, I cannot vote to affirm the brokered process and the shameful interference of the mayor,” Ms. Lerner said. “Our kids deserve better than a back-room deal.”

Mr. Crew’s decision angered some members of the Tacoma school board, which had voted in July to give him a $10,000 raise to $125,000 a year, and to extend his contract one year, to 1998.

Mr. Crew repeatedly said he was not in the running for the New York job. “I continue not to be a candidate,” he said in a statement the day before he accepted his new post.

“It would not serve the children who go to the New York City schools for me to enter the position of chancellor unless the entire system and everyone responsible for it was focused on student achievement,” the statement said. “In order for that to happen, voices of control and political-machinery issues would have to yield to the voices of children and their needs.”

Swayed by Endorsement

In changing his mind, Mr. Crew apparently was swayed by the fact that Mayor Giuliani joined a school board majority in endorsing him. New York offered him a $195,000 annual salary as part of a contract to run the district through June 1997.

After receiving Mr. Crew’s resignation, the Tacoma board held an emergency session to discuss whether to take him to court. The board said in a statement after the meeting last week that it had decided, at least for now, not to pursue litigation.

Mr. Crew was superintendent in Tacoma for two years. He previously spent four years as superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District in California and served as an administrator in several other California cities and in Boston.

In the 32,000-student Tacoma district, Mr. Crew won praise for a sharp increase in student test scores. He attributed the increase, in part, to the help of the Efficacy Institute, a Lexington, Mass., training organization that seeks to instill in teachers and administrators the belief that all children can learn.

Mr. Crew has made one Efficacy Institute official a member of his transition team.

A Soon-To-Be-Scuttled Ship?

Mr. Thompson, of the New York school board, last week hailed Mr. Crew as “a believer in continuing to strengthen standards and increase accountability.”

“Simply put, I believe that Rudy Crew has the energy, vision, and capacity to lead this system of more than one million students,” Mr. Thompson said.

Yet, developments in Albany last week could profoundly change the system Mr. Crew has been asked to run.

Gov. George E. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, and six of Mr. Bruno’s Republican colleagues in the state Senate joined Mr. Giuliani in calling for abolishing the city’s central board and chancellor, and for placing most control over the schools in the mayor’s hands.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, convened a separate “summit” late last week in an effort to find common ground between the board and the mayor.

A version of this article appeared in the October 18, 1995 edition of Education Week as Tacoma Schools Chief Tapped for N.Y.C. Post


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