N.Y.C. Educator Is Named Chief in Cleveland

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A longtime educator credited with raising achievement at several of New York City's worst schools has been named the new head of the Cleveland school system.

Mayor Michael R. White, who recently took the reins of the embattled district, last week named Barbara Byrd-Bennett, 48, the district's new chief executive officer. Her four-year contract pays $155,000 a year.

At a visit to a Cleveland elementary school on the day she was named, Ms. Byrd-Bennett said her tenure would be one of marked change, according to The Associated Press.

"This is not about compromise. This is not about mediocrity," she was quoted as telling the crowd of students and staff members. "This is about high standards of excellence that will allow our youngsters to compete in the global market."

Ms. Byrd-Bennett could not be reached for further comment last week.

The new district chief began working in education as an elementary school teacher 22 years ago in New York. She went on to serve as principal of a Manhattan school from 1984 to 1992 and as the superintendent of New York's District 17, which includes Crown Heights and Flatbush, from 1992 to 1996.

As the head of the community district, she was recognized for raising mathematics and reading scores and filling a number of principal vacancies.

In 1996, Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew named Ms. Byrd-Bennett supervising superintendent of the city's "chancellor's district," which includes the system's lowest-performing schools. There, she drew praise for working with the teachers' union and, most recently, helping move five of the district's 10 schools singled out by the state for low performance off its list of failing schools.

"We had a good working relationship with her," said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the 120,000-member United Federation of Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. "That's not to say we always saw eye to eye," but she included the union in school improvement plans, he said.

Welcomed by Union

Ms. Bennett's new appointment comes as part of a fundamental change in the governance of the Cleveland district, which, with 77,000 students, is Ohio's largest school system.

A state law passed last year returned the district to local control in September, more than three years after a federal judge put the state in charge.

In a setup similar to those in Chicago and Boston, the law gave Mr. White the power to appoint his own nine-member school board, which was previously elected, and handpick a chief executive. ("In Cleveland, Mayor White Takes Control," Sept. 16, 1998.)

Representatives of the 5,000-member Cleveland Teachers' Union, which had once opposed mayoral control but has since acquiesced, say they are encouraged by Ms. Byrd-Bennett's reputation for working with teachers.

"We're really excited to work with her because of her willingness to see the teachers' union as one of the building blocks to turning around low-performing schools," said Michael Charney, the director of professional issues for the union, an AFT affiliate.

Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 3

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as N.Y.C. Educator Is Named Chief in Cleveland
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