New Year Brings Top-Level Changes In Several Big Districts

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Midyear leadership shuffles at a handful of the nation's largest school systems promise to bring new direction—and in some cases continued uncertainty—as 2000 begins.

Ruben Olivarez

A new superintendent is in place for the San Antonio schools, while searches for chief executives continue in Detroit and Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas. And Philadelphia begins the new year with the city's first-ever education secretary and the prospect of a school board turnover in March.

Philadelphia's newly elected mayor, Democrat John F. Street, who under a new city charter has the power to appoint the nine-member school board, has tapped former school board member Debra Kahn as his top education advisor. While observers are waiting to learn precisely what role she will play in K-12 education, Ms. Kahn is no stranger to city government and says she has a clear understanding of her mission.

"The mayor has made it very clear public education is right up there among his highest priorities," she said last week, "but it's not something he can personally do every day. I'm here to help carry out his agenda."

Ms. Kahn, who is the executive director of Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization that guides students toward college degrees, was careful to point out she was not seeking to be "super-superintendent" of the 215,000-student system.

Rather, she plans to leave the daily management of the schools to Superintendent David W. Hornbeck—whom she helped bring to the district in 1994.

For his part, Mr. Hornbeck praised her appointment. "The fact that Debbie helped create the agenda we've been pursuing for the last five and a half years is all to the good," the superintendent said last week. "Her appointment is a win-win all the way around."

Movement Elsewhere

In other news, the Detroit school board has decided to continue its search for a superintendent to replace interim chief David Adamany, even after the panel picked two educators last month as finalists.

John W. Thompson, the superintendent of the Tulsa, Okla., schools, and former Atlanta schools chief J. Jerome Harris are still in the running, but the board is holding off on a final decision in the hope of drawing candidates with military or business experience.

Recruiting prospective schools chiefs with such nontraditional backgrounds was a goal laid out at the beginning of the search, said Michelle Zdrodowski, a spokeswoman for Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix. Mr. Hendrix is the president of the seven-member school board appointed last March after the state legislature gave control of the city schools to Mayor Dennis W. Archer.

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Harris are scheduled to be reinterviewed Jan. 15. But Mr. Thompson did not make the final list of State Treasurer Mike Murray, who, as Gov. John Engler's sole appointee to the district's reform school board, has veto power.

Still, the board plans to have a new chief executive in place for the 174,000-student district by late this month or early February, Ms. Zdrodowski said.

The Clark County, Nev., schools were also due for a new superintendent by now, but residents of one of the nation's fastest-growing districts will have to wait a while longer. The two finalists for the top job in the 217,000-student district—West Virginia state Superintendent Henry Marockie and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph J. Redden—withdrew from consideration last month.

San Antonio schools, on the other hand, netted their new superintendent: Dallas "dropout czar" Ruben Olivarez, who was hired Dec. 14 to run the 57,000-student Texas district.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo, N.Y., school board has bought out the contract of Superintendent James Harris. Mr. Harris' grants department is being investigated by the Erie County district attorney for alleged embezzlement and misuse of federal grant money. But school board spokesman Andrew Maddigan said last week the probe was not among the reasons for the termination of Mr. Harris' contract.

Vol. 19, Issue 17, Page 14

Published in Print: January 12, 2000, as New Year Brings Top-Level Changes In Several Big Districts
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