School & District Management

New Superintendents Taking Helm In Big-City Districts

By Alan Richard & Robert C. Johnston — April 19, 2000 4 min read

The fast-growing Clark County, Nev., school district has named a new superintendent, while leadership changes in several other big-city systems, including New York and Pittsburgh, continued to unfold last week.

Carlos A. Garcia, the superintendent in Fresno, Calif., since 1997, will start his new job in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, in July.

His salary, under a four-year contract that the school board approved April 6, will be $200,000, plus possible performance bonuses and other additions that could bring the total to $268,000 a year.

‘Warp Speed’

Mr. Garcia will take over the nation’s eighth-largest district at a time when teachers have entered arbitration over their contract and as civic leaders have lingering concerns about the district’s low graduation rates.

The new Clark County schools chief said last week that he looked forward to the challenge of leading such a rapidly changing district.

“That was just a real thrill and a challenge to think they open up a school a month, and that they’re growing 1,000 students a month,” the 48-year-old administrator said. “They’re moving at warp speed while all of us are moving at Mach 1 or something.”

Mr. Garcia will be the first Hispanic leader in a district that has seen Hispanic enrollment blossom to about 25 percent of its 217,000 students. He will replace the retiring Brian Cram, who has been the superintendent for 11 years.

In Fresno, an 80,000-student district in central California, Mr. Garcia helped restructure the district office into a “service provider” that responds to calls for help from schools, allowing them more local control. He also created an accountability system, helped ensure that schools were teaching to the same academic standards, and began requiring all 9th graders to take algebra.

“Everything is data-driven,” Mr. Garcia said, adding that he would spend the coming months assessing the needs in the Las Vegas-area schools. “I’m not one of these guys where I’m going to go in there and in a month change everything,” he said. “I think it’d be disrespectful to their community.”

He said he sees himself as a teacher first, an image that could serve him well as Clark County teachers and district officials bicker over contract negotiations.

The new chief said he hopes to work with businesses to address one of the district’s most pressing problems: Employers in the area, with its booming economy led by the tourism and casino sectors, often attract teenagers to decent-paying, service-industry jobs, prompting them to drop out of school.

Mr. Garcia added that he would encourage businesses to “hire [students] but let us keep educating them while they work for you.”

Military Leadership

On the other side of the country, South Carolina’s largest school district will have a new leader drawn from the military ranks.

William Harner, 43, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, will become the superintendent of the 60,000-student Greenville County district.

The former West Point instructor and chief of operations at Fort Campbell, Ky., joins a small group of retired military officers who became superintendents in larger school districts, including the District of Columbia, New Orleans, and Seattle.

As of last week, Mr. Harner’s contract had yet to be approved by the Greenville County school board. Now a high school principal on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, Mr. Harner will replace the retiring Rudolph Gordon.

In Oklahoma, however, springtime finds two large districts without full-time superintendents.

The 40,000-student Oklahoma City school system lost its superintendent after the board there voted April 6 to terminate the contract of Marvin Crawford, effective April 14. Mr. Crawford had been the superintendent since 1995.

“He was the right leader for the district at the time,” district spokeswoman Cynthia Reid said last week. “But the board was ready for new leadership.”

During Mr. Crawford’s tenure, the Oklahoma City district eliminated mandatory busing for desegregation, converted all its secondary schools to neighborhood schools, and created more than 20 schools of choice, including the first charter school in the state. Mr. Crawford’s severance package is worth more than $320,000.

Delay in Pittsburgh

Meanwhile, Tulsa’s former superintendent, John Thompson, was still waiting last week for the school board in Pittsburgh to finalize his contract to lead schools there.

Mr. Thompson, who has headed up the 43,000-student Tulsa system since 1994, has been named the new superintendent in Pittsburgh, although the city’s school board cancelled its April 13 meeting at which a final contract was expected to be announced.

Citing minor problems in the proposed contract, board members postponed a decision on the document until they meet April 19.

Mr. Thompson would become the first African-American to become a permanent superintendent of the 40,000-student school system.

In January, he was tapped by a majority of the Detroit school board to lead that city’s 174,000-student system.

But his selection was blocked under a state law that gives Gov. John Engler’s lone appointee to the Detroit board, State Treasurer Mark Murray, veto power.

Looking in New York

New York City’s search for a chancellor to replace Rudolph F. Crew, who stepped down in January, took a major turn last week when interim Chancellor Harold O. Levy announced he wants the official title.

“The job he has done has to be evaluated,” said New York City school board President William C. Thompson. “I think he’s done a good job. It gives him a leg up.”

A final decision on who will lead the 1.1 million-student system is expected by June.

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as New Superintendents Taking Helm In Big-City Districts

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