School & District Management

Tell-All Book Offers Insight Into Board Politics

By Robert C. Johnston — October 04, 2000 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For anyone who wants an inside look at how a superintendent and his board deal with the challenges of a major public school system, Donald R. McAdams serves up details in his new book, Fighting To Save Public Schools... and Winning! Lessons From Houston.

Donald R. McAdams

Mr. McAdams, a current Houston school board member who served on the panel with Rod Paige, now the district’s superintendent, declares unabashedly in the opening sentence that “this is a story of an intrepid band of school reformers who, against all odds, turned around one of the nation’s largest urban school districts.”

Published last spring by Teachers College Press, the 293-page, first-person account by the 10-year board veteran has enough meat for the policy wonk, with enough tell-all flavor to make it a good read.

“I wrote the book because I believe that urban school reform is a national priority, and writing about the Houston experience would not only help Houston, but the public in other urban areas,” said Mr. McAdams, 59, the father of two Houston public school students who directs the Center for Reform of School Systems at the University of Houston.

The improvement-minded group, which included Mr. Paige, coalesced in 1990 around a statement of its vision and beliefs that still guides the Houston Independent School District today.

To advance its policies, which called for decentralizing authority and strengthening accountability for student and staff performance, the board gently and not-so- gently shed itself of Superintendents Joan Raymond and Frank Petruzielo.

“We knew the stakes were high,” Mr. McAdams recalls of devising a strategy with board colleagues to terminate Ms. Raymond’s contract in 1991. “If we tried to fire her and failed, HISD would be in chaos.”

In the dramatic tone that runs through the book, he writes of the moment when the deciding vote was cast: “There was a gasp from the gallery. Joan Raymond was finished.”

When Mr. Petruzielo was recruited to lead the Broward County, Fla., schools, Mr. McAdams writes, the board was too tired by bruised relations between the chief and the city over his tax requests to tempt him to stay. “HISD was better for Frank’s coming,” he writes. “It would also be better for his leaving.”

‘Damned for Arrogance’

Readers also get a peek into the private maneuvering between Mr. McAdams and other board members to urge Mr. Paige to consider applying for the superintendent’s job. Once Mr. Paige acknowledged his interest, a cabal scrambled to avoid a national search and get enough pro-Paige votes when the right time came.

The ensuing uproar over Mr. Paige’s selection divided the community, as Hispanics charged they had been left out. Tensions grew so heated that the state education department threatened to sanction the district, a move stopped by then-Gov. Ann Richards.

“Rod, meanwhile, proved to be a brilliant superintendent,” Mr. McAdams writes. “Still, just as universally, the board members who selected him were damned for arrogance, stupidity, and worse for selecting him the way they did.”

As the book retraces pivotal decisions over nearly a decade, board members are often portrayed as mired in political self-interest, while district employee groups come across as powerful, turf-protecting obstructionists fearful of the new focus on student accountability.

When the reform-minded majority is threatened by elections in 1995, Mr. Paige and his backers on the board resort to hardball to protect their interests, recruiting candidates and encouraging business leaders to support them.

When the votes came in and the news was good, Mr. McAdams writes: “The room erupted in shouts and applause. The reform of HISD would continue.”

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management School Districts Showcase What's Working to Improve Student Learning
School leaders from 13 districts shared strategies at a national summit by AASA, the School Superintendents Association.
3 min read
David Schuler, superintendent of High School District 214 near Chicago, Ill., speaks about college and career readiness during a presentation at AASA's first annual Learning 2025 Summit on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Washington, D.C. High School District 214 is one of 13 "lighthouse" districts that were recognized for innovative work to improve school systems.
David Schuler, superintendent of High School District 214 near Chicago, speaks about college and career readiness at a summit in Washington.
Libby Stanford/Education Week
School & District Management Schools Prefer Cheaper Ventilation Options to Curb COVID: Why They Should Consider Upgrading
Most schools are opening windows and hosting class outdoors rather than investing in costlier, more-effective measures.
2 min read
Students from PS 11 Elementary School participate in art projects and interactive activities, during an after-school outdoor program held in the High Line park in New York, NY, October 21, 2020.
Students from PS 11 Elementary School participate in art projects and interactive activities during an after-school outdoor program in New York City in 2020. Many schools are opting for outdoor classes and other-low cost measures to maintain healthy air quality during the pandemic.
Anthony Behar/Sipa via AP Images
School & District Management Interactive Hour by Busy Hour: What a Principal's Day Actually Looks Like
From the time they wake up until they set the alarm at night, school leaders juggle the routine, the unexpected, and the downright bizarre.
Left, Principal Michael C. Brown talks on a radio at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., on May 17, 2022. Right, Boone Elementary School principal Manuela Haberer directs students and parents in the pick-up line at the conclusion of the school day on May 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
Left, Principal Michael C. Brown talks on a radio at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., on May 17, 2022. Right, Boone Elementary School principal Manuela Haberer directs students and parents in the pick-up line at the conclusion of the school day on May 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
From left, Steve Ruark and Lisa Krantz for Education Week
School & District Management Photos What School Leadership Looks Like: A Day in the Life of a Principal
A look at a typical day for one elementary school principal in Texas and a high school principal in Maryland.
1 min read
Principal Michael C. Brown, from left, talks to seniors Brady D’Anthony, 18, and Sydney Dryden, 17, at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Principal Michael C. Brown, from left, talks to seniors Brady D’Anthony, 18, and Sydney Dryden, 17, at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Steve Ruark for Education Week