- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

A top candidate to run D.C. public schools said yesterday he will wait until city officials decide whether the mayor or school board should oversee the school system before he considers taking the job of superintendent.

“I want to make sure that the governance of the school system over the next four years is stable,” said Carl A. Cohn, who ran the 96,500-student Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District for a record-setting 10 years. He left the job in 2002 to teach at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Cohn, 58, who was the first to require kindergartners through eighth-graders to wear uniforms to schools, met in California yesterday with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams; school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz; council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat; and council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

“They’re hoping to convince [Mr. Cohn] to be our next superintendent,” said Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mr. Williams.

Mr. Cohn has emerged as the leading candidate among three known finalists to replace former Superintendent Paul L. Vance, who retired in November.

Although Mr. Cohn also wants to speak with his wife and two children this weekend before making a decision about the job, his primary concern is the unresolved debate about who will run the city’s school system of roughly 65,000 students in 167 schools and learning centers.

Mr. Williams has proposed making the school system a Cabinet-level agency under his control, but a majority of council members have voted in favor of keeping power with the nine-member school board.

Another finalist for the D.C. job, Superintendent Stephen C. Jones of the Syracuse (N.Y.) City School District, also said the governance debate should be resolved.

“Clearly, the question of who is in charge is an issue with any superintendent,” he said.

Mr. Jones said he has had no “substantive talks” with D.C. officials in the past two weeks.

Former United Airlines executive Candy Lee also has been mentioned as a candidate.

“In terms of her business background, it seems like she has the skills,” said Iris Toyer, co-chairman of Parents United for D.C. Schools.

Miss Toyer said she would be happy with any of the three finalists.

However, she criticized Mr. Williams yesterday for his involvement in the search.

“It’s unfortunate that the mayor says, ‘This is the candidate we want’ before the details get worked out because it’s a slap in the face of all of the other candidates,” she said.

Mr. Cohn became a top candidate last month after Rudolph F. Crew, former New York City schools chancellor, accepted the job of superintendent of the Miami-Dade school district.

Mr. Bullock said during that time that the next D.C. school superintendent could be offered a compensation package of about $350,000 a year.

Former colleagues of Mr. Cohn lauded his job performance yesterday, saying he worked well with the school board, parents and community groups.

Under Mr. Cohn’s direction, the Long Beach district achieved record attendance, the lowest rate of student suspensions in a decade, a decrease in both student failure and dropout rates, an end to social promotion and an increase in the number of students taking college prep courses, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper.

Before Mr. Cohn left the Long Beach district in 2002, he held the record for the nation’s longest incumbency among active urban school superintendents.

“He’s very astute politically,” said Mary Stanton, one of five members of the Long Beach school board. “He’s a political junkie. He knows that you follow your path when you’re right, but he also knows to build coalitions.”

Mr. Cohn helped reach out to parents in Long Beach through monthly forums called “Cookies with Carl,” said Richard Van Der Laan, public-information officer for the school district.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said yesterday that he disagreed with the mayor’s proposal to take over the school system, but he lauded the decision by the mayor and other officials to fly to California to meet with Mr. Cohn.

“It says to me that here is the candidate who is the best, and there is still a possibility,” he said. “It would be a great disappointment if we were unable to land him.”

Mr. Cohn was the first black superintendent in the Long Beach school system, California’s fourth largest. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at St. John’s Seminary College, a master’s degree in counseling at Chapman University, and a doctorate in urban education policy and planning at the University of California at Los Angles.

Mr. Cohn said he viewed improving the performance of D.C. schools with “missionary zeal.”

“I think it’s important, whether it’s me or somebody else, that the youngsters in the nation’s capital are not left behind,” he said.

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