- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

D.C. officials introduced their choice for schools chief on Wednesday, and to hear them and him, improvements are ahead. Our question is this: Will there be mere changes or substantial reforms?

Clifford B. Janey, 58, has a 30-year career as an educator, most recently as a vice president with the educational publisher Scholastic Inc. and before that as superintendent of schools in Rochester, N.Y. (1995-2002). He spoke Wednesday of three priorities — raising students’ academic performance, improving high schools and monitoring preschool programs. He also said that he has no “silver bullet,” a wise concession indeed.

Mr. Janey, like the superintendents before him, has both critics and supporters. And just as those superintendents promised improvements, so, too, has Mr. Janey. While we are certain Mr. Janey knows the difference between the word “change” and the word “reform,” only time will tell which will come to define his administration.

To his credit, Mr. Janey’s supporters and detractors use adjectives such as “bold’ and “risk-taker.” During his seven years in Rochester, for example, reading and math scores improved, and Rochester schools won compliance with a court decree regarding special-education programs. Mr. Janey also improved a failing high school by splitting it up into three academies. (The D.C. school-within-a-school programs, like overall test scores, still don’t measure up.)

Yet with those and other accomplishments under his belt, we are seriously concerned that Mr. Janey left Rochester schools with a $45 million deficit. It’s worth noting that, during Mr. Janey’s tenure, Rochester had but 36,000 students versus 68,000 in the District. If contract negotiations succeed, Mr. Janey will inherit a billion-dollar school system with 64,000 students — and a history of tens of millions in cost overruns in the last four consecutive years. In fact, at this time last year, City Hall was alarmed when school authorities said they had no money for teacher raises.

The announcement of the Janey appointment ends a protracted search that actually began in 2000, when veteran educator Paul Vance said he would stay a year or so. School officials and City Hall waited until after Mr. Vance finally stepped down last fall to begin searching for a permanent and highly qualified chief executive to run schools. Even then, they lost their way. And while some officials appeared to show solidarity on Wednesday, we expect sniping as early as the fall, when Mr. Janey gets down to the serious business of drawing up a budget for the 2005-06 school year.

In the interim, we offer Clifford Janey our best Washington welcome. He appears to be a better fit in the chief executive’s chair than the school board’s last two choices.

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