- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

The recent ouster of Miami-Dade Public Schools’ top administrator Rudy Crew, who was named the nation’s top superintendent just seven months ago, marks the latest clash between a high-profile urban administrator and an elected school board that some experts have dubbed a “revolving door” in education.

Mr. Crew, a nationally recognized school reformer and author who once led the New York City public school district, negotiated a $368,000 buyout of his contract Sept. 11 after political infighting and a budget shortfall in excess of $250 million polarized the country’s fourth-largest school district.

Some educators said Mr. Crew’s departure was inevitable.

“Running a large urban school system has become almost an impossible job,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), which honored Mr. Crew, 58, as National Superintendent of the Year in February.

Mr. Domenech, who once helmed the schools in Fairfax County, defended Mr. Crew’s tenure in Miami-Dade, noting that he fell victim to political struggles similar to those that have marred the success of urban public school administrators across the country.

“The benchmarks would indicate that academically, he was doing a very good job down there. He’s a very popular writer and speaker on the education circuit, and he has a passion for kids and excellence in schools,” said Mr. Domenech, who decried the increasingly political nature of elected school boards as an impediment to administrators and student progress.

“With boards that are elected, when things are not going the way they like it go, they rail against the one person they can rail against, and that’s the superintendent,” he said, comparing the role of superintendent to that of the coach of a popular home team that isn’t doing very well.

“You can’t get rid of all of the players, so you get rid of the coach,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the long run, it does them no good to have this revolving door. They never have the longevity that you need to have in a school system for programs to set in and for progress to be made over the long term.”

According to data supplied by Market Data Retrieval and released by the AASA, between the 2005 and 2006 school years, 13,251 school boards hired 2,244 superintendents. The number, denoting a national annual turnover rate for superintendents is near 17 percent, is similar to previous years, which means that about 17 percent of districts annually are seeking superintendents in a given year.

According to the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, the average tenure for an urban superintendent is just 3.1 years.

Mr. Domenech noted that Mr. Crew, whose contract would have extended until 2010, outlasted that mark. Still, Mr. Crew was not on the job long enough to enact sweeping reforms or see the kind of changes that students need.

“It can’t be done in 3.1 years,” Mr. Domenech added, noting an increasing shortage of skilled school administrators. “It really requires much longer than that.”

Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, said being an urban superintendent requires an educator who can navigate like a politician, but often that’s a complicated skill. Even the most determined often run afoul of personality struggles and local control.

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