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D.C. School Board Chief Won't Run Again

"This job takes an enormous amount of energy," says D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. (Lucian Perkins/Post)

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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Peggy Cooper Cafritz, in the sixth year of a sometimes tumultuous tenure as D.C. school board president, said she has decided not to seek reelection in November.

Cafritz said in an interview last week that she wants to spend more time with her 14-year-old son and resume taking in foster children.

"I want my life back," she said. She also said that much of what she set out to do -- modernizing schools, establishing new academic standards and getting rid of uncertified teachers -- is in the works and that it is someone else's turn to fight the battle.

"This job takes an enormous amount of energy -- physical, mental, emotional, psychic and empathetic energy," she said, munching potato chips as she rested her feet on the podium after Wednesday's board meeting.

Few people who know Cafritz are indifferent about her, and she has made as many enemies as friends.

To her supporters, she is a crusader who has shined a light on incompetent teachers and dishonest contractors and gone head-to-head with the high and mighty, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), when he tried to take control of the school system. To her detractors, she is a volatile figure who has bullied colleagues and made ill-advised comments that have harmed the school system's image.

Cafritz, 59, was elected president in November 2000 as the federally appointed D.C. financial control board was about to relinquish its authority over the school system and put the school board back in charge. She won reelection without opposition in 2002, despite efforts by some business leaders to recruit someone to run against her. She is the only D.C. school board president to have been elected citywide rather than by board members.

No one has announced plans to run for the presidency this year. Board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham, one of the panel's appointed members, has reportedly told friends that she is considering running but declined to comment last week when asked about her plans. Board member Jeff Smith (District 1) said he will announce soon whether he will run for the job.

Cafritz, who co-founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington and has an eclectic background as a documentary film producer, art collector and community activist, promoted herself during her first campaign as an outsider who could shake up the school system. But whether she was good for the system is a matter of lively debate.

"I am not certain that her leadership style was the best fit for the Board of Education," said Iris Toyer, co-chairwoman of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools. "She tends to be dictatorial, shutting down conversation."

Under Cafritz, "the board cut down the amount of time for public comments," Toyer added. "You get the feeling it's an absolute bother for them to hear from the public."

Others argue that Cafritz deserves credit for giving Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who took office in 2004, more authority by disbanding school board committees that were micromanaging the school system. They also cite her role in commissioning independent studies that examined some of the system's major flaws.


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