Wary of past experiences with out-of-town experts, the D.C. School Board is focusing its initial search for a new superintendent on the Washington suburbs and the school system itself.
Contending that race is not an issue in choosing the next head of the city's school system, which has a 97 percent black enrollment, board members have informally drawn a list of candidates who share past or present experience in the city's school system.
"I think anyone who comes in with a knowledge of how unique this system is has a leg up on anyone else, " newly elected board President Eugene Kinlow said yesterday. But he said he would not rule out a nationwide search for a new school head.
Before the appointment in 1975 of Vincent E. Reed, who retired Dec. 31, the system went through six superintendents in eight years. Many felt Reed's stewardship brought stability to the city schools not only because of its duration, five years, but because Reed came from the ranks of those teachers and administrators under his direction.
Board members yesterday named as likely contenders for the job Arlington Country school superintendent Larry Cuban, who is resigning from his current post in March; Floretta McKenzie, who served as acting superintendent of D.C. schools in the early 1970s and is now a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education; and Margaret Labat, the current assistant superintendent for communications and public relations, who was once school superintendent in Evanston, Ill.
Also under consideration are two regional superintendents: Gary Freeman, who oversees schools in the Northeast region of the city, and Reuben G. Pierce, who is in charge of schools in Anacostia and originated the successful math-science program at Ballou High School. Pierce was the first regional suprintendent to end social promotions -- the practice of promoting students more on the basis of age than academic achievement.
Board members mentioned Andrew Jenkins, who has held a number of administrative positions in the system from principal to regional superintendent in charge of schools in far Southeast. He is currently associate superintendent of the newly created office of educational operations.
Acting superintendent James T. Guines, who was the system's chief curriculum officer before taking over Reed's post and has so far enjoyed good relations with the board, has said he does not want the job permanently and plans to step down July 1.
Cuban, who worked in the D.C. school system from 1963 to 1972 and is the only white among those mentioned, said yesterday, "I am flattered by even the suggestion that I could be considered a successor to a superintendent I admired as a colleague and a friend. But I am not interested in seeking another superintendentship. I intend to write a book, do research and teach for a while."
McKenzie, who until last year was deputy superintendent of the Montgomery County schools, said she "hadn't given any thought" to seeking Reed's job and had not yet been approached by any board member.
Pierce and Freeman also said they were flattered to hear that their names have been mentioned, but they were not sure yet if they wanted the job. "My immediate concern is in supporting Dr. Guines and seeing that the system doesn't lose any ground with the resignation of Dr. Reed. . . But I wouldn't rule out [applying for the job]," Pierce said.
Jenkins and Labat could not be reached for comment.
Though several members said yesterday that race will not be a factor in choosing the new superintendent, at-large board member Barbara Lett Simmons said, "It would be quite a commentary on the board if it could not find a competent, able school administrator who is black to serve the children of a system that is 97 percent black." Eight of the 11 board members are black.
Simmons also said she will be "especially looking" for a woman to take Reed's place.
Board members have indicated over the last few weeks that they are looking for a superintendent who is willing to work closely with the board and who will share the view of a majority of the board members that the board, not the superintendent, should be running the city schools.
When Reed announced his resignation, he complained that board members had chipped away at this authority to run the day-to-day operations of the schools. He also alleged continuing personal conflicts with four members of the board.
One member of the board who could heavily influence the search for a new superintendent is R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), one of Reed's harshest critics. Lockridge was board president until Kinlow's election Wednesday.
In his last major act as president, Lockridge named to the seach committee for a new superintendent, board members Kinlow, as chairman, Alaire B. Rieffel (Ward 2) and newly elected vice president Bettie G. Benjamin (Ward 5). The citizen members are A. Knighton Stanley, pastor of the People's Congregational Church, former corporation counsel Charles T. Duncan and local attorney Dan Speigel. Conspicuously missing was any member of the D.C. Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations.
Kinlow said yesterday, however, that he may disband the committee chosen by Lockridge and appoint one of his own.