There probably should be a few more scars, considering the battlegrounds Larry Cuban has trooped along during his nearly six years as superintendent of Arlington schools.
But when the highly acclaimed, and highly criticized, Cuban leaves office nine days from now, he leaves relatively unscathed -- so much so that he thinks he might reenlist as a superintendent somewhere else after a brief respite to write a book.
I've really enjoyed the superintendency," Cuban said recently. "After writing and teaching for a few years, I do want to come back to this type of position."
Cuban is resigning his $53,600 a year job to take a research grant to write a book on teaching techniques.
He says there are many things he will miss when he leaves the school system March 1: his weekly open houses for parents and teachers; he occasional forays into classrooms to "stay in touch" with the nerve center of the school system; his chats with the children, who, he says with amusement, like to call him Gomer Pyle because he reminded them of the ambling character from the television series.
At the same time, Cuban probably will not miss his uneasy relaitionship with the Arlington County Board. Over the years, Cuban and the board have tangled frequently over educational and financial philosophies. Recently, with the shift of power to a GOP majority, those feuds have become more pronounced.
But the low point of his superintendency, according to Cuban himself, came 2 1/2 years ago when county teachers, angered by his recommendation that pay increases he held to 2 percent, called for his resignation.
Still, Cuban's steewardship, both teachers' salaries and students test scores in Arlington are now the highest in Northern Virginia. And he has overseen the introduction of several programs to meet the needs of a dwindling, yet increasingly multi-ethnic, enrollment of 15,146 students.
Cuban counts as his greatest achievement "the fact that a school system can get smaller and culturally diverse and still have a first-rate education by any standards. It's extraordinary, given all the trauma and criticism, that the school system cannot only promise we can do well, but deliver by any measure of success.
"It's very important that parents and staff see you can go through all these terrible controversies involving the closing of schools, budget cuts, reduction of personnel and you can survive and do well."
Cuban describes the superintendent's post as a "high-conflict" job. "The nature of Arlington is that it's a high-conflict community because of its polarization politically," he says. "But I happen to find that intriguing and facinating."
Observers consider one of Cuban's strong points to be his independence; it is a trait Cuban would like to see in greater evidence on the school board.
He is particularly disturbed by the County Board's insistence on suggesting spending "guidelines" to the school board; guidelines that Cuban says he has always exceeded, based in his professional judgment on the actual financial needs of the schools. Cuban, who in the past two weeks was criticized strongly by County Board members for introducing a budget well over this year's guidelines, suggests that the school board would do well to follow his lead.
"The current school board (which is Republican dominated) appears to be taking orders from the County Board," Cuban said."From my point of view, a school board has separate, incompatible interests from those of the County Board and, therefore, has to represent the school system's interests in a partisan, agressive way. If the school board becomes 'Courthouse West,' then that will be a loss to the entire community of an independent voice for children and employes."
Cuban believes Arlington schools will face two major problems in the future: continuing enrollment declines and a distressing plunge in teacher morale because of low pay.
"While Arlington teachers and administrators are highly paid by Virginia standards, they do have a deep sense that they're unrecognized by the larger community for their contributions," Cuban said.
Cuban said he is disturbed by the public's apparent loss of respect for the teaching profession, especially since teachers are "in the most important business you can be in -- the shaping of young people's lives."
Restoring public confidence in teaching, he contends, means that you have to provide the resources needed to get the job done.
Asked what advice he would give his successor, Cuban said, "Find out as best you can what teachers and principals are thinking by observing first-hand. Because if you don't know what's happening in the classrooms, there's very little chance you can give instructional leadership.
"And don't get upset by any conflict. It's as natural as the sun rising every day here.