VINCENT REED is out -- the battle to keep him on as superintendent was lost. But 100,000 students and their teachers remain in D.C. public schools. And the need for continued concern about the schools remains too. In fact, the obligation to do something to help the schools keep moving in the forward direction set by Mr. Reed is greater now than it was before his retirement. In the next few months, the school system will choose a new board president and a new superintendent while an acting superintendent tries to hold the show together. These difficulties would be enough to threaten the well-being of a public school system with a good history. In the District, the pressures on a shaky school system endanger the very future of public education here.
At the top of any list of things that can be done to prevent the schools from becoming little more than public baby-sitting arrangements for parents who can't pay for a private of parochial education for their children is this: replacing the school board. Note: we did not say getting rid of an elected school board and putting an appointed board in its place. Even the present school board's awful performance in December, when it failed to avert the critical loss of Mr. Reed, has not convinced us that an elected school board could not work in this town. What is not working is the group of people now on the board. Every last one of them is responsible for Vincent Reed's resignation and shares blame for the system's currently endangered condition. Short of being offered the board members' resignations, the voters can get five of them out of office in November. Those five up for reelection are R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), Alaire Rieffel (Ward 2), Carol Schwartz (Ward 3), Frank Shaffer-Corona (at-large) and Barbara Lett-Simmons (at-large). No one would argue that one or two of these people have not made some contributions to the schools. But they have done nothing of sufficient importance to outweigh the fact that this is the time for a completely new board -- one liberated from the lingering history of cliques and bickering that has undermined District school board performance since the controversial tenure of superintendent Barbara Sizemore.
The only way a new school board can be elected is for the public to decide that the school board election is an important election, an election deserving to engage more than 14 percent of the registered voters at the polls. Fourteen percent of the voters is all that turned out for the last school board election; the low turnout allows low-quality candidates to be elected to the board without any serious review of who they are or what they stand for. But the voters' efforts will not be enough if good people don't run for the school board to replace the current crop. A slate of candidates would be a good idea and should be explored.
To finish the school year without further disruption, the school board and school system administrators, including the acting superintendent, Dr. James T. Guines, should continue to support Vincent Reed's programs -- at least through the end of this school year. This is no time for innovation; it is time to keep things on track.
The second task, selecting a new permanent superintendent, will have to be done with an eye on the candidates' experience and success as school administrators. The District schools don't need a genius with revolutionary educational ideas. They need a hard-working person who can inspire others to hard work. They need a person who views the object of his job as getting children to read and write. And preferably, the new superintendent should come out of the District schools. We have seen nationwide searches conducted here and the results they have produced. The thought of a repeat of those disruptive, chaotic episodes prompts nightmares.
The third task, the selection of a new school board president, is less important than the other two, but as shown by the current board president, bad things happen when less than able people have the job. Mr. Lockridge, Mr. Warren, Mr. Shaffer-Corona, Mrs. Schwartz and Mrs. Lett-Simmons are not school board president material, having been party to all the shameful backbiting and time-wasting that has characterized this board and made it a joke.
But above all, the future of the schools rests with residents of this city who should not put the school on a back burner now that Mr. Reed is gone. The city has had its consciousness raised on this matter. We should not go back to our old ways. The past election of the incumbents who populate the current board should serve as a warning of what happens when apathy reigns.