THE SELECTION of Clifford B. Janey as the District's fifth regular school superintendent in a decade may tempt those involved in the search process to declare victory and merrily return to their day jobs. That would be a mistake. A sober appraisal of their performance is in order. After all, the individuals who contributed the most to the search fiasco -- D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and Council member Kevin P. Chavous -- will, by virtue of their official positions, still loom large in the life of the next superintendent. Unless there is a major change in how these public officials deal with the school system, the city may find itself back in superintendent search mode.
Of course, the appointment of Mr. Janey, an experienced educator with strong credentials and a 30-year track record, is a welcome development after months of wasteful and drawn-out proceedings that had little to do with the education of children. If the assessment of Mr. Janey by urban education authorities is correct, he comes to the District with the operational skills and background in instruction and curriculum that could make him equal to the task of improving one of the nation's lowest-performing urban school systems. He certainly will need all the help he can get. It is the nature of that assistance, however, that ought to be a chief concern of parents and supporters of public education alike.
The last thing the new superintendent needs is micromanagement. The petty machinations of school board members and city politicians have been the ruin of various past superintendents, including Paul L. Vance, who abruptly resigned in November. Mr. Janey's tenure should be marked by a new set of ground rules.
First, the new superintendent must not share the job of operating and maintaining the school system with the mayor, the school board or the council. The job of running the school system is his, not theirs. In addition, Mr. Janey -- not elected or appointed officials outside of the school system -- is responsible for administering the program to raise academic achievement. And as long as Mr. Janey is operating within the law and written school board policies, he -- not they -- should decide all supervisory and administrative details and the duties and responsibilities of people working in the system.
We stress that which should be obvious because these essential points have been lost on city leaders who day after day try to outdo each other as overseers of the schools. They have failed to recognize their limitations as stewards of the school system, and, judging by their chaotic search for a school chief, their collective inability to perform the simplest task without turning the entire undertaking into a melodrama. At this stage, the best contribution they can make to D.C. public education is to step back and allow Mr. Janey to take on the task of raising academic achievement and changing a system badly in need of reform. When called on, they should come; they should provide political and financial support where needed. And they should be prepared to run interference when the superintendent's reforms encounter roadblocks -- as will happen. But the days of the council, the mayor and, yes, Congress, playing school board must end. School board members must behave as policymakers, not principals or personnel directors. The search has ended. A new day in public education for the sake of D.C. children must begin.