vincent E. Reed said yesterday that he is tired of five years of personal antagonism and pitched battle with the D.C. Board of Education and is resigning Dec. 31 as superintendent of the city's troubled public school system.
"I didn't want to go. My whole life is wrapped up in this system," Reed said in an interview yesterday. "But if they're going to turn me into a straw man -- a puppet -- then it's more than I can take . . . I just feel that the board wants me out," Reed said. t
Reed, 52, said he will submit his resignation to the school board formally sometime today and has no other job plans. He attended last night's regularly scheduled school board meeting but the subject of his impending departure was not brought up.
The board will name an acting superintendent to serve until Reed's successor is chosen.
In his five years as head of the city's 100,000-student system, Reed has been credited with helping to raise student scores on standardized national achievement tests and with restoring order to a once chaotic system.
A former junior high school shop teacher who used to keep a paddle on his wall for disciplining students, Reed is the ninth person to head the city's school system in a dozen years.
Unlike some of his predecessors, he emphasized a back-to-basis approach instead of innovative educational programs. He survived a 23-day teacher strike last year and watched as the school system took the brunt of the budget cuts in Mayor Marion Barry's financial austerity program, including the layoffs of 700 teachers.
Reaction to Reed's resignation, rumors of which surfaced about one week ago and heightened in the hours before he revealed his intentions, came quickly and with force.
"I think it's just very troublesome,' said City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. "It will damage the schools in many, many areas. The schools are in a position where they are beginning to move ahead . . . This is going to be very damaging."
Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-Large), a former school board member and a candidate to head a new Council committee on education proposed recently by Dixon, said that "one of the temptations for me taking [that chairmanship] would be that Vince Reed and I work well together. It will be less easy if Vince Reed is leaving."
A spokesman for Barry said, "It is the mayor's understanding that Dr. Reed will not resign officially until tomorrow. There will be no official comment until then.
Patricia Morris, president of the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers, said she felt Reed "needs to stay. If anybody needs to resign, it's some of the members of the school board." She added that Reed has-done "remarkably well with what he had to work with."
Several months ago, Reed was offered the job of superintendent of Chicago's public school system. The job pays $125,000 a year, but Reed turned it down, asserting that he still had goals to achieve here. The Chicago job still is open, but Reed said yesterday that he is not interested in it.
In the interview yesterday, Reed said he primarily was disturbed by the board's constant maneuvering to "take over the day-to-day operations of the school system," its attitude toward his staff and its rejection of his proposal for a citywide academic high school.
Throughout most of Reed's tenure, the 11-person board has been sharply divided, often with a coalition forming the controlling majority. Parents also have critized the board for unnecessarily playing politics with decisions on educational policy. Reed echoed those concerns yesterday.
"This board was just out to do me in," he said. It's very difficult to work with only a slim majority of the board. I guess it's just time for them to get somebody they feel they can trust."
He said the board often would give imprecise instructions to members of his staff, and later criticize the staff when assignments were not carried out to its satisfaction. He also said he became upset when the board proposed to transfer an auditor from his staff to its own.
He said he sought, but was denied, the authority to move principals from one school to another. The board insisted, he complained, that it pass on all hiring above the level of Gs-12 -- something that Reed said he felt should be left to him.
His biggest concern and an unrequited goal of his administration, Reed said, was the establishment of a model or academic high school in the city. Twice proposed, it was twice defeated.
The battle lines, Reed said, were clearly deliniated last spring in the second defeat of Reed's proposal by the board. In that vote, those board members who Reed claimed were his main detractors -- Eugene Kinlow (At-Large), John Warren (Ward 6), Barbara Lett Simmons (At-Large), Bettie Benjamin (Ward 5) and school board president R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) -- joined together to reject Reed's project. A revised version of the plan was proposed early this month.
"There was no need for me to take a whipping like I took on the model high school," Reed said. "I didn't propose the academic high school for Vince Reed. I proposed it because I thought it would be a good thing for the District of Columbia."
On a school board with a notorious history as the District of Columbia's most potent political springboard -- Mayor Barry was school board president until 1974 -- maneuvers for power, influence and a spot in the limelight, say some school board members, have reached a fevered pitch.
"I know he's taken a great deal of heat from some board members in the last several months," said board member Carol Schwartz (Ward 3), one of Reed's suppporters on the board. "He's talked to me informally on several occasions about his frustrations."
Another board member who has supported Reed on some occasions, Alaire B. Rieffel (Ward 2), said Reed's resignation would have "a devastating effect on the school system . . . I think he's upset with the board at this point and time; he feels the board won't cooperate with him. But I think he just means a few of the members . . . John Warren, for example.
"Maybe the superintendent finds his role vis a vis the board lessened because maybe the members are exercising their oversight responsibility more stringently than in the past," Rieffel said.
"The board blames the superintendent, the superintendent blames the board. Both parties are playing roles. If the superintendent sees himself as being victimized by the board, you have to ask whether or not he is cultivating that role for himself," Rieffel said.
Lockridge said he had no comment on Reed's complaints about the board or about the superintendent's announced resignation. Of his relationship with the superintendent, he said: "I have tried to work with Mr. Reed, I have cooperated 100 percent, I have been the best cooperative president of the board, I would say."
Reed was the 14th of 17 children born to a St. Louis, Mo., mother who received her high school diploma in the same ceremony as her son, and a father who sold insurance and drove a laundry truck.
He went to Iowa University, West Virginia State College, Howard, Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia State, eventually getting an honorary doctorate from Southeastern Univesrsity. He uses the "Dr." in front of his name, anyway, he once told a reporter, because the staff expects if of him.
Coming to the D.C. school system in 1956, he rose through the ranks from teacher to principal in the late 1960s. By 1969 he was assistant superintendent of personnel in the system, moving up to become acting superintendent in 1975 and taking over formally in March 1976. Last year, Reed signed a three-year contract that expires in 1982. His, salary as school suprintendent is $54,000 a year.
"People say that 10 years ago I couldn't have made it with this board," he told a Post reporter last August. "I was a volatile man. I once knocked down a board member in public. But this job has really sobered me. I can take a lot of craziness. I know I'm going to lose some battles. But I think I know what the kids need."