Washington's new acting school superintendent, James T. Guines, is a school administrator who sometimes writes verse in his spare time. He is an energetic, well-spoken and nattily dressed man, whose poetic message is at times the same as many of his speeches and memorandums -- let's start teaching, now.
One of Guines' poems, entitled "No More -- No Less," declares: No more shuckin' and jiving (about education) No more missing and apologizing (for failure) No more blaming and maiming (kids' minds) Time to teach and time for learning. No more excusing and abusing (each other) No more "appointing" and anointing (our friends) No more referring and delaying (hard decisions) Time to teach and time for learning. . . .
Guines, 48 and an associate superintendent for 10 years, became acting head of the District's school system last week, after the school board named him to replace Vincent E. Reed.
Reed abruptly retired Dec. 31, accusing the board of undercutting his authority and mistreating him and his staff.
Guines takes the reins of the city's public school system at a time when the school board has come under attack for its infighting and the frequent acrimony of its meetings and the school system has lost 700 teachers because of budget cuts.
Student scores on standardized national achievement test have risen over the last two years, but still lag far behind national norms. School enrollment is declining. Many school board members say that Reed, a popular symbol of stability, will be a hard man to replace. He was preceeded by four regular superintendents and two acting ones in eight years.
Board members told Guines that one condition of his appointment as acting superintendent for six months was that he not try to become permanent superintendent after July 1. But board president R. Calvin Lockridge said last week that Guines might be "drafted" for the post.
Like Reed, he is not a newcomer to the school system. And, as associate superintendentt, Guines has been in charge of developing the D.C. school system's competency-based curriculum, designed to boost the generally low achievement of its 100,000 students. This back-to-basics program was the main educational effort of Reed's superintendency.
Moreover, Guines says he is eager to avoid the bitter feuding that arose between Reed and the board. He took little part in the ordeals of the school system's recent budget cuts or the disputes between Reed and the school board, and accepted the job as acting superintendent saying he hoped to "deescalate all this [conflict between the superintendent and the board]." t
Guines said he plans to move ahead firmly with the programs he had helped Reed put into place. "I have a tremendous sense of urgency that we get back to the issues of educating our children," Guines remarked after his appointment last week. "I think educationally this system is just on the brink of making a tremendous breakthrough."
During his 10 years as an associate superintendent, Guines has gained a reputation as a fast-moving, fast-talking administrator, full of ideas, impatient to get them carried out and not afraid to step on bureaucratic toes in the process.
His detractors complain that sometimes his ideas were not carefully thought through and that Guines didn't work persistently enough to get them carried out. There are also complaints that the massive curriculum-writing effort that he directed was not tightly planned and budgeted, though its outcome is generally seen as a success.
"We never costed it out," Guines acknowledged. "We used resources as we could gouge them or scrounge them and that made for some tension within the school system. When you have to improve a school system, you just can't wait around."
"He and Vince Reed have the same outlook on education," one school official said. "But they're just totally different people. Reed's a very practical person. He moves very carefully and deliberately. He's an administrator straight down the line. But Guines is an idea person. He's not an administrator. He has a quick mind and a quick tongue. He's much more of a risk-taker than Reed ever was."
Throughout the development of the competency-based curriculum, which started shortly after Reed became superintendent in 1975, Guines and the staff working for him took the initiative in shaping the program.
Reed set the general objectives -- develop a system-wide curriculum, concentrate on basic skills. But Guines developed the methods, based on B. F. Skinner's work in behavorial psychology, for drawing up detailed step-by-step lessons and setting clear standards of what children should learn. s
"If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a button and set off a bomb [as Skinner did at Harvard during World War II]," Guines explained in an interview in 1977, "why can't you teach human beings to behave in an effective and rational way?"
"We know we can modify human behavior," Guines continued. "We're not scared of that. This is the biggest thing that's happening in education today."
At many points, Reed scaled down Guines' plans and moved slowly in implementing them. But eventually, all the main ones were accepted, the program won wide support from D.C. teachers, and for the first time in a decade student test scores, though still low, showed improvement for two straight years.
"Yes, there were some things I wanted to do faster [than Reed]," Guines said. "But that was not a problem. There was a great deal of give and take. I respect Vince's timing on what the school system is ready for. I hope I have the same good sense."
He praised Reed warmly for giving Washington's schools a firm educational direction. Reed, in turn, praises Guines. "He's a tremendous educator. He's very bright," Reed said. "What we did was a team effort, and he was a very important part of the team. I have nothing but the greatest respect for him."
Guines also appears to have won the respect of school board members with his quick, unflustered answers to their questions and barbed comments. Unlike Reed, he has managed to avoid any serious personal clashes with them.
"I feel I have their respect as an educator," Guines remarked. "I will give them the respect they are due as board members."
The son of parents who never graduated from high school, Guines was born and educated in Chattanooga, Tenn., and then studied for his bachelor's degree at Alabama A&M in Huntsville.
After a stint in the Army and teaching elementary school for several years, he earned both a master's and a doctorate degree in education from the University of Tennessee. Guines said that when he entered the university in 1957 he was just the third black to enroll there. His grades were all A's, he said, except for one B.
"It wasn't an easy time," Guines said, "and I got no breaks. I didn't want any, and I didn't need any." He added that he had no problems getting along with the whites in his class.
With his doctorate in hand, Guines spent four years as a professor of education at three universities -- Alabama State, Alabama A&M and St. Augustine's College in Raleigh. Just before coming to Washington, he spent four years in the Richmond school system, first as administrative assistant to the superintendent and then as assistant superintendent for instruction.
Guines has a daughter, 15, and a son, 22, by a first marriage that ended in divorce. They live in Richmond. His present wife, LaVerne, is a supervisor of instruction for one of the school system's four regions. He lives in a condominium apartment in Southwest Washington and, in good weather he said, often jogs in the early morning with his wife along the Potomac waterfront.
In past interviews, Guines has often appeared candid and outspoken.
For example, when the school system fired most of its elementary foreign language teachers in 1977, he remarked, "When it's absolutely necessary to pare down, you just can't carry on the payroll excess baggage . . . We can't get burned if kids don't draw well or can't appreciate sculpture. We will get burned if the kids can't read or do math and science. That's what really matters. These other things are nice little luxuries."
In 1979, when 48 elementary teachers were shifted to junior highs, Guines explained, "Many of these junior high kids are so far behind, it's like teaching fourth and fifth grade. You have to teach the basic skills of reading and math, and many of the subject-matter teachers in the junior high schools just don't know how to do that well."
Now Guines is optimistic. "I think this can be an excellent school system in educating all its children," he said. "They're like little rough gems that need to be polished, and I think we know how to do it."
Guines said he dislikes the labels "disadvantaged" and "culturally deprived" that are sometimes used to describe the low-income black children in many Washington schools.
"We have acquired a group of kids to educate," he said, "and they're our responsibility. What they look like, smell like, what color their skin is -- those things have no place on our schools. They really don't. . . .
"Look, I don't think children should be labeled. I think the only adjective that should be placed on American children should be American. Anything else is unnecessary."
He has written a poem making the same point, which ends: Then, why the "deprived" and "disadvantaged?" Why not just "children?" Yes, but what about the children? America's children!