IT APPEARS THAT the current membership of the D.C. school board will choose this city's next superintendent. That is regrettable. This and previous school boards have worked their way through eight superintendents or acting superintendents in the last dozen years and that includes one heroic stint by Vincent Reed, who held out for five years before saying he could not take the petty fights, posturing and obstruction that have come to characterize the school board. Ideally the decision on a permanent superintendent should be delayed until after voters have a chance to say whom they want on the school board. Five school board seats will be on the ballot in November, and all the incumbents seeking reelection deserve to be unseated.
But if the currently constituted school board persists in picking a superintendent, the first thing it should do is remove acting superintendent James Guines from its list of candidates. Mr. Guines has not handled the position with grace. He reacted with timidity by proposing to scrap the new pupil promotions plan that stopped unearned promotions, when he should have defended the plan as worthwhile. He faltered by hiring Rhody McCoy, a man famed for bringing upset and controversy to school systems. That led to the ill-fated idea of starting a "Professional Development Institute" to allow teachers to earn master's degrees. Within weeks of its beginning, there were questions about where the money was coming from to finance the $60,000 program and about the quality of the program. Eventually the University of Massachusetts withdrew from the program; its officials said the city schools were looking for an easy way to give away credits.
Now we come to the rest of the candidates for the superintendency. Under the selection process being used, it is impossible to vouch for the quality of the candidates who showed interest in a job known only for its many troubles and failures. A superintendent search committee screened 76 applicants on the basis of five criteria: administrative skill, experience with various educational programs, leadership and community relations, educational background and published works. In the order we have listed them, the categories were given declining values for the purpose of ranking the candidates. The top 10 candidates were interviewed; then a list of six nominees was given to the full school board for final selection by July 1.
The best of the six candidates appear to be Floretta D. McKenzie and Rueben G. Pierce. They are familiar with the District schools and the city and have already shown evidence of leadership ability. Both also have a sense of the programs that former superintendent Vincent Reed put in place to help the schools begin to improve.
Mrs. McKenzie was an acting superintendent in the District schools before becoming deputy superintendent of Montgomery County schools. She also worked in the U.S. Department of Education as an assistant secretary for school improvement, a fitting experience for anyone who may be taking command of the District schools.
Mr. Pierce has distinquished himself with his hard work as the regional superintendent of the schools in Anacostia. It was in his region, for example, that the idea of the pupil progress plan, ending social promotions, was first put to work because of his insistence on it. Some other school officials feared the plan because of the propect of huge numbers of students' being left back. Mr. Pierce acted despite those fears. He is also credited with bringing forth the idea of a math/science program for bright students at Ballou High School.
None of this guarantees that either of these people will have the patience or fortitude to endure a continuation of the impossible board-superintendent relationship that has existed. But either Mr. Pierce or Mrs. McKenzie would have the qualifications to serve the city well as superintendent if the school board should allow it.