PERHAPS YOU, too, were surprised at first glance to find a front-page headline yesterday reporting that D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie was "Rated Just Above Average." How odd, we thought, given not only our own impressions of the solid improvements and renewed schools' spirit that Mrs. McKenzie seemed to have generated, but also the reactions of so many parents and students around the city. Had tests scores, which have been going up so well, suddenly plummeted? Had all those large corporations around the country whom she had attracted to help the schools suddenly backed off? Or had she taken to the ways of one superintendent of a few years back and said nasty racial things about the school board?
But if you read to the end of the story, Mrs. McKenzie's stock went way up. This was because the evaluation turns out to have been the average of ratings given by individual school board members. And, as you might suppose, the descending order of the rankings matched almost perfectly the descending order of performances by board members--the lower the grade, that is, the less impressive the grader. At the bottom of the list, therefore, you found R. Calvin Lockridge--whose performance as board president in the not too distant past ranked right down there with the worst--awarding Mrs. McKenzie the lowest grade, 27 out of a possible 81.
Right above last place was Barbara Lett Simmons, whose grades for class deportment have yet to make dean's list, awarding the superintendent a 30. Continuing from the bottom up there was John Warren (45), Bettie Benjamin (46) and Eugene Kinlow (54). From there, the grades got markedly better, starting with board president David Eaton, who says Mrs. McKenzie is "the best superintendent in the country"; and Nathaniel Bush, Wanda Washburn, R. David Hall and Linda Cropp.
There is another way to look at the scores, too-- by the questions: Mrs. McKenzie's highest average score, a 73, was on whether she extended and strengthened the school system's competency-based curriculum and student progress plan. That's no insignificant achievement, as one board member said: "Each of the above has been accomplished within a timely fashion and in an extremely competent manner." (The board's evaluation, by the way, was something less than timely. It was a year overdue.)
The point here is not to stir up old and terribly damaging animosities among board members and the superintendent. Under Mr. Eaton, the school board as a whole has been working seriously, thoughtfully and without rancor; and the members can be as grateful as parents, teachers and students for a superintendent who so far is working to make good things happen in the classrooms.