Clifford B. Janey, a former superintendent of Washington’s troubled public schools who began his leadership amid high hopes for a turnaround in 2004 and left in 2007 at the behest of a new mayor who said he wanted a change at the top, died Feb. 13 at his home in Washington. He was 73.

The cause was a heart ailment, said his wife, Barbara Janey.

Dr. Janey, a former schools superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., was the District’s sixth schools superintendent in 10 years when he was named to the job by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D).

Dr. Janey inherited what he later described as a dysfunctional system of poor classroom performance, unreliable computers, a malfunctioning payroll and schools that chronically lacked supplies. Textbooks were in poor condition and often delivered late. Building repairs were made late or not at all, and school officials were unsure how many students were enrolled.

“We were at or below ground zero and had been hovering there for some length of time,” Dr. Janey told The Washington Post.

During his three-year tenure in the District, he was credited with imposing rigorous academic standards on what should be taught at each grade level in the city’s public schools. The amount of students taking advanced placement classes and high school graduates going on to college increased.

There were scattered pockets of excellence. For example, with a preponderance of students from low-income families, children at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Northeast Washington consistently scored near the top in national French language competitions.

But like all large urban school districts, there remained intractable problems in Washington, high among them a large percentage of children living in poverty in troubled neighborhoods who had difficulty in school.

In 2006, Washington elected D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty (D) as the new mayor. High on his agenda when he took office was a “radical change” in the 55,000-student school system.

He was looking for someone from outside the public school bureaucracy, he said, not a “career superintendent” with a history of moving from job to job in a steady ascent up a superintendency ladder.

Fenty chose Michelle A. Rhee, the founder of a New York-based teacher training organization who proceeded to fire principals, close schools and clash with the teachers union and get her picture on the cover of Time magazine, posed with a broom in the classroom. But like her predecessors, her tenure was short. After three tumultuous years, the chancellor was gone.

Clifford Bernard Janey was born in Boston on June 28, 1946, and grew up in a public-housing project. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1969 and received a master’s degree in reading and elementary education there in 1973. He received a doctorate in education policy, planning and administration from Boston University in 1984.

He was a teacher, middle school principal and area superintendent in the Boston public schools before becoming superintendent of schools in Rochester from 1995 to 2002.

After leaving Washington, Dr. Janey led the schools in Newark, from 2008 to 2011, when the office of Gov. Chris Christie (R) told him that his three-year contract, at an annual salary of $280,000, would not be renewed. Later he was a research fellow at Bank Street College of Education in New York City and, at his death, was a research scholar at Boston University’s school of education. He had kept a home in Washington since 2004.

Survivors include his wife since 2003, Barbara Logan Janey of Washington; two daughters from his first marriage, to Phyllis Janey, from whom he was divorced; three children from his second marriage, to Janaya Majied, who died in 2000; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.