Mayors, Supes, and Turnover

This morning, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting (in an exclusive, no less) that

Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman has told the city’s mayor that he will resign as schools CEO before the end of the school year.  Why, when Huberman has been on the job less than two years?  The Sun-Times claims he is quitting the top schools job because Mayor Richard Daley is not running for reelection in 2012, and Huberman has no intention of working for another mayor.

So it begs a big question — is this one of the unintended consequences of mayoral control?  Last month, we began the death watch for DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, following the defeat of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty in our nation’s capital’s primary.  New mayor, new superintendent.  The presumptive mayor of DC, Vincent Gray, has made clear he wants his own person in the chancellor’s chair.  Is Huberman simply reading the writing on the wall, assuming that Rahm Emanuel or any of a host of other candidates for mayor in the Windy City will want their own schools CEO?

Urban school superintendent turnover is already a major problem.  Our cities chew through school district leaders, with most big-city supes serving in a given job for only two or three years.  At the same time, we know that real school improvement takes four, five, or even more years to take hold.  With supe tenure and time for turnaround at such odds, is it any wonder that we continue to suffer through persistently low-performing schools, growing drop-out factories, and an embarassing achievement gap?

Don’t get me wrong.  Eduflack recognizes the value of mayoral control.  We can see the positive impact it has had in cities like New York and Boston.  But isn’t an urban supe’s job difficult enough without having to worry about how the political winds are blowing for his boss?  Yes, in a mayoral control model, a supe needs to make sure he or she is on the same page as the mayor.  But do we really want a cycle where a change in city leadership means a change in school leadership?  And do we really want strong supe candidates in cities like DC, Chicago, and Newark to think twice before accepting the job as they wonder if their potential new boss is politically viable beyond the current term (or in Newark’s Booker’s case, moving up to bigger and better things)?


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