Boston's New School Chief Is Optimistic
BOSTON schools start a new school year this month with a new city school superintendent: Lois Harrison-Jones. Chosen by the Boston School Committee last May after a 15-month search, Ms. Harrison-Jones will be the city's first black woman school superintendent.Observers hope Harrison-Jones and the new seven-member appointed school committee will help improve the city's long-troubled education system. Under its current 13-member elected school committee, the school system has often been criticized for being badly managed, inefficient, and politically influenced. The new, appointed school committee will take over in January. Harrison-Jones - who came from Dallas, where she served as deputy superintendent for educational services - sees many signs of hope for Boston's schools. "Many Bostonians don't give credit to their own [school] system," she says. "You have schools here that are nationally known.... There are business and community support systems to an extent that I have rarely seen anywhere else. We have children here who are performing as well as anybody anywhere." But she well understands the challenges she faces. One of her major concerns is the estimated $18 million school budget deficit. She says her staff has been working hard to cut down on costs, although she describes it as an "underfunding" rather than a deficit. m having people analyze every line item of the budget," she says. ve involved all department heads in that whole process. We have asked them to reassess every possible way of doing something more cost-effectively, and then ultimately I guess we'll have to reduce what some people might consider es sential services." Some feel she will have greater success in making those decisions under the new school committee appointed by the Mayor Raymond Flynn. The hope is that more will be accomplished with politics out of the way. Under the current committee, for example, members were elected simultaneously every two years. The new school committee structure, proposed by Mayor Flynn, was signed into law earlier this summer. City minorities, however, fear they may not be well-represented in the new appointed committee; approximately 80 percent of Boston's students are minorities. But some educators say Boston needs more than a just a new school committee. A strong leader to manage the system's unwieldy bureaucracy is needed, they say. Harrison-Jones describes her leadership style as one "that has built into it flexibility." She says she can be both a hands-on leader and one that doesn't need to get personally involved in every decision. m sort of a situation-type leader. It depends on what the situation is," she says. The new school superintendent says she would like to focus on the following four areas: * Improve student performance. Performance is not limited to just academics, but includes school attendance, participation in school activities, and the "exercise of civic and social responsible behavior," Harrison-Jones says. * Increase parent and community involvement. * Improve special-needs services. The system should improve the way it diagnoses and serves children with special needs, she says. "To what extent are we actually diagnosing what their needs really are and then how well can we or are we serving them?" she asks. * Improve accountability. Everyone in the school district - at all levels including the superintendent - should be held accountable for the goals they outline to improve the schools, she says. Before working in Dallas, Harrison-Jones served as the general superintendent of schools in Richmond, Va. She says she spent most of her career in Richmond serving in different capacities as either a teacher or administrator. She has taught school at the elementary and secondary levels. Historically, the city has not been successful in keeping its school superintendents; Harrison-Jones will be the 10th school superintendent since 1972. Her predecessor, Laval Wilson, was dismissed in February 1990. Since then, the post has been filled by acting Superintendent Joseph McDonough.