|Seven months ago, Rudy Crew's peers named him the nation's top school superintendent, bolstering a long-standing reputation as an education innovator. Student achievement in Miami-Dade County's schools has improved during his four-year tenure and the district is consistently a finalist for the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education.|
But this week the school board effectively fired Crew by voting to buy out the remainder of his contract, with critics saying the hype never matched Crew's actual deeds leading the nation's fourth-largest school district. The district's $5.5 billion budget is in shambles and there is a racial undertone in the nasty and sometimes comical war between Crew, an African-American, and the mostly Cuban-American board.
The televised school board meetings became so tense and explosive that they are one of South Florida's hottest reality shows, drawing record audiences as the former New York City schools chancellor and his supporters exchanged barbs with his detractors.
``He is viewed highly as a respected authority in the field of education,'' said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, the organization that honored him last winter. ``Maybe it would be best for him if he was not as outspoken, but that's who he is.''
|Almost immediately, Crew put the district's 39 lowest-performing schools in a ``School Improvement Zone'' where students were kept an hour longer each day and given intense reading instruction in small groups, among other opportunities. He also tried to lure the best teachers to these schools by increasing their salaries.|
``Dr. Crew made an effort and a plan to bring equity to our community,'' said Rev. R. Joaquin Willis, a member of the program's board and a pastor in Liberty City, a predominantly African-American community where many of the targeted schools are located.
Other initiatives followed: An academy where mothers and fathers could take courses on child development, nutrition and financial development; the opening of 29 new or replacement schools; and the creation of 84,000 new classroom seats.
The programs won Miami-Dade national recognition and helped increase the number of competitive grants the district received.
But locally, even those who supported Crew say he didn't spend much time in the community. Those frustrations came to a head in 2006 when a Cuban-American parent sought to have a book called ``Vamos a Cuba'' pulled from library shelves because of its cheerful portrait of communist life.
Crew followed the recommendation of two committees that voted against banning the book and proposed a compromise that would have placed a disclaimer inside. But some in the Cuban community felt that didn't go far enough in showing sensitivity to exiles.
``Since that day forward, the Cuban community has been adamantly against Dr. Crew,'' said Manny Anon Jr., an attorney who tried to unseat one of Crew's board supporters after the controversy.
|In an interview with The Associated Press a few days before his ouster Wednesday, Crew said he was ready to leave.|
He called Miami, ``the most horrific political landscape to try and navigate any of these ideas through.''
``The fights are not over whether or not one kind of strategy for teaching math is better than another,'' he said. ``It's really much more smaller than that. It's human. It's, 'I want to be board chair.'
``Step back and ask yourself what kind of governance structure would, if it's gotten better...why would you lose your job over that?'' Crew said.
Any other district would be glad to have him.