After five strenuous years at the helm of the Los Angeles school district, Supt. Harry Handler announced on Monday his intention to retire in two years.
The announcement, first made to the Los Angeles Unified School District board at a closed-door meeting, was made public at the end of the meeting by President Rita Walters, who emphatically expressed her colleagues' "extreme dismay" and sadness over Handler's decision to leave.
"Dr. Handler is and has been the very best leader possible under the difficult and demanding circumstances that he has faced," she said. Because of the board's high regard for the superintendent, who has served in various district posts for 30 years, she added, "none of us can pretend to be pleased" with his desire to resign.
According to Walters, Handler, 58, has agreed to remain superintendent through July 1, 1987, at which time he will begin to gradually relinquish his duties to the "superintendent designate," who has not yet been chosen. She said the board will immediately begin a nationwide search for a new superintendent.
To Assume New Title in 1987
Assuming the board is able to appoint a successor by then, Handler will assume the title of chief administrative officer on July 1 of next year and will serve in that capacity until July 1, 1988, when his retirement is effective.
In his typically low-key fashion, Handler said he has "thoroughly enjoyed" his five years as superintendent, which he described as "the ultimate experience of my professional life." But he said he simply felt it was time to move on.
A career educator who attended and taught in Los Angeles public schools, he said he plans to write on educational issues after he retires.
Handler took office in 1981, after a tumultuous decade of desegregation battles had taken a heavy toll on the district. Parents, particularly white parents, had lost confidence in the district's schools, and thousands of them placed their children in private schools or fled to other districts where mandatory busing was not in effect. Morale was low among teachers and principals, many of whom also left in frustration.
But Handler, in an interview shortly after taking over, said he saw an "era of hope" for the district and quickly set to work to improve student achievement and staff morale, strengthen parent and community support and repair the district's damaged reputation in Sacramento.
Walters said he has had a "unifying" effect on the board, which then was badly divided over busing.
Dealt With Overcrowding
During the last few years, Handler has had to cope with an increasing problem of overcrowding in the district. Last fall, he outlined a bold plan to gradually place all 618 of the district's schools on year-round operation. The district, he said, simply could not build new schools fast enough to accommodate the demand created by booming birth rates and increased immigration.
He also addressed the problem of hard-to-staff inner-city schools by instituting an aggressive recruiting program. The program exceeded his original goal, filling vacancies not only in the inner city but throughout the district and making 1984 the first time in a decade that Los Angeles public schools were staffed with a full-time teacher in every classroom.