Leonard M. Britton, 56, Dade County, Fla., superintendent of schools, was selected Friday to head the Los Angeles Unified School District, marking the first time in nearly 40 years that an outsider has been chosen for the post, a school district spokesman said.
School board members, who had been meeting in closed-door sessions all week to make their choice from among the three finalists, settled on Britton late Friday afternoon.
He will succeed Harry Handler, 58, who is retiring next month as superintendent of the nation's second-largest school district.
The other two finalists for the job were district Deputy Superintendents Sidney Thompson and William Anton, respectively the Los Angeles district's highest-ranking black and Latino administrators.
School district spokesman William Rivera said Britton will be officially introduced at a news conference this morning.
Britton has been superintendent of the Dade County district--which includes Miami--since 1980. Before that, beginning in 1965, he served in a variety of other positions there, including associate superintendent in charge of instruction and deputy superintendent.
Earlier, he was a science teacher in Pennsylvania schools. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry, a master's degree in secondary education and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Pittsburgh.
As superintendent, Britton was credited with creating a successful program by enlisting the help of private enterprise to assist Dade County schools. He also spearheaded an unusual dropout-prevention project under which companies paid stipends to students who stayed in school.
At the time he became superintendent of schools in the Miami area, the Mariel boat lifts were in full swing, burdening the district with 15,000 new Cuban students within a few months.
Dade County is the fourth-largest school district in the nation, with nearly a quarter of a million students. Its enrollment is 25% white, 33% black and 41% Latino. The Latino students are largely from Cuba and Nicaragua, speaking little or no English.
The selection of Britton to take over the Los Angeles district came after a long search by a national executive search firm.
June 30 Retirement
Handler originally planned to remain as chief administrative officer until next year, gradually relinquishing his duties to the person designated by the board to take over. Recently, however, he decided to make his retirement effective June 30.
On July 1, he will become an adjunct professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.
The last superintendent chosen from outside the district to head the sprawling Los Angeles system was Dr. Alexander J. Stoddard, who came here from Philadelphia in 1948.