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One of the Toughest Jobs : And running L.A. public schools is one of the most important

May 22, 1993

The beleaguered Los Angeles School Board has one less problem to deal with. By finally offering a contract to interim Supt. Sid Thompson, the board has rightly chosen stability in the top administration of the public schools for at least the next two years.

Thompson earned that vote of confidence the hard way. He took over, the fourth schools chief in a decade, at a time of crisis. Severe budget problems continued to erode the quality of education. The threat of a teachers strike generated uncertainty in the classroom for much of the school year. A political debate over breaking up the district exacerbated racial, ethnic and geographic tensions.

Two students were killed on high school campuses this year. Those slayings fed the perception that public schools are unsafe and further reduced public confidence in the district.

Add to these problems the complicated educational challenges of teaching 640,000 students, many of whom are poor and minority children. Because the district does not have enough classrooms to accommodate all children on the traditional calendar, all must attend schools operating on a year-round schedule. That calendar, though theoretically equitable, forces too many children to try to learn in impossibly hot classrooms, especially in the San Fernando Valley.

Despite these daunting circumstances, Thompson wanted the job. He vows to implement the LEARN reforms, the best hope of returning excellence to classrooms. He also promises to put children first and to better manage the district's bureaucracy.

To succeed, Thompson will have to stand up to the school board and district employees. The two-year contract should strengthen his hand, and allow him to make tough decisions without fearing that each day would be his last on the job. The new superintendent must deliver strong leadership to improve the schools.

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