Public schools advocacy groups and education experts are guardedly optimistic that a new president of the Chicago Board of Education will be able to smooth out community relations during a particularly contentious time.
Rufus Williams, the president of the board since 2006, is expected to resign soon, says Vanessa Hall, a spokeswoman for Mayor Richard M. Daley. Michael Scott, who was the president of the board from 2001 to 2006, is expected to take Williams’ place, she said. But she did not know when the transition would happen.
The timing is important because all eyes will be on Wednesday’s board meeting, at which the members will vote on which schools to shutter in the latest round of closures under Renaissance 2010.
“We were kind of getting tired of Michael’s way of doing things, but when Rufus Williams, came in, that really threw us for a loop,” says Wanda Hopkins with Parents United for Responsible Education.
She credited Scott with working to involve parents in the past and filling them in on the district’s plans, something she says Williams seldom did.
“He was not a person who was sensitive to parents,” Hopkins says of Williams. “I mean, he was an arrogant board leader.”
Earlier media reports indicate that Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke with Williams and asked him to resign. Neither Williams nor Scott returned multiple calls and e-mails Friday.
“The mayor may have sized up the situation and said, ‘Rufus is not the man to make this happen, what we need is Michael Scott, who’s more of a systems guy,’” says Barbara Radner, the director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University.
Scott could bring a solid understanding of how to keep a large bureaucracy running smoothly. Ron Huberman, the new Chicago public schools CEO, demonstrates that skill, Radner says.
“I think we need to have a very efficient infrastructure so teachers can be in their classrooms teaching,” she says.
Radner speculated that Scott might not take over the Board of Education until after next week’s meeting to finalize which schools will get shut down, which would leave the dirt work of closing schools – and drawing the animosity of parents – to Williams.
Radner compared the change to a football team’s owner changing the lineup.
“You change the quarterback, and then you want a new coach,” she says.
Observers agree that Scott’s style of reaching out to the community and being open to their responses will be a welcome change.
“That was just a smooth move on the mayor’s part to bring him back knowing that they’re in a crisis situation right now,” Hopkins says. “It’s been shook up, but to smooth things out, that’s what I think Michael Scott is coming to do.”
Don Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a research organization, was more circumspect about Scott’s return.
“I think it’s a plus for him to be on the board because he’s easier to talk to,” Moore says. “It’s only on the margins (that it matters) who is in these positions, the CEO and the president of the board, because they basically do what they’re told by the mayor, for the mayor’s inner circle.”
Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18