richardmcculloch2web.gifRudy Crew barely has a job.

On Aug. 4, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools found his neck squarely positioned under the blade of a political guillotine. Sharpened by allegations of inefficient budget management and an ego-driven management style, the blade was poised to fall and sever the head that wears the Miami-Dade education crown.

When the school board votes were tallied, however, Rudy Crew was granted a reprieve. The dramatic 5-4 school board vote kept
Crew gainfully employed as the head of the Miami-Dade public schools, but simultaneously brought simmering feuds and political agendas to the surface of an educational landscape in which children will ultimately pay the price.

It hasn’t always been this way for Crew in the Sunshine State.

In 2004, Crew was a first-round draft pick for the search committee charged with securing an effective administrator to invigorate a fatigued and underperforming school system. With a reputation for educational innovation, and a resume that included running the largest school district in the country, New York City, Crew was a hot commodity.

In 2004, search committee member Paul Cejas was so impressed with the possibilities of landing Crew for the position of superintendent that he contributed $240,000 of his own money to bring the educator to Miami.

Four years later, it seems as if that warm and financially stimulating welcome is a distant memory.

Though heralded for his reputation for turning around failing school systems, and receiving his most recent accolade of being named the 2008 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, Rudy Crew’s accomplishments – past and present – have always been met with skepticism, and within some educational circles; downright contempt.

Critics of Crew inevitably point out what has become somewhat of a trademark for the highly scrutinized superintendent. Similar to what happened in his previous posts in Tacoma, Washington and New York City, Miami-Dade showed drops in test scores and a 400 percent increase in “F” schools under Crew’s watch.

He has been labeled an “educational fraud” by some experts in the field who categorize his educational philosophy as effectually putting a band-aid on a bullet hole because of his concentration on preparing students for standardized tests instead of a “true education” encompassing liberal arts and critical thinking.

Though his educational philosophies may be open to debate, another historic character trait of Rudy Crew which is less debatable can be summed up this way: Rudy Crew does not play well with others.

Throughout his career, Crew has left a trail of disgruntled former employees and has shown a particular disdain for independent oversight.

In the wake of the 5-4 school board vote to keep Crew, and just before the dawn of a new school year, the school board and Miami-Dade citizens remain polarized in their support for the superintendent.

With a school district budget that has been in the red for the past two years, and teachers trying to navigate a challenging economy minus the pay increases that they have been promised, tensions in the Miami-Dade county schools threaten to rise as the dog days of summer eclipse into the 2008 school year.

Crew is now charged with the unenviable task of being the chief educator of a struggling district with only partial support from his sitting school board.

Some hypothesize that with elections for school board positions looming, the vociferous opposition or support for Crew represents the political posturing that has pushed the true tenets of education to the back of the school bus.

Clearly, a school district divided will never be as effective as a school district united. For now, parents and students in Miami-Dade have no choice but to hope that Rudy Crew and the school board can mend fences and get back to the mission of education.

The true challenge of urban education is rooted in creating a culture where knowledge is pursued, academic achievement is accomplished and students actually become graduates.

Crew needs to forge alliances instead of creating enemies. He needs to take care of the teachers who take care of our children, and he needs to embrace the educational reality that improved test scores may win awards, but high school graduates and an increased pool of college-eligible students are the true measures of a school district that works.