Follow the Leader

No Room for Those Who Can't Lead

Crew is no stranger to the Northwest. Before going to New York, he was superintendent of the Tacoma School District from 1993-95. Even after moving to the East Coast, he held onto a house he had just bought near Gig Harbor, where he now makes his home once again. Crew is married and has four grown children.

Seattle School District Superintendent Joseph Olchefske applauds the formation of the institute and the choice of Crew to guide it.

"The need for leadership at every level ... is enormous," he says. "The University has set dead aim on that focus and I think it is the right target to shoot at."

Rudy Crew pull quote

Olchefske says the demand for improved leadership reflects a "revolution" in public education centered on the creation of new—and higher—academic standards. For years, superintendents, principals and others exercised leadership by maintaining the status quo. Today, they must be "change agents," says Olchefske. "That's a very major change in identity and role and function."

Olchefske calls Crew a "superb leader. He's truly one of the smart people in our profession. I can't say enough positive things about him.

"He has a very clear vision of what he wants to accomplish, which is academic achievement for every kid. He has an incisive intelligence about what it takes to accomplish that. And he has deep passion and a big heart that animates everything he does."

Crew's heart may be big, but there's no room for those who lack his conviction that every child—regardless of socio-economic status—can succeed.

"He doesn't suffer that very well," says Allen Glenn, retiring dean of the UW College of Education.

During his talk at the Emerald City Rotary Club, Crew recalled an incident in New York when an elementary principal invited him to visit his school. The school's test scores had dropped after a new housing complex opened near the school. The principal told Crew that most of the children who lived there couldn't speak English and blamed their arrival for the falling scores.

Rudy Crew pull quote

The Rotarians gasped when Crew recalled his response to the principal: "I appreciate the fact you invited me to your school ... but you're fired. You need to leave. And you need to leave today."

Crew believes public education is on the brink of "having the lights turned off permanently" unless leaders "suspend their disbelief" and commit themselves to the proposition that all children are born with a brain and therefore all children—whether from the suburbs or the inner city—can learn.

"There's no room for people who don't have the courage to do the work," says Crew.

Olchefske, who this spring decided not to renew the contracts of four Seattle principals, agrees that times of transition demand tough measures—all the more reason to focus on leadership.

"Decisiveness is a critical quality that leaders have in periods of change," he says. "And Rudy has that. That's the role of being a superintendent. You have to make those decisions."

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