Follow the Leader

Drawing a Line, Opening a Door

An avid fisherman and gardener, Crew enjoys the waterfront view from his office in the UW fisheries building and loves to stroll the leafy campus, but says he'd still be in New York if negotiations to renew his contract had not collapsed.

"Oh yeah," he sighs.

For Crew, it came down to practicing what his father had preached back in Poughkeepsie. "In every person's life, there are places where lines have to be drawn," he says.

Rudy Crew pull quote

By drawing a line in New York, Crew opened a door to Seattle. With a September target for getting the institute off the drawing board and into action, Crew spent his first few months here "running, running, running."

Crew had to set up the office, hire an 11-person staff and travel throughout the state introducing himself, forming partnerships and collecting suggestions.

Crew envisions the leadership institute functioning much like a consultant in private business, offering a set of professional services to school leaders at all levels—from superintendents to teachers to parent groups. Specifically, the institute can conduct case studies, help districts redraft policies and act as a third-party in discussions between management and unions, says Crew.

Ongoing professional resources such as those are rare, says Crew. One-shot workshops and seminars help, but the institute will ensure that "on the following Monday after the speech, there is still someone available."

Crew wants to provide struggling school districts and their leaders with successful examples "so people can see this is a doable job."

"That's why they keep calling me to recruit me," says Crew. "I believe it's doable."

Rudy Crew pull quote

McCormick knows Crew is a "hot property"—published reports linked his name to the vacant Los Angeles school superintendency this spring. Some say he's destined to become Secretary of Education. "I don't think that's out of his reach," says McCormick. "He knows people in those circles and they know him and they call on him."

Crew says he doesn't know what his future holds. He says the UW post is "a medium-term" job that offers an opportunity to "figure out what comes next."

In the meantime, he considers his current position a "quintessential teaching moment" during which he can both share his knowledge and acquire more. "I intend to be a good student in these next several years," he says.

Late last spring, Crew addressed a group of educators attending the UW's Danforth Institute, a yearlong training program for principals-to-be. He told them about a visit he made as New York's chancellor to a school in the Bedford Stuyvesant community.

During the visit, he paused to encourage a boy who was struggling with a math problem. "You stay at it," he told him. "You'll get it."

Later, Crew encountered the boy again. He asked Crew who he was. He told him he was chancellor and was responsible for every school in the city. "Are you any good at it?" he asked. "Some days ... some days not," said Crew.

Replied the little boy, "You stay at it. You'll get it."

Brad Broberg is a longtime south King County journalist and current free-lancer specializing in business.

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