In a move linked with Chicago's major school desegregation effort, the city has appointed a black woman as the new school superintendent. The breakthrough appointment of the first black superintendent, Dr. Ruth B. Love, this week has been obscured by local political wrangling. But blacks and whites both realize that this is a significant change for a city long criticized for racial discrimination.
Dr. Love is due to take up her position in Chicago March 25. She was chosen after the nomination of Manford Byrd Jr., also a black and the No. 2 man in the Chicago school system, was rejected by the school board. Some blacks who supported Mr. Byrd have threatened to boycott schools to protest the Love appointment, but most observers here expect that by March she will win general support.
The new superintendent will be facing two major challenges: federal pressure to desegregate Chicago's schools and city pressure to cut the school budget. Negotiations on her appointment stalled several times because she fought for more direct authority over both desegregation planning and the school budget.
The politically savvy Dr. Love appears to have won school board concerssions on both fronts. Despite legal requirements that bar the superintendent from direct control in either area, the board has agreed that she will have an oversight role in both. Dr. Love has been authorized to bring three top aides with her from Oakland, Calif., where she has been school superintendent since 1975. One aide will deal specifically with financial matters. Another is a desegregation expert. (As well, Dr. Love negotiated a record salary: $120,000 per year in a four-year contract.)
Dr. Love's record in Oakland shows that she built up cooperation both within the school system and the community, as shown by widespread support by parents and the business community. School board members there also credit her for bolstering the public school budget with a series of large state and federal grants.
Her earlier experience as director of the federal Right to Read program and as chief of California's Bureau of Compensatory Education has added to the feeling here that she brings valuable skills and contacts with her to Chicago.
All these skills and contacts will be needed in the desegregation drive. Currently the city is under court order to draw up a plan by March 11 to satisfy the US Department of Justice. Dr. Love will be responsible for implementing that plan, with any court-directed changes, by Sept. 1, in Chicago's 460,000 -student school system, the nation's third-largest. The Chicago system is 10 times the size of Oakland's, but its racial balance -- 60 percent black, 19 percent white, and 21 percent other minority -- is similar.
In accepting the Chicago post, Dr. Love welcomed "an opportunity to help more students than I could help in Oakland" and explained that "the more people told me how difficult it was, how impossible it was, the more I knew they had me hooked."