BOSTON has chosen a new superintendent of schools who has long experience in urban, racially mixed, public education systems and a reputation as a no-nonsense administrator. Dr. Laval S. Wilson happens to be black. The Boston School Committee's 9-to-4 vote to hire Dr. Wilson is not significant because of his race. There are 131 black superintendents of city school systems in the United States; of 35 school chiefs in major cities, 13 are black and two are members of other minority groups.
The nation takes note of Dr. Wilson's new assignment because Boston has over the past decade symbolized the plight of large city school systems experiencing the travail of desegregation, white flight, control by federal judges (for more than 10 years in this case), attempts to take politics and waste out of school administration, and revolving-door leadership as a succession of superintendents resigned or were fired.
Dr. Wilson faces a public school enrollment that is 50 percent black, 20 percent other minorities; a dropout rate of between 40 and 50 percent; an oversupply of administrators; too many poorly qualified teachers; and a chaotic financial system. With the federal court finally turning the system's reins back to its elected and appointed officials, Dr. Wilson must first look to preserving and solidifying the new era of racial harmony that seems to have dawned in the Boston school system. He is fortu nate to have the support of Mayor Raymond Flynn. A lifelong resident of South Boston, which in 1974 became a symbol of bitter white opposition to school integration, Mayor Flynn since his election in 1983 has turned Boston's penchant for neighborhood insularity into a force for citywide unity -- race aside.
In the last 10 years thousands of Boston's middle-class white students have entered parochial schools or moved to the suburbs. Some 90 percent of the city's high school students are blacks or members of other minorities. The new superintendent must find ways to persuade middle-class minority residents -- those intact families that can provide student body stability and parental support -- to stay in Boston. He must break through a tradition of inbreeding that keeps too many underqualified teachers and a dministrators in the school system. And, with the help of others, he must try to fulfill the longstanding goal of providing more vocational options for Boston's high school graduates.
The transition from judicial control of public schools to the post-desegregation job of building an effective educational system is welcome -- even when, as in Dr. Wilson's case, the challenge is formidable.