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City's top educator has been offered Delaware superintendency

Marcia Lyles, the city’s top-ranking educator, has been offered the superintendency of a 17,000-student Delaware school district, according to a person who just left the meeting of the Christina Public Schools school board.

The six-member board voted unanimously to offer Lyles the position at about 9 p.m., Harrie Ellen Minnehan, a teacher who was at the meeting, just told me. Lyles, since 2007 the city’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, was not present for the vote, Minnehan said.

Minnehan described the school board meeting as unusually subdued, considering the magnitude of the announcement. “Usually when they announce something like that people are very excited,” she said. “Tonight, everyone just sat there stunned. You could literally hear a pin drop.” She said some of the 50 people in the audience got up and walked out before the vote in protest. “I could not sit in there when they voted,” Minnehan told me a principal friend said to her.

A reason for the unenthusiastic response is that the local teachers and principals unions had endorsed Lyles’ chief opponent, Freeman Williams, a longtime district educator. They had also opposed Lyles in part because of her affiliation with the Broad Foundation, which operates a principal training program that she attended several years ago, Minnehan told Elizabeth earlier.

“It wasn’t so much a question of not supporting her, it was a question of supporting the other candidate,” Minnehan told me. “We’ve known him and we like him and he’s been a very good interim superintendent.”

Should Lyles accept the board’s offer, she would be moving to a school district very different from the one she would be leaving behind. The Christina district is the largest school district in Delaware, but the population of the entire state is less than the number of students in New York City’s schools. Every school in the district except one has so many students living in poverty that they receive special federal funds, and 35 percent of children in the state attend private schools.

Plus, Minnehan said, Newark and Wilmington, the two cities that are partially included in the Christina district, just aren’t big cities. “I’ve lived in Manhattan, and living in Manhattan just isn’t in any way, shape, or form like living in Delaware,” she said. “If you want to do something fun in Delaware, you go to Philadelphia.”

And with an active school board, the political situation is Christina is very different from what Lyles is set to leave behind. “We have to learn to work with her, and she has to learn to work with us,” Minnehan said, referring to her role in the teachers union. “It’s going to be a whole different situation for her. She’ll have to answer to the board.”

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