Bud Spillane has passed. The legendary superintendent ran school districts large and small – and really big including Northern Virginia’s behemoth and sprawling Fairfax County. His career arced along with some of the most contentious issues to face public schools, for instance desegregation in Boston when he led there and then later merit pay in Fairfax County. In other words, the nation’s educational walk from access to excellence paralleled his own.
He was no-nonsense about things. Once faced with a Fairfax County teacher sexually abusing students and an almost hopelessly dysfunctional process for addressing it Spillane went to work saying, “at the end of the day one of us won’t have a job.” He kept his. Boston was no picnic, he ended the practice of selling principalships via local Democratic committees. This line from The Times’ obit says it all:
As a reformer he displayed a brash zeal that energized supporters and alienated critics, and he earned nicknames like “the Velvet Hammer” and “Six-Gun Spillane” for his willingness to take on entrenched interests.
That’s about right. He loved public schools, so much that he expected much more from them and had little patience for those who didn’t. But I’m biased, he signed my high school diploma and shook my hand when I received it. Getting to work with him later on a few projects was a career treat.
More from The Washington Post on his time in Fairfax County.