When a board appointed by Congress seized control of the D.C. public schools in 1996, its members were eager to give the school system a clean break from its troubled past. They fired Superintendent Franklin L. Smith, replaced him with a war hero, retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr., and urged Becton not to bother debriefing Smith.
“I finally decided, ‘This is crazy,’ ” said Becton, who arranged a quiet meeting with his predecessor at a downtown office building. The advice Smith gave was ominous.
“I know you are accustomed to giving orders, turning around and saying, ‘Forward march!’ ” Smith recalled telling Becton. “My only advice is that in this job, you turn around and look to see who is following you. Because every time you think people are following you, they are not. And that includes the inside staff.”
A year and a half later, it was the general’s turn to leave town in frustration, blamed for failing to transform the schools.