Vowing to put a fresh face at the front of nearly every classroom, the newly appointed principal of an underperforming Boston school broomed out dozens of teachers last spring and swept in talented colleagues from places he formerly worked.
To win over parents, he dispatched teachers on home visits over the summer, hosted back-to-school events, and sent students home with letters promoting the efforts to overhaul the South End’s Blackstone Elementary School.
By the time fall rolled around, Stephen Zrike appeared to be on the verge of orchestrating an elusive feat in urban education: turning a school of persistent failure into an academic success.
But then last month, Zrike, a 34-year-old rising star of the Boston public school system, abruptly walked away. He accepted a more prestigious position in Chicago’s public school system, leaving Blackstone in the lurch and Superintendent Carol R. Johnson scrambling to find a temporary replacement.
Across the country, urban school districts have been hiring “hero principals,’’ charismatic leaders with the innate ability to quickly execute fundamental changes to a school’s operations and culture and to rejuvenate underperforming schools. But Zrike’s untimely exit is raising questions about what happens to an underperforming school when its hero principal leaves: Will it be able to sustain momentum, or will it slide backward?