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LAM, Diana

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Diana Lam, former superintendent of schools

LAM, Diana. (Lima, Peru-- ). In July 1992, Lam was hired as the superintendent of the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT. She succeeded Dr. Howard PIGG. (1)

Lam worked her way up from being a teacher to the position of being one of Boston, Massachusetts' district superintendents. She became the Chelsea, Massachusetts superintendent in 1989. At the time Chelsea, one of the state's three poorest cities, had a 52% dropout rate when it was taken over by Boston University as a ten year educational reform experiment. Lam, hired by the university as the district's first superintendent, stayed two years before campaigning to become the mayor of Boston. During her tenure, the dropout rate fell to 4%, teacher morale improved, student test scores improved faster than anywhere else in the state, and the number of students going to college doubled. (2)

She also created some strong impressions. The Boston Globe newspaper featured her in fifty stories between late 1986 and just before she came to Dubuque. Many were flattering including a child advocate praising her leadership in Chelsea. A former Boston school official referred to her as "a young star in the system." In 1985 she filed a sex discrimination complaint against the Boston School Department for not allowing her to hire a black woman to be vice principal. Lam won her case. There were also strong critics. She was criticized for leaving education for politics--a campaign that ended soon after it began after revelations that she and her husband had not filed tax returns for 1988 and 1989 and had failed to register some of ten rental properties valued at $2.1 million which were they owned. (3)

In Dubuque, Lam established a number of initiatives including a task force to organize cooperative efforts between businesses and the schools; a plan calling for increased decision-making at the building level, improved student test scores, promotion of cultural diversity; EXPEDITIONARY LEARNING, and "clustering" to help the transition of junior high. Clustering meant dividing students and teachers into small groups that consistently worked together throughout 7th and 8th grades. (4) In February 1993 she announced the formation of her "Superintendent's Cabinet" of parents, teachers, principals, educators, social service workers, business people, a pastor, a teacher's association president, and a school board member. (5) She also supported an alliance of Audubon, Prescott, and Fulton elementary schools. Under the alliance plan, Prescott would become a school for the mid-city's students in pre-school through grade two; Fulton would serve students in grades three through six, and Audubon would become a year-round school for students in kindergarten through six grade. Students at Fulton would attend school for nine week and then have three weeks off before returning to school for another nine weeks. (6)

In August, 1992 it was announced that Lam would be offering a course exploring women's leadership in history and Dubuque. Interested high school seniors would participate in seminar meetings, complete weekly readings and written assignments, do a dramatic presentation a woman leader, present a speech or drama to a public group, participate in a small group project, and complete an individual leadership project. (7)

Lam introduced monthly breakfast meetings with senior citizens in September, 1993. Questions were asked about expeditionary learning and clustering. The next month the breakfast was to be given to members of the art community in the city. (8) In the school board elections that fall, however, voters replaced two Lam supporters with new people who campaigned against school reform. Counter protests with signs "Dubuquers for Diana Lam" were formed. (9)

In 1993 amid controversy about her curriculum changes and administrative style, the Board of Education voted 4-3 to renew Lam’s contract for another two years.

In March 1994 the board met in closed session with Lam to discuss her evaluation. At the time, a petition had been received signed by 811 residents saying Lam should not be retained. Another petition was being circulated in favor of the superintendent. (10) That month, with such supporters as Sister Catherine DUNN and Ernestine MOSS speaking on her behalf, the board offered a two-year renewal of her contract. (11) Whether to offer here a raise or not, however, was postponed. She was then the fifth highest paid superintendent in the state. (12)

Lam admitted in April, 1994 that after not being offered a new contract, she began applying for a similar position in other communities beginning in January. It was announced on April 26, 1994 that she was one of three finalists for the inner city school district in San Antonio, Texas. (13) On May 4, 1994 Lam had received contract proposalS from Dubuque and another from San Antonio which interestingly had the same 4-3 board split that had occurred in Dubuque. (14) Lam's acceptance of the offer from San Antonio was announced on May 12, 1994. (15)

In addition to new ideas of education, Lam's expeditionary learning brought $671,617 to Dubuque. This included $191,000 to pay teachers for extra training and planning, $131,000 for computer equipment, and $60,000 for substitute teachers. (16)

Dr. Marvin O'HARE succeeded her as superintendent.



1. Krapfl, Mike. "Board OKs Lam," Telegraph Herald, June 5, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920605&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. Krapfl, Mike. "Lams Leaves Behind Strong Impressions," Telegraph Herald, June 28, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920628&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. Krapfl, Mike. "Clustering Helps Transition to Junior High," Telegraph Herald, December 17, 1992, p. 3A

5. Krapfl, Mike. "Cabinet to Advise Lam," Telegraph Herald, February 19, 1993, p. 3A

6. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam Backs Schools' Alliance Plan," Telegraph Herald, January 29, 1993, p. 3A

7. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam to Teach Course," Telegraph Herald, August 2, 1992, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920803&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. Krapfl, Mike. "Senior Citizens Talk With Lam," Telegraph Herald, September 9, 1993, p. 3A

9. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam Chalks Up Support," Telegraph Herald, September 16, 1993, p. 1

10. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam Evaluated; Petition Turned In," Telegraph Herald, March 4, 1994, p. 1

11. Krapfl, Mike. "Split Vote Gives Lam Contract," Telegraph Herald, March 15, 1994, p. 1

12. Krapfl, Mike. "Dubuque School Taxes to Increase," Telegraph Herald, March 29, 1994, p. 2A

13. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam Finalist for Position in San Antonio," Telegraph Herald, April 26, 1994, p. 1

14. Krapfl, Mike. " 'Too Early to Say' Where Lam Will be Superintendent," Telegraph Herald, May 5, 1994, p. 3A

15. Krapfl, Mike. "Lam to Leave Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, May 12, 1994, p. 1

16. Krapfl, Mike. "3.55% Pay Hike Approved for School Administrators," Telegraph Herald, June 28, 1994, p. 3A