Lionel Lauer, 91, of West Berlin, an educator who rose from substitute teacher to associate superintendent for instruction in the School District of Philadelphia, died Friday, Oct. 11, of pneumonia at the Fountains at Cedar Parke in Atco.
“He was very good at his job,” said former schools superintendent Constance E. Clayton. “He was thoughtful, innovative, and dedicated to his profession.”
Born in Philadelphia to Hattie and David Lauer, he graduated from Northeast High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Temple University.
He moved quickly from substitute, to teacher, to principal, and finally to administrator, all within the city school district.
Although he didn’t tout his own success, Mr. Lauer was respected in educational circles and often quoted in the press.
Mr. Lauer taught Chubby Checker, whose given name is Ernest Evans, in the sixth grade at Meredith Elementary School at Fifth and Fitzwater Streets.
“He was wonderful,” Mr. Lauer told an Art Alliance meeting in November 1988 at which Checker was honored. “We used to have music in class. He sang, and it gave me chills.”
Years later, when Checker returned to visit Meredith, the singer got up on stage to demonstrate the Twist, Stu Bykofsky reported in a 1988 Inquirer column.
“Ernie, come down from there, that’s disgusting,” Mr. Lauer recalled saying and then added: “I later twisted at his wedding.”
In times of triumph or trouble, Mr. Lauer was often the school district’s public face.
In May 1981, he was present when Barbara Bush, wife of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, toured the Fitler Academics Plus School in Germantown, which emphasized discipline, parental involvement, and mastery of basic reading and math skills. Its test scores had risen.
She was touting literacy, the Associated Press reported on May 27, 1981. “If you can’t read, you just can’t go on,” she said. Mr. Lauer told Mrs. Bush that the school “was experimental, but it drew such a response that the school board started other back-to-basics schools.”
In 1987, he announced the expulsion of a middle-school student for selling cocaine on school grounds. It was the first time a student had been expelled for selling drugs since 1964. Previously, students charged with drug violations were sent to disciplinary schools.
The student’s behavior, said Mr. Lauer in a 1987 Inquirer article, was “calculated, damaging, and pervasive in its impact.”
In 1990, when Clayton ordered the reshuffling of principals among 45 of the district’s schools, Mr. Lauer hastened to calm fears that the moves were punitive.
“Every principal involved in this move today is a satisfactory principal,” he said in an Inquirer article that year. “This is an acknowledgement of valued employees having the opportunity to work in still other sites and bring their skills to other schools.”
Clayton said Mr. Lauer was “very gracious, nice as a human, and committed to working.” He was an important part of her cabinet. “We all learned from each other,” she said.
He retired from the district in the early 1990s but wasn’t idle long.
In 1992, Mr. Lauer was serving as interim chief of staff for the Chester Upland School District when violence broke out at Chester High School. Thirty students were arrested. Officials briefly closed the school.
When the Chester Upland Education Association voted no confidence in the ability of officials to maintain a safe teaching environment, Mr. Lauer responded that he was investigating the charges against the students. He went to the high school and mingled with teachers.
“I was very well-received and felt my being there was important to the teachers today,” he later told The Inquirer.
Called a “no-nonsense educator” and “an affable veteran of urban education” by the Courier-Post, he was consulted in 1996 on how to turn around the Camden School District, which had low test scores. His mission was to review its organizational structure.
“The only responsibility I feel to Camden is to its kids,” he told the newspaper. “When I finish this assignment, there could very well be a number of people who are unhappy I arrived here.”
Mr. Lauer was married to Charlotte Lauer. They had a son, Marshall, whom they raised in East Oak Lane. After his wife died in 1987, Mr. Lauer moved to Cherry Hill, then West Berlin.
Besides his son, he is survived by three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Services were Sunday, Oct. 13.