Leonard Britton | Former superintendent led schools in difficult times

Aug 11, 2009


Miami Herald–August 11, 2009


Leonard Britton, who, as superintendent of the Miami-Dade school district, was at the helm when riots forced the schools to close and the Mariel boatlifts brought thousands of children all at once to Miami’s shores, died Sunday in Los Angeles.

Britton, who had been hospitalized for an infection, was 78.

He served as superintendent of Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth largest school district, from 1980 until 1987, when he left to take the reins of the nation’s second-largest school district in Los Angeles.

A career educator, Britton started out as a science teacher in Pennsylvania before moving to Cleveland and then South Florida. He came to Miami-Dade in 1965 as an area superintendent.

School Board members chose Britton for the top job after his predecessor was indicted for using school district money for personal gain.

“They turned to him because this was a man of integrity,” said his wife of nearly 25 years, Sherrill W. Britton. “This was a man who restored confidence in the school system.”

Miami-Dade School Board Chair Solomon Stinson was one of Britton’s associate superintendents in the 1980s.

“He was a fine leader,” Stinson said. “He came in at a pretty turbulent time. He contributed greatly to the school system.”

Riots in Liberty City erupted just months after Britton took over as superintendent. His wife said he remembered “that when he made the decision to open the schools that he felt he was able to restore some calmness and normalcy back to the city.”

He also dealt with the influx of children from the Mariel boatlift, putting schools on double sessions to accommodate new students.

“He had some extraordinary challenges there,” Sherrill Britton said.

Britton was credited with helping to improve the district despite the challenges.

He also had the privilege of serving as superintendent during his daughter’s graduation from Coral Gables Senior High School .

“When I graduated in ’81, he was the one on stage and handed me my diploma,” said daughter Laura Ruth Britton, of San Antonio. “I was so thrilled.”

She said she has always been struck by her father’s sense of integrity.

Daughter Jane Britton Adair, a teacher at Glades Middle School in Miami, said she still hears from people who remember her father and speak highly of him.

Britton served as superintendent in Los Angeles until 1990. He worked as an educational consultant after that and, after retiring, traveled the world with his wife.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, Britton is survived by stepsons Douglas C. Kellner of Coral Gables and Adam C. Kellner of Los Angeles and four grandchildren.

Services in South Florida are pending.