High expectations

December 11, 1990

With so much expected of public schools these days, the job of superintendent is increasingly becoming a political hot seat. But in some ways that may not be so bad. It usually takes powerful pressure to bring about changes in sluggish bureaucracies -- and political expectations can be powerful forces for change.

Mayor Schmoke's great expectations for the Baltimore schools have put pressure on Superintendent Richard C. Hunter, the man who was brought in to turn the schools around. So far, most of those expectations have gone unmet, and now the mayor is asking the school board for a quick decision on whether it will renew Hunter's contract when it expires July 31.

Hunter has been here less than three years and his performance has been mixed at best: The board last week gave him only a "satisfactory" rating -- roughly the equivalent of a "C" on the standard academic grading scale. But already the school bureaucracy is gearing up to keep him in place. After all, from a bureaucrat's point of view, the status quo is almost always preferable to change. A known quantity is always better than an unknown.

Some may argue that a superintendent who earns a "satisfactory" rating may be performing as well or better than the city's school system as a whole. But it will take superior leadership to provide the energy for change the system needs. The mayor -- and the people who elected him -- deserve a quick decision on Hunter's contract. They also deserve more than a "satisfactory" performance by a superintendent.

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