Montgomery School Vacancy

December 24, 1990

At first blush, Montgomery County's premier school system would seem to have little in common with its counterparts in Prince George's County and Baltimore City. Yet it, too, is facing a leadership crisis created by the departure of Superintendent Harry Pitt.

Mr. Pitt, a respected steward of one of the region's largest and most diverse school systems, surprised Board of Education members with his decision to retire. He joins a growing regional club of deposed or weary superintendents faced with monumental problems and unmet expectations of bureaucrats, parents and community groups.

In Baltimore City, Mayor Kurt Schmoke has ended Richard Hunter's troubled tenure. Prince George's County chief John Murphy is openly looking for a new job. The District of Columbia's board of education last month fired superintendent Andrew Jenkins.

Mr. Pitt, who unlike his counterparts was not asked to leave or in trouble with parents, faced a different set of pressures. In a county where superior schools are a priority, expectations tend to run high. Worse, Montgomery is in the midst of a growth spurt that is increasing enrollments 25 percent just as county revenues are plunging.

Mr. Pitt insists he is "not quitting because things are getting harder," yet admits the job is "very wearing, very stressful."

The county's seven-member school board, in a state of flux itself with four new members, faces a tough job in replacing Mr. Pitt. Though not known as a reformer or innovator, the former Silver Spring high school principal has implemented a series of gradual changes aimed at improving the quality of instruction, reducing class sizes and boosting the performance of minority students.

His surprise departure is a sign of changing times in suburban school systems, which are facing fiscal constraints and increasingly high expectations. This is occurring as public support for education wanes in an era of aging households.

Montgomery's new superintendent must be up to other challenges such as improvement in early- childhood education and in minority education and incorporating diverse cultures into the curriculum. Montgomery has been at the forefront of much of what is innovative in regional education. Its school board must now find a new leader capable of taking over where Harry Pitt left off.

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