'Take your time'

May 03, 1991

Less than a month before Baltimore's self-imposed deadline to find a new superintendent of schools, Mayor Kurt Schmoke has told his school board to keep on looking. The mayor's decision reportedly was prompted by widespread disappointment among local leaders and community groups with the current short list of five candidates selected by the board April 19.

If prolonging the search beyond May is what's required to pick the best possible person to lead this city's educational renaissance, then the board should by all means take its time. Baltimore has too much riding on the performance of its next superintendent to be rushed into a decision. Better spend a little longer now than be stuck with a poor choice later.

The individual who is eventually chosen will have a full menu of issues to deal with: Low test scores, underfunded budgets, school violence, teen pregnancy and a dropout rate approaching 50 percent. In addition, he or she will have to figure out how to manage the transition from centralized control to school-based management, enlist the support of the business community and recruit better teachers.

Finally, the new schools chief will have to oversee an array of potentially controversial educational experiments, ranging from "Afro-centric" curriculums to all-male classrooms.

Obviously, this will require a very special type of person. There simply are no good models for what Baltimore is trying to accomplish. The new schools chief must be a pioneer and an innovator as well as a solid educator and skilled manager. We don't doubt such people exist and that they can be persuaded to come here. If it takes time to find them, so be it; with so much of the city's future riding on the outcome, Baltimore can afford to be patient.

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