When Patsy Baker Blackshear left the Washington school system to become an associate superintendent in Baltimore, she said she was undaunted by the city schools' troubles and excited about working under the "strong leadership" of Dr. Richard C. Hunter.
"I know it won't be a bed of roses," Dr. Blackshear had said, after being hired in May 1989. "I'm always interested in a challenge."
Since then, challenges have arisen endlessly and improvements have been few. Baltimore schools continue to be widely criticized for students' low achievement-test scores, disgruntled teachers and a cumbersome bureaucracy.
And although the city has decided not to renew Dr. Hunter's contract, Dr. Blackshear remains. On Wednesday, the board announced that she is one of five finalists to be interviewed to replace Dr. Hunter.
"I'm excited about the job," she said, but declined to speak about her qualifications or ideas for improving schools. "I think it would be presumptuous of me to answer questions that I will probably be asked in interviews for the job," she said.
Dr. Blackshear, who is responsible for the school system's personnel and budget, was not on the previous list of finalists announced by the school board in April.
But a group of Baltimore City Council members and state delegates wrote a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that, among other things, asked that the school board consider candidates from within the school system.
The mayor agreed to prolong the search.
"It makes me happy that this list has someone from the current administration, because outsiders coming into the system may have wondered if we had any qualified people here," said Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, D-5th, chairwoman of the Education and Human Resources Committee. "And it bolsters morale for people inside to see someone from their ranks being considered."
Although she did not endorse any candidate for superintendent, Mrs. Reeves said she respected Dr. Blackshear's work.
The council member also said she did not believe that Dr. Blackshear would necessarily bring the same visions to the superintendent's job as Dr. Hunter.
"She happens to be part of the group that came in with Dr. Hunter, but each person should be evaluated on their own individual merit," said Mrs. Reeves. "I'm sure the board will be sensitive to that."
"One of her greatest strengths is she doesn't care if she's liked or not," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "She tries to do a good job for the children of Baltimore City."
Dr. Blackshear, 43, has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Arkansas, a master's degree in special education from American University and a doctorate in education from the University of Maryland at College Park.
She started her career in education more than 20 years ago as a middle school mathematics teacher in Washington. She became involved in special education and in teacher-training programs, and was appointed to coordinate the program for gifted and talented youngsters.
After serving a term on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education from 1980 to 1985, Dr. Blackshear was named assistant to an associate superintendent in Washington.
She served a year as an associate superintendent before accepting her current job in Baltimore in 1989.
Dr. Blackshear was only the third black person ever appointed to the Arundel board, and when she left she strongly urged then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes to name a black replacement. He did not.
"Because she was the only black on the board at the time, a lot of those issues seemed to be directed at her," said Dr. John Wisthoff, who also served on the board with Dr. Blackshear. "But she really cared about all issues, regardless of anyone's race. She always had the concerns of the students at heart."