The first of five finalists for Baltimore school superintendent today began a marathon series of interviews with school and community leaders, as the process of picking a new school chief enters its final phase.
Panelists grilled three candidates for more than three hours today at the New Community College of Baltimore's Liberty Campus. The remaining two candidates will undergo the same process tomorrow.
"People are very interested, the questions are right on target," said Stelios Spiliados, school board vice president and chairman of the search committee, adding that board members were on hand "to see how the candidates will respond to the community."
Interviewed today were:
*Charles M. Bernardo, an educational consultant and former Montgomery County school superintendent.
*Lillian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C.
*Patsy Baker Blackshear, associate superintendent of management resources, human resources and labor relations, in Baltimore city public schools.
Scheduled for interviews tomorrow are:
*Walter G. Amprey, associate superintendent in Baltimore County public schools.
*David W. Hornbeck, former Maryland state superintendent of schools.
Tomorrow's interviewees had been referred to the search committee by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
The search committee, which has been seeking a replacement for outgoing school chief Richard C. Hunter since January, is hoping to pick a finalist by the first or second week of July.
In a 65-minute session with community leaders, Bernardo promised a businesslike approach to managing the schools.
"We must approach this issue with the same degree of urgency as a corporate executive in the private sector would," said Bernardo, adding:
"What is needed . . . is not someone with a savior mentality, you need someone who is skilled as a team builder. You need someone who is a good listener."
Bernardo also called for a privately funded educational foundation that could make grants to the school system to encourage improvements.
Gonzalez stressed the need to make schools accountable for their performance.
She said the budget should be linked to performance and that the school system should not "keep funding those aspects of our institution that don't work."
"I am looking at a district that's willing to change," she said. "You have all the elements that are necessary."
Gonzalez pledged strong vision and leadership for the system.
Blackshear, the only school system insider among the finalists, said federal funds could be better targeted to fill the needs of an underfunded school system. She urged a focus on improvements at the schoolhouse level.
"I strongly believe that in order to improve education we have to improve what is going on in the classroom," said Blackshear.
She said improvements could be made without clashing with school unions. Among the groups interviewing candidates today were the Greater Baltimore Committee, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the union representing principals and administrators, and an assortment of community groups.