As superintendent of schools for nearly 16 years, Robert Y. Dubel has come to nearly define Baltimore County's school system for a generation of students and parents.
Following Dubel's announcement yesterday that he plans to retire next June, he received praise from supporters and at least a back-handed compliment or two from detractors.
"There's something to be said in turbulent times for stability," said school board member Dunbar Brooks, referring to Dubel's tenure, which come spring will rank as the longest among chiefs of the country's 100 largest school systems. "The system speaks for itself."
"I think it's an outstanding thing to know when to step aside to let another group of people come in," said Col. James R. Pennington, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose group felt the system has moved too slowly to improve conditions for minority students.
"I think it's one of the most timely things that could happen . . . Bob and I go way back. He's been a friend, but, philosophically, we believe that this is the right thing for him to do."
"He's an extremely competitive person," said Ed Veit, president of the county teachers' union. "You certainly have to admire what he's done for the Baltimore County school district."
"I've never known the man to surrender," said Richard E. Bavaria, county school spokesman. "He expects the best out of everybody around him, and, while that can be infuriating at times, it's also inspirational."
Dubel, 66, yesterday announced his plans to retire to about 300 principals, assistant principals, board members and staff members who attended the county's annual opening meeting at Loch Raven High School.
"I think it's a time for fresh leadership," he said.
A product of the county's public schools himself, Dubel began his career in education in 1949 as an English instructor at Upsala College in East Orange, N.J. He joined the county superintendent's office in 1968 as assistant superintendent in the division of staff and community relations. He became superintendent in 1975. He is now the highest paid employee of Baltimore County, receiving $115,000 a year.
Dubel said he does not plan to totally retire, and is entertaining offers to do "some rather attractive things that other people would like me to do." He declined to be more specific.
School Board President Rosalie Hellman declined to comment on possible successors, but she plans to hold a news conference Friday to discuss the board's plans for carrying out a search for a new superintendent.
While most observers agreed that the system will experience great change following Dubel's reign, some also looked forward to new ideas at the top.
"It will be difficult, but it will probably be a good change overall," said former County Council member Barbara F. Bachur, who had her differences with the school administration. "It will be interesting to see someone new come in because [Dubel] has been such a strong leader."
Pennington said he hopes the future will bring a change in the "whole attitudinal structure toward the African-American and other minorities," and that they will be accepted and included in all county plans.
"I'm sure he'll be missed initially, but the system will move on,"said Veit, head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "I'm of the opinion that no one is irreplaceable . . . but I'm hoping that it's not a political position where they just shuffle people around a bit . . . I'd like to see a concentration on youngsters."
"Today is one of those bittersweet days," said Bavaria. "We're going to miss him like crazy, but we're all real happy for him."