Catholic schools attract principals from public side Administrators opt for more power despite lower pay

November 25, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

During his years as a Baltimore County public school principal, Andrew H. Dotterweich Jr. often longed for the power to make his schools more effective.

Then he found a way to fulfill his fantasy.

Dr. Dotterweich retired last spring from Towson High School after 32 years in the county school system to become principal of Towson Catholic High School.

In making the switch, Dr. Dotterweich left a highly centralized public system that gives its principals very little authority for a tiny, struggling parochial school where he calls most of the shots.

He is not alone.

A small but growing number of Baltimore area public school principals are retiring early, collecting their pensions and taking lower paid jobs at parochial schools. For them, the national debate over school-based management -- a movement to give public school principals more control over hiring, spending, disciplinary policies, course offerings and other practices -- is over.

"Every principal has a dream," says Dr. Dotterweich, sitting in his office at Towson Catholic. "What will happen if I'm in charge? This is an opportunity for me to carry it out. It's exciting."

But the influx of retired public school principals into the parochial system disturbs some Catholic educators who believe that jobs are being taken from veteran Catholic school teachers.

"These are people who have devoted their entire careers to Catholic education," says Patricia Ostermann, who was ousted as the principal of Towson Catholic last year and now is an assistant principal at Catholic High School of Baltimore. "Why would you go outside the system if the people inside have been doing a good job -- and they have been?"

Larry Callahan, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, estimates that public school retirees account for about 10 percent of the 101 principals in the Catholic system. Almost all of them have been hired in the last five years.

Mr. Callahan acknowledges that the decision to hire public school administrators has been controversial. "It doesn't rest too easily with some of our own prospective principals," he says.

The parochial system tries to cultivate administrative talent in itsranks through a training program at Loyola College. Mr. Callahan set up the program three years ago when it became clear that the traditional leaders of Catholic schools -- priests and nuns -- were no longer readily available.

"I have made a commitment to train our own people for leadership positions," Mr. Callahan says. "That's my first priority."

But he is reluctant to turn away experienced principals from the public system as long as they are Catholic, active in their churches and committed to the values and philosophy of the parochial system. "I'm really not out recruiting principals from the public system," Mr. Callahan says. "There has to be a real interest in the Catholic school system."

Increasingly, there is.

When Paul M. Johnson attended a meeting for new parochial school principals over the summer in Emmitsburg, at least four of the 15 principals were public school retirees, he says. Mr. Johnson, who retired as a central office administrator for Baltimore public schools in 1990, is now a principal at St. Cecilia's School in West Baltimore.

In some cases, public school principals are being recruited into the archdiocese by their former colleagues. Dr. Dotterweich, for instance, was offered his job at Towson Catholic by another retiredBaltimore County principal, Bill Lowman, director of Towson Catholic and the parish's lower school, Immaculate Conception. A third former county principal, David A. DeGrafft, is Immaculate Conception's middle school coordinator.

Principals who have made the switch say running a Catholic school is far more satisfying than running a public school, where most policy and spending decisions are made by the school board and central office administrators.

Although the archdiocese sets broad policies for its schools -- all students, for instance, must take religion classes -- the direction, staffing and day-to-day decisions are left to principals.

"You have the authority to do the job," explains Joseph R. Campbell, who became the principal of Rosa Parks Middle School, a Catholic school in Northwest Baltimore, after retiring // from the Baltimore city public schools in 1985. "You are in control of your budget, and you decide your staffing needs."

But taking a job in the Catholic system can be a tremendous adjustment for public school principals, Mr. Callahan says. They find themselves ordering janitorial supplies, answering phones and doing anything else needed to make their schools run.

"Our principals are enormously overworked," the superintendent says. "They don't have the kind of administrative support they get in a public school."

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