A Dubel successor due from Wichita Berger is an ex-Frederick Co. school chief.

February 13, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Stuart D. Berger, who heads the school system in Wichita, Kan., where his tenure has been controversial, has been selected to succeed Robert Y. Dubel as school superintendent in Baltimore County.

The county's school board will announce the choice today, officials in Wichita and Baltimore County confirmed last night.

Dr. Berger, 47, a former middle school English teacher, headed the Frederick County school system in Western Maryland from 1981 to 1987. Dr. Dubel will retire at the end of this school year after 16 years in the Baltimore County job.

The county's school board president, Rosalie Hellman, is expected to make the announcement about Dr. Berger at 1:30 p.m. at the system's Greenwood headquarters.

Dr. Berger, reached at his home in Wichita last night, said of the reports of his appointment, "I've heard the same thing today, but I really can't confirm that now."

He is scheduled to take over Baltimore County's 93,000-student system July 1. Dr. Berger was also a finalist for superintendent of the Orlando, Fla., school system.

He was appointed superintendent of the 43,000-student Wichita school district in March 1987, with a mandate from the school board there to implement innovative educational measures. Commenting on his tenure there, Dr. Berger said, "It's been a real challenge, but I really don't want to say anything right now."

According to press reports, his term has been stormy, and although he has enjoyed strong support from some members of the school boardand community, he has also had many vocal opponents.

"He's been a controversial superintendent. He's brought about a lot of needed changes in the school district," said Wichita school board member Carol Rupe, who supports Dr. Berger.

Those changes included starting specialized magnet schools in the inner city, beginning a program providing extra support for at-risk students and transforming the district's junior high schools into middle schools that are "more student-centered than subject-centered," Mrs. Rupe said.

But she acknowledged that his relations with many teachers in the district were strained.

He is vocal in his philosophy that all children can learn, although not all in the same way or at the same pace, and that "we must do a better job with all students because we can't afford to lose any of them," Mrs. Rupe said.

"This has been a source of some controversy for some teachers who have operated under the philosophy of 'Teach the best and leave the rest,' " she said.

"He also is a strong supporter of his administrators and the belief that teachers do not own their own jobs, they are answerable to someone, and that's the building administrator," Mrs. Rupe said.

She added that Dr. Berger has told her that he would be more careful in making changes. "He says that he has learned a lot with the controversy that he brought here, and I believe he understands that in order for ideas to be correctly implemented, there needs to be community consensus on them," she said.

Barbara Travis, president of the National Education Association of Wichita, a teachers' organization, said that teacher morale is probably lower now than when he took over.

"The greatest difficulty has been with the pace at which he chose to move," she said, adding that he often made impulsive statements that harmed his relations with teachers. "That's his biggest flaw, he doesn't think before he speaks."

Teachers also felt that they were blamed if they failed too many students, she said. "They were very discouraged from retaining kids that teachers felt should be retained to upgrade their skills," Ms. Travis said. The message teachers got was that "if you give too many F's, you're not teaching correctly."

The friction between Dr. Berger and some school board members came to a head in February 1990, when he took a two-week leave of absence that he called a cooling-off period after tempers flared over his proposed reform plan.

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