Getting on the same page

September 29, 1992

Dr. Stuart D. Berger might have been hired to make waves in Baltimore County, but for now he enjoys a honeymoon period in his new post as superintendent of county schools.

Since taking the job three months ago, he has advanced several innovative proposals, including an all-day kindergarten, an elementary-school experiment in which letter grades are not given and an arts high school. Yet, at this early stage, many observers are waiting to see how far Dr. Berger actually goes. Will he tinker with the school system or perform a major overhaul?

Among those watching most anxiously are advocates of the minority students who constitute a fifth of the county's school enrollment of 93,000. The county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other advocacy groups criticized the administration of Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, Dr. Berger's predecessor, for what they claimed to be insensitivity toward minority students, blacks in particular. The groups charged, for example, that black students were excessively disciplined and unfairly under-represented in gifted-and-talented programs.

Enter Stuart Berger, with his claims of having boosted the achievements of minority students in his previous superintendencies in Wichita, Kan., and Frederick County. He also arrives in Towson with ideas and goals -- site-based management at individual schools, a lower expulsion rate among blacks -- that are music to the ears of the advocacy groups.

But Dr. Berger must realize he's not in Kansas anymore, or even Western Maryland. Baltimore County is larger and more urban, and thus comes with problems that will likely prove tougher to solve than those he encountered in Wichita and Frederick County. Bettering the lot of minority students in Baltimore County won't be an overnight job. It will require much patience on Dr. Berger's part, and on the part of advocacy groups understandably impatient for change.

What is significant and heartening is that the county school superintendent and the advocates of minority students appear to be on the same page. They should make every effort to stay there as they undertake this overdue but difficult educational task.

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