Enemies of Stuart Berger

April 09, 1993

Now it can be told: Stuart Berger's biggest shortcoming is that he's not Robert Dubel.

Dr. Berger, the Baltimore County school superintendent, faces a firestorm of opposition from county parents who apparently can't forgive him for the sin of being less skilled in public relations than was his predecessor, Dr. Dubel, who stepped down last summer after 16 years in the job.

A small, vocal group of parents from the northeast side of the county, Parents' Rights in Developing Education (PRIDE), has called for the resignations of Dr. Berger and assorted county Board of Education members. The charges? The superintendent and the board have moved too fast to alter the school system. Worse, they have done so in a brusque and secretive manner that strikes PRIDE and its backers as the height of arrogance.

This ruckus isn't surprising, given the reputation Dr. Berger brought with him from Wichita, Kan., and before that, Frederick County -- an agent of change if not a paragon of diplomacy.

During his brief time in Baltimore County, he has planned or instituted such major changes as establishing magnet schools, eliminating letter grades for elementary students, shifting to school-based management and revamping the administration.

We have supported Dr. Berger and many of his ideas, and we suspect much of the dissatisfaction with him derives from the general human tendency to resist change. As one county teacher points out, any shake-up of the status quo would seem monumental after the relative calm of Dr. Dubel's long tenure. That hardly excuses the semi-hysterics of PRIDE and others who seem to regard Dr. Berger as a Dr. Jekyll making reckless experiments with the school system and its children.

He is no mad scientist, but the superintendent has clearly mishandled this situation. When he first heard of PRIDE, he would have been wise to meet the leaders of the group. Instead, he reacted defensively, labeling PRIDE's stance "a phony issue." It doesn't take a Bob Dubel to know that's not the best way to win friends and influence people. A bulldozer style might be appropriate for the director of a large private corporation; for the head of a large public school system, which relies on the support of taxpayers, it can spell disaster.

Many people find Stuart Berger's blunt, straightforward approach very refreshing. But Dr. Berger should take care that this approach doesn't end up scuttling his numerous good ideas, making him his own worst enemy.

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