Educational Leadership in Baltimore CountyAs a high school...


April 10, 1993

Educational Leadership in Baltimore County

As a high school principal and a parent of a student in the Baltimore County public schools, I cannot allow the recent attacks on school board members Rosalie Helman and Calvin Disney, as well as the vicious attacks on Superintendent Stuart Berger, to go unanswered.

While I am sure that the parent group recently formed in Perry Hall is well intentioned, I am afraid that they are reacting to rumor and innuendo rather than a careful analysis of the facts.

To fully understand many of the initiatives being undertaken in the school system, a brief history lesson is necessary: One must first review how the members of the board (headed by Mrs. Helman and Mr. Disney) selected Dr. Berger as superintendent.

The board hired an independent consultant who spent hours and hours meeting with representatives of all segments of the Baltimore County community.

Politicians, business men and women, school administrators, community leaders, students and teachers were asked to identify the characteristics that a new superintendent should possess.

Once the board received the composite profile, it drafted a vision statement which guided the selection of a new superintendent.

As the past president of the Secondary School Administrators' Association, I participated in one of the discussion groups held with the consultant. I can say unequivocally that many of the suggestions offered by our group were incorporated into the final statement drafted by the board.

At the time, many other groups also reported that their input was also reflected in the board's final draft.

That thorough process, which was designed by the present board of education, hardly seems indicative of a group of individuals recently accused of a "lack of communication."

To grasp the significance of the changes initiated by Dr. Berger, it is helpful to examine several of the tenets stated in the board's vision statement: Increase student success as measured by test scores, graduation and attendance rates, and reduction in incidents leading to suspension and expulsion; the ability to recognize and deal with the needs of a more urbanized system with an increasing enrollment; strategies to help the urban child; implementing technology; a master plan for community relations order to minimize effects of racial issues; promotion of family involvement in schools; revise the instructional program to eliminate tracking; set high standards for all students; and devise a restructured compensation system so as to attract, develop and retain the highest quality staff.

I can't imagine that anyone would argue that these are not admirable educational goals.

In a day and age when many bureaucracies are reluctant to take chances, citizens of Baltimore County should be proud that they have a board of education that is willing to strike out in a bold new direction: They are ready, willing, and able to do what is right rather than what is easy.

If members of the public will look past simplistic rhetoric and focus on actions, they will see that every one of Dr. Berger's initiatives is consistent with the goals outlined in the document which led to his selection. He is simply implementing an educational blueprint drafted by the citizens of Baltimore County.

Are members of the board and Dr. Berger impatient? Probably. But remember the issue that leads to their impatience, the future of the children in Baltimore County. Can there be a better reason to be impatient?

Finally, I must address the incredible accusation that Dr. Berger has failed to communicate with parents. In my 21 years as an educator, I have never seen a superintendent spend more time at community meetings. At these meetings, which have been held in every section of the county, Dr. Berger has stayed for hours answering question after question.

Do the families at these meetings always get the safe, political answers to which we have become so accustomed from those in positions of power? No. They receive direct, honest responses to what are often very difficult questions.

It may be that it is this honesty, to which we are so unaccustomed, that has un-nerved the concerned citizenry of our county.

Rather than be alarmed, we ought to find this honest, direct approach refreshing.

Honest responses to complicated issues may not always be easy to digest, but they are certainly preferable to traditional political doublespeak.

Change is never easy, yet everyone concerned about the future of our nation and our children agrees that it is time to take a bold new path.

I encourage parents throughout the county, without whose support we cannot be successful, to remember that when Dr. Berger was preparing to leave Wichita, numerous community leaders were asked one critical question: "Are the children of Wichita better off now because Stuart Berger has been the superintendent of schools?" Without hesitation their answer was resounding yes.

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