Stuart Berger's stumbling block

April 14, 1993

Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart Berger cam to Towson last year with a reputation as an agent of change. And so far, he has wasted little time planning or instituting a batch of major changes -- such as magnet schools, a new grading method for elementary students, school-based management and a revamped central office.

For some educators and parents of students, the alterations have come too quickly. Worse, these critics say, they have been wrought by the superintendent and the Board of Education in a secretive and haughty manner -- another element of the Berger style which was much reported and discussed before his arrival.

The loudest group of detractors to date has been a small group of parents from the northeast side of the county, Parents' Rights in Developing Education (PRIDE).

Recently, through public meetings and a campaign of letters to local newspapers, leaders of PRIDE have employed the angriest VTC terms and even Biblical imagery in calling for the resignations of Dr. Berger and board members.

In the lingo of today's students, the PRIDE parents need to chill. Much of their unhappiness with Dr. Berger probably stems from the human tendency to resist change. Any shake-up of the status quo is bound to appear earthshaking after the relative calm of Dr. Robert Dubel's long tenure.

Even Dr. Berger's critics admit he has some good ideas. Less than a year in Towson, these ideas deserve more of a chance than this band of naysayers would allow.

Yet it should also be noted that Dr. Berger has badly handled this situation. At the first squawk from PRIDE, he should have arranged to meet with them and open a channel of communication. Instead, he called the group's stance "a phony issue," merely alienating them more.

The superintendent has impressed people with his quick wit, his refreshing candor and his reluctance to schmooze like a two-faced pol. Still, he must realize he's running a large public school system that relies on the support of taxpayers. Sometimes a little diplomacy can keep potential disasters from blowing up. He didn't do that in the PRIDE case, and now he has a mess on his hands.

However refreshing Dr. Berger's straightforward style might be, he should be careful it doesn't become the main stumbling block his many commendable proposals for improving Baltimore County's school system.

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