Black parents group views Berger as needed medicine Superintendent has few supporters BALTIMORE COUNTY

June 25, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

For years, black parents and community groups who tried to persuade school officials to do more for their children felt like Orioles fans without tickets. They heard a lot of enthusiastic talk, they said, but saw very little action.

Now they're worried because a new superintendent, Stuart Berger, has jolted the system with what they see as beneficial changes, and everybody else seems to want him fired.

That's why the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations risked the jeers of other parents and the wrath of the county teachers' union to speak out in support of the embattled superintendent at Wednesday night's marathon gripefest at Loch Raven Senior High School.

"Dr. Berger is very progressive," said Patricia Medley, the mother of two Randallstown High School students and a former PTA president who defended Dr. Berger to a chorus of boos.

She and other members of the group, which is based in the Liberty Road corridor, had long been critical of the otherwise popular Robert Y. Dubel, who ran the county school system for 16 years before his retirement last year.

One of every four students in the Baltimore County school system is black, and blacks want more material on African-American culture and history added to curricula, said Harold Gordon, a member of the coalition who ran for County Council in 1990.

He said parents want teachers to have higher expectations for black students, which means more blacks in gifted and talented programs and less alleged "steering" of black youngsters to special education courses. They also think the school system suspends too many black students.

Mr. Gordon said Dr. Dubel did not act on their concerns. "It wasn't happening," he said.

Ms. Medley and Mr. Gordon said Dr. Dubel helped produce a 1989 Minority Achievement Participation and Success Plan that incorporated most of their goals. But they complain that Dr. Dubel never made sure the plan was carried out.

The Rev. W. James Favorite, president of the coalition, was so disappointed in the implementation of the plan that he resigned from the school system's Minority Education Coordinating Council.

Dr. Dubel yesterday rejected the coalition's charges.

"I just totally disagree with that," he said, noting that he created an Office of Minority Education at a time when the county was reducing overall administrative spending.

"I think they [minority staff members] were very effective. I think we were successful," he said, adding that he "shares the impatience that these groups have."

There is little doubt that some of the policy changes that angered many other parents under Dr. Berger pleased the black coalition.

For example, he has opened up admissions to gifted and talented classes -- despite the fears of other parents that the program will be watered down -- and he is actively promoting cultural diversity.

Coalition leaders said they sympathize with the parents of disabled children upset at Dr. Berger's quickly hatched plans for moving them from special education centers to neighborhood schools. They also have some reservations about his plans for seven magnet schools next fall. But they say they are otherwise pleased and get a clear impression that he is committed to change.

What will evolve from the controversy over Dr. Berger's performance -- and the complaints from most of the 77 speakers at the Loch Raven meeting -- remains to be seen.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden, who called for the hearing, and former school board President Donald E. Pearce, who moderated it, said yesterday that they plan no further involvement.

School board Chairwoman Rosalie Hellman said the board will take some time to review the public comments and discuss them with school staff.

"I think we need to respond in some way," she said yesterday. That response could include a series of smaller meetings with people interested in specific issues, she said.

But Mrs. Hellman expressed reservations about the legality of discussing personnel changes in public. Many of those at the meeting were upset by an unusually high number of demotions and transfers of experienced administrators and teachers.

She also said the county might try to allay concerns of special education parents by distributing the county's detailed plan for moving students to regular schools.

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