Black groups praise, criticize Baltimore County schools chief

June 27, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

A photo caption accompanying an article in Sunday's edition on press conferences by black community and educational leaders in Baltimore County incorrectly identified a man in the photograph as Harold Gordon. The person was Barry Williams, the county's director of school communications.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Embattled Baltimore County school Superintendent Stuart Berger remained at the center of a storm yesterday as three black groups -- citizens and educators -- painted him as a figurative devil or saint, depending on who had the microphone.

Leaders of the Baltimore County and Randallstown branches of the NAACP led off three back-to-back-to-back press conferences outside school headquarters in Towson.


They denounced Dr. Berger and called for an "emergency meeting" within five days to discuss minority concerns they contend he has ignored.

If the superintendent does not agree, the two NAACP branches "have no other choice except to join the parents and other organizations in requesting the [school] board to call for Dr. Berger's resignation," Randallstown branch President Sara J. Lee said.

Next up was a group of nine black school administrators, led by Dr. Stephen Jones, the county's northern area superintendent.

He said Dr. Berger is bringing often-discussed but never-implemented and long overdue changes to county schools. Such changes will improve schools for minorities, as well as all students, he said.

The third group included James Pennington, former county NAACP president who now heads the Banneker Community Development Association, and Harold Gordon, of the Coalition of Concerned African American Organizations.

They reiterated the support for Dr. Berger their organizations expressed at Wednesday's six-hour school board hearing at which Dr. Berger's defenders were booed roundly.

"We've been screaming for this [change] for 14 years. This man is a man of action. He will accomplish the job," Mr. Pennington said.

Dr. Berger was unavailable for comment on yesterday's press conferences.

The single point of agreement yesterday was that communications between school headquarters and the community have been poor, or worse, since Dr. Berger arrived last year and set about the most far-reaching reorganization of the school system in memory.

Before yesterday's first press conference, Mr. Williams sat with Ella White Campbell, a Randallstown civic activist and NAACP ++ board member, and read the statement the group was about to make public.

Among the complaints were that the suspension and expulsion rate for minority students has "continued to escalate" under the Berger administration, that minority achievement is not respected and that minorities continue to be shut out of the gifted and talented program.

The NAACP also complained that classroom materials contain demeaning portrayals of minorities, that there is an alarming imbalance in the ratio of minority teachers to students and that minority administrators have been transferred or demoted without good cause.

"The only part that is accurate is about the poor communications," Mr. Williams told her. "Communication has been one of our downfalls this year, and Dr. Berger has vowed to improve it," he said.

Yesterday, Ms. Campbell declared, "The divisions have become ugly, and it's got to stop." She said yesterday's events proved that the black community "like others, is not monolithic. It has the same diversity and differences of opinion as any community."

The black administrators who came to support Dr. Berger represented no organized group but were concerned that there have been misrepresentations about what is happening within the school system, Dr. Jones said.

"It is ironic that Dr. Berger is falling under criticism," Dr. Jones said, because the changes under way were proposed long before he came to Baltimore County "and Dr. Berger is the change agent, he was brought here to make changes. His style is refreshing."

Dr. Jones said he has worked in the school system for 24 years "and we've never undergone a reorganization like this, [though] it has happened elsewhere [in Maryland]. People who have requested changes for years now feel good about the direction [of the schools] under Dr. Berger."

Dr. Jones said that in the next school year there will be more black principals and administrators than ever before as the result of Dr. Berger's changes, including some brought in from other school systems.

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