Acting chief takes aim at morale School spirit needs lift after scandal

August 17, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

She won't talk about Northeast High School, Superintendent C. Berry Carter II or the system-wide investigation into how child abuse cases are handled.

What Carol Parham does want to talk about is how, as the Anne Arundel public school system's interim leader, she is working hard to remind school employees and parents about how good this county's schools and teachers really are.

"This has been a tough and traumatic time for everyone, and building morale is an evolutionary process. I mean, you can't look at someone and say, 'Now you will be happy,' " Dr. Parham said.

She began sowing the seeds of positive thought within two weeks after her temporary promotion July 31.

"I met with the central office staff last Monday to share with them directly what had occurred and to remind them that our focus is the children, and to be sure the 65,000 students in our school system are well-served," Dr. Parham said. "I told them I want to work as a team and that they should be positive in their dialogue about the school system. I refuse to allow a few to infect and ravage what is good about our school system because what is good far outweighs anything else."

There's no question the national spotlight on Anne Arundel schools has brought unwanted fame to the system, and for the worst of reasons.

First, there was the arrest of Northeast High School teacher Ronald Walter Price in April on charges he had sex with three students, followed by his appearance on nationally televised talk shows. Then two more teachers at the same school were arrested -- each facing a charge of child sex abuse involving a student.

Next, the school board voted to put Mr. Carter on paid leave, pending an investigation into whether he properly reported child abuse cases brought to his attention during the years he served as deputy superintendent.

Into the void left by Mr. Carter's unprecedented departure stepped Dr. Parham, the school system's director of Human Resources. And no one could have been more surprised at the school board's choice of an acting superintendent than Dr. Parham herself.

But Jack White, the school system's acting finance director, says there's no question she's the right person to guide the county's public schools through this turbulent time.

"She's warm and friendly -- as long as you are doing your job," he said. "But she can very openly look you in the eye and tell you honestly from her perspective how you may be screwing up and what improvement she would expect. She is not a game-player in any stretch of the imagination. I find that a refreshing change."

A 44-year-old mother of two who lives in Ellicott City with her husband, William Parham Jr., the new superintendent proudly declares herself "a product of the Baltimore City school system."

A 1966 graduate of Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Dr. Parham attended the University of Maryland at College Park, earning a bachelor of arts degree in social studies education in 1970. Her first job was as a teacher in the Baltimore school system.

Although she enjoyed teaching, Dr. Parham said what she really wanted to be was a guidance counselor. In 1973 she earned her master's degree, in guidance, from the Johns Hopkins University.

But then her career took an unplanned turn. The Baltimore school system, worried she might accept a job elsewhere, offered her a position in the personnel department.

She liked working in the personnel department so much she stayed until 1983, when she accepted a job as supervisor of personnel in the Howard County public school system. Two years later, she received her doctorate in education administration from College Park.

By 1986, she was ready for another change, and accepted a job as director of Human Resources in Anne Arundel's school system.

Since her arrival, Dr. Parham has earned a reputation for being tough and decisive, yet capable of being caring and compassionate when the situation calls for it.

Her current parking and office arrangements reflect those qualities, said William Scott, assistant superintendent for administration. He was among those who interviewed Dr. Parham and recommended hiring her.

Respectful of Mr. Carter's 39 years with the system, Dr. Parham has refused to use his parking space, or his office. Instead, she uses the vacant deputy superintendent's parking space, and the deputy superintendent's office next to Mr. Carter's. The deputy superintendent's job has gone unfilled during Mr. Carter's year as superintendent.

But she's not afraid to take decisive action. Within days of her appointment as acting superintendent, Dr. Parham reorganized the central offices, shifting people and positions.

"With less than 30 days until the opening of school, I had to put in place individuals who would best serve our children during this period of time," Dr. Parham said. "I don't think anyone has any confusion about where they stand with me, and I don't have any difficulty delivering a tough message. People must be clear about what their direction will be."

A priority for Dr. Parham is expanding the county's multicultural education program -- something she doesn't limit simply to learning about other people's cultural backgrounds.

"Culture is really rules for living within different groups," Dr. Parham said. "There's a culture for newspaper reporters, a culture for superintendents, a culture for teachers. It doesn't necessarily refer to race or gender issues. We have to enable young people to understand the role of different cultures so they'll be equipped for the future."

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