Second Year, Second Chance

August 27, 1993

The second year of the Stuart Berger Era in Baltimore County public schools will begin Sept. 7 with a number of commendable, overdue innovations. These include seven new magnet schools, inclusion for greater numbers of special education students, the expansion of a breakfast program to all schools, non-letter grades for many elementary and middle grade students, an alternative middle school for students with behavioral problems, and pilot programs in which teachers will have more control over how their classes are run.

Dr. Berger didn't take long to live up to his reputation as an agent of change. Nor did he waste any time attacking his task of implementing the long-range vision drafted by school officials and community leaders four years ago. However, for many county residents, the Berger pace has been too much, too fast. )) Worse, the critics say, is the Berger style, which they describe as arrogant, duplicitous and insensitive to public concerns.

This newspaper has been a supporter of the school system's current agenda. We believe these reforms are necessary if the schools are to deal ably with the social and demographic changes common to a large subdivision such as Baltimore County that is becoming less suburban and more urban all the time. It would be unfortunate, though, if Dr. Berger's communications gaffes and the resultant hostility toward him hindered these needed programs. The past few months in particular have strained nerves throughout the county. The school system can't take another year like the last one, and it's no safe bet Dr. Berger will still have his job should the rancor of the past resurge.

To help ensure a calmer year, the administration has revamped its communications office and new Board of Education president Alan Leberknight has vowed to be more attentive and responsive when objections are raised. One of his first acts as board president was forming a task force to examine how the system handled the two biggest controversies of the previous year -- inclusion and the demotions of principals. The group's final report is due to be released today, and it apparently will be at least mildly critical of Dr. Berger. If very critical, it could have the unintended result of inciting the Berger bashers to become more determined to topple him and the new programs.

We hope that won't be the case. Stuart Berger's critics should look at the task force as proof of the system's new openness instead of an opportunity to go for the superintendent's jugular. There's little question Dr. Berger and other school officials have jTC bungled selling their agenda, but they seem intent on doing a better job. The public ought to be willing to meet them halfway. Maybe then everyone can concentrate on fulfilling this praiseworthy academic vision.

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