School System in Search of a Leader

February 22, 1994

By now it is obvious that the Anne Arundel County Board of Education has no intention of conducting a national search for a new superintendent. With four months before a superintendent must be named, the board has yet to begin such a search. For weeks, the talk behind the scenes has been that the job will go to Interim Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

As usual, the board is hush-hush about what is going on. "You will be told what we're doing," board President Tom Twombly assured one month ago. But board members have yet to tell anybody anything. They have not officially announced that a search has been abandoned, nor have they acknowledged that they are considering someone from within. The public is left in limbo, with two questions to ponder: Does the board know what it's doing? If it does, why it is being so secretive?

A national search should have started before now. Here is one of the largest school systems in the country coping with complex issues: the demand for more school space in the face of a tax cap, changing demographics, the aftermath of a sex scandal caused in part by top officials who were more concerned for the system's reputation than students' welfare. The situation cries out for an experienced leader.

If the board has decided there will be no outside search, let it say so. Let it announce its decision and defend it. If the board believes a candidate from within is perfectly suited for the job and a search is unnecessary, then it should not be afraid to explain why. It can't just say, "Trust us, we know what's best." It has to spell out why this person is better than anybody else. It must find a way to transfer its confidence in this new leader to parents and educators.

If the board can do that, it will have taken a step toward setting plumb this troubled system. Right now there is no leadership. There hasn't been for a long time. The last few superintendents have been disappointments, and the board, for all its good intentions, is too disorganized to fill the power vacuum effectively. The system needs a strong superintendent. If the board has, in fact, decided Ms. Parham will get this job, let it give her the freedom and authority she needs to be more than a figurehead. Let it give her the foundation to lead.

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