Message to a New Superintendent

February 28, 1994

,TC There should have been a national search for a new superintendent in Anne Arundel County. Contrary to the school board president's strange assertion that the board had to keep the selection process secret because the law says it can, there should have been an open exchange of information with parents. But there was not, and now there won't be.

There also comes a point where it is time to stop talking about what should have been and start concentrating on what will be. It is that time.

Carol S. Parham is the new superintendent, and we join every other supporter of public education in hoping that she will succeed where the last three superintendents in the county failed; each of the prior three quit or was forced out before his contract was up. The system desperately needs leadership and stability. Dr. Parham's resume and six-month tenure as temporary superintendent do not conclusively show prowess in these areas. But her quieting influence following the Ron Price sex scandal is a good sign. So are glowing reports by those who work closely with her.

We do not envy Dr. Parham. She faces touchy issues: divisions over the principalship at Northeast High, school overcrowding, the political challenge of getting along with the county executive. As difficult as her job will be, Dr. Parham has a good chance at succeeding if she follows a few basics:

* She must let people know she cares about what they think, even if she doesn't agree with them, or can't do what they want.

* As much as possible, she must be open and honest with everyone -- parents, teachers, the press. Yes, personnel matters are to be held in confidence. But if people show up at a board meeting to talk about their principal, far better for her to say something reassuring or to arrange a private conference to discuss the matter within parameters set by her than to say "no comment," and make them feel that what goes on in their school is none of their business.

* Finally, she mustn't be afraid to lead. That means pioneering new ideas and taking charge when trouble occurs. It also means standing up to the board. This board likes to micromanage. But as superintendent, she is paid to know more about the inner workings of the system than the board does. She should not hesitate to assert her right to do the job for which she has just been hired.

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