The Castle Guard Changes

March 18, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

It's a resume like nobody had ever seen from a candidate for City College principal.

Law school professor, longtime attorney, coach, assistant high school principal, high school teacher, school board president, consultant, counselor, advocate for the dispossessed and friend and mentor to children.

All of which made 51-year-old Joseph M. Wilson eminently qualified to take over as principal this week at America's third oldest public high school, say members of the committee that selected him.

His background contrasts sharply with that of the more traditional principal candidate -- one who came up through the teacher and administrative ranks -- and that distinction goes a long way toward explaining his selection.

"We didn't want any run-of-the-mill, traditional candidate," said Calvin Anderson Jr., a 1963 City graduate who led the 10-member search panel. "There's no question he brings us a new dimension at City we hadn't had before."

Mr. Anderson and others say the selection of Mr. Wilson, a law professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware until last week, reflects the need for a different brand of leadership at City at a time of fundamental change in the way it's run.

City, at 33rd Street and The Alameda near Memorial Stadium, will be looked to as a model for Baltimore's fledgling efforts in school-based management, shifting control from North Avenue headquarters to individual schools. As one of 24 new "enterprise schools," the 155-year-old school is empowered to make most decisions on spending, contracting for services and curriculum changes.

After much haggling, a team of school staff, students and alumni elected in December to turn over accounting, maintenance and other non-instructional services to Education Alternatives Inc., the private Minneapolis company that took over operation of nine city schools in 1992.

With EAI's entry and the shift to school-based management, a model eventually to be applied districtwide, came the need for a strong manager and a coalition-builder well-versed in business and law, Mr. Anderson said.

And, he said, Mr. Wilson, more than any of the other 19 candidates for the job, filled the bill.

"He's really not just a principal at all because the school has become a corporation in effect," Mr. Anderson said. "So he's essentially chief executive officer of that corporation."

Mr. Wilson, a Delaware native who is divorced and has no children, says he realizes his background will inevitably lead to some questions about whether he's cut out to be a principal. "Some are going to say, 'He didn't come up the way I did' and be reluctant to put full trust and confidence in me," says Mr. Wilson. "But I've done an awful lot with young people and I think I epitomize what City's about -- a person who has always devoted at least part of his time to serving the community and to youngsters."

While he spent the bulk of his career from 1973 to 1990 as an attorney in California and earned a master's degree in public administration from Harvard in 1989, Mr. Wilson has devoted much of his time to youths and to education.

He returned to high school teaching -- where he began his career -- last school year, when he worked as an unpaid intern in assistant principal jobs and as an assistant to the superintendent in the Brandywine, Del., district.

The internships formed the second year of his training in Superintendents Prepared, a Washington-based organization that prepares prospective school administrators.

Mr. Wilson took a substantial pay cut to move to the $62,750-a-year City job because, he says, he has found educating children his most fulfilling pursuit and couldn't think of a school where he'd rather work.

"I've always been most fascinated with working with kids. It's society's one chance to instill some values as well as education," he says, "and I get my greatest satisfaction out of helping other people find their own strengths and nurturing them. If I can help move them forward to serve society, that's a big reward, a pretty heady feeling, really."

Particularly at the alma mater of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, state school board President Robert C. Embry Jr. and many more of Baltimore's most influential citizens.

"There's such a tradition of achievement and service at this school. When kids elect City, they're saying, 'I am being trained to be a part of this tradition and learn how to become a servant and a leader in the community.' And we can point to these others who came before and say, 'That is what you elected to be and you can be and we will try to make you.' "

The shaping of tomorrow's leaders begins early in the school day.

Meet the new principal. The imposing, athletic 6-footer positioned himself at the end of a corridor and bellowed: "It's 8:34, minus 4 minutes to get to class. Let's go, let's go!"

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