Parkville parents upset despite Berger apologies

June 02, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

It's the difference between asking and telling.

One minute the faculty and parents of Parkville Middle School were being asked to explore the possibility of putting a magnet program in their school.

The next, they were being told they would have a magnet program in September 1995.

It's a difference that some parents don't like. They also don't like the way Superintendent Stuart Berger turned the request into an order.

"We're upset at how it was presented . . . at the managerial style," said Roger Janssen, member of the Parkville PTA executive board.

They say they're upset because Steve Jones, the northeast area superintendent and a man they've grown to trust, was humiliated by Dr. Berger in front of teachers and parents because of what Dr. Berger admits was "miscommunication" between the two.

And they're upset that, after telling them Parkville would be a magnet, Dr. Berger changed his plans the next day and told them, through Dr. Jones, that the offer was off the table.

Dr. Berger, on the other hand, said he apologized repeatedly for the misunderstandings and was only exercising his "right to make a decision."

The parents have set up a meeting with administrators to talk about creating a magnet. They're not opposed to it, they say, but have questions.

But they also have set up a meeting with Dr. Berger to talk about the style that has so upset them.

And though the Parkville faculty isn't saying much, one teacher described the meeting "as a sight to behold," with longer-ranging implications.

"For most teachers, it's just another exercise in futility," said Parkville social studies teacher Dorothy Dowling. "It creates suspicion. It says 'you have lost all control.' Every day is a different story."

Here is the story of May 23:

Faculty members received a letter addressed to "parents, friends, faculty and staff," that said, in part, "We have been invited to explore the possibility of becoming a magnet school. In order to examine fully the advantages and disadvantages of such a move, we are creating a committee of twenty-five people. . . ."

At the faculty meeting that afternoon, Area Superintendent Jones explained the process for becoming a magnet -- which in every other case has been initiated at the school level, with parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders drawing up a plan and submitting it to the school board.

While Dr. Jones was speaking, Dr. Berger arrived. "I never intended to talk about a magnet program. I was there to talk about the new principal," Dr. Berger said later. But he realized that Dr. Jones was not delivering the right message.

"I got up there and said Steve Jones and I miscommunicated," he recalled.

Parkville would be a magnet, Dr. Berger told the group. It woul not be exploring the possibilities. He said the decision had been made some days before.

"The whole tone of the meeting changed," Ms. Dowling said. "There was hostility." Many of the parents objected to Dr. Berger's public contradiction of Dr. Jones and Parkville's assistant principal, Steve Edgar.

"I have never seen anyone humiliate people in front of their peers," said PTA President Donna Bethke. "I was absolutely taken aback that someone in the position of Stuart Berger would do that."

Dr. Jones said he feels differently. "I was upset," he said. "I wasn't humiliated. We differed in what we were saying. He's the boss. I'm thick-skinned. Stuart Berger and I enjoy a good working relationship. He never said 'You blew it.' His motives and my motives were essentially the same" -- to get a magnet middle school for youngsters in the northeastern and southeastern parts of the county."

The only other middle school magnet program, at Sudbrook Middle in Pikesville, will open in September, serving the western county.

Dr. Jones said he attended a meeting May 12 with Dr. Berger, magnet school coordinator Anita Stockton and Parkville administrators. They talked about a magnet at Parkville, the only school in the northeast with available space.

"I assumed we were going to follow that process . . . to form a committee to study the feasibility," he said.

Dr. Berger, however, assumed that the magnet was on its way -- pending school board approval, of course. "Since Sudbrook has been going, I've been hearing from parents in the northeast and southeast" who want a similar school, he said.

So Dr. Berger said he decided to come up with such a magnet. '"There was one good place to put it, Parkville. I told Steve Jones to get the community together and work on it."

On the day after the faculty meeting, however, when the upset parents met again, Dr. Jones addressed the meeting and told them the superintendent was withdrawing the plan for Parkville, Ms. Bethke said.

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