When R. Edward Shilling announced last spring that he was retiring as superintendent of the Carroll County public schools, many people wondered out loud about the state of his health. He had lost considerable weight over the past couple of years, hadn't he? Mr. Shilling's explanation: He had taken up jogging and sweated off the pounds while logging 35 to 40 miles a week.
In the seven years he led the Carroll school system, though, he put the county education department on a fitness kick of its own. The schools in Carroll are undoubtedly in better shape now than when Mr. Shilling began.
When the 30-year county school employee took over the reins in 1987, the system's academic performance was above the state average. Now, however, student test scores are among Maryland's best. Carroll's students met more of the 13 standards of the most recent Maryland School Performance Program than their counterparts in any other county in the state.
School superintendents, of course, don't teach children in the classroom, but front-line teachers do take their cues from the top. Mr. Shilling set high expectations for the staff and the students to aim for. Rather than coast by with better-than-average results, he encouraged teachers, administrators and other personnel to take risks on behalf of the children.
To institutionalize this learning philosophy, Mr. Shilling, the Carroll County Board of Education, teachers and parents undertook a three-year comprehensive plan. What emerged was a program called "Exit Outcomes" that spelled out the body of knowledge that students are expected to master at every grade level.
A vocal minority in the county mistook "Exit Outcomes" as some sinister mind-control plot. It was no such thing. Rather, the program has helped to clarify what is expected from the students, and also pushed teachers and administrators to deliver the curriculum that would produce improved results. Lost in all the debate was the fact that "Exit Outcomes" was not some radical remake of Carroll County's curriculum but merely a process of clarifying goals and building on proven and effective teaching techniques.
Mr. Shilling may be leaving the system, but the students attending Carroll schools will benefit from his tenure for years to come. Despite what his detractors claim, Mr. Shilling served well the county's children and its taxpayers.