Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is a lucky man. He's about to get a 3 percent pay raise that will boost his annual salary to $115,750, almost even with the Baltimore County superintendent's salary and just shy of what Baltimore City's school chief earns. The latter two both command school systems with substantially larger student populations than Howard's, and with more intense social problems.
But that should in no way imply that Dr. Hickey's job can be underestimated. As the head of one of the state's best school systems, Dr. Hickey has faced considerable challenges in his 12 years as superintendent, not the least of which is to maintain the level of excellence that Howard County has come to expect. Whereas some other school systems contend with a lack of parent involvement, Dr. Hickey has his hands full with what sometimes seems a plethora of demanding parents. Pleasing all these folks can be a daunting task, which Dr. Hickey has handled deftly most times.
Occasionally, however, Dr. Hickey has appeared less a leader than someone being led. He was slow to respond to the intense criticism leveled at Wilde Lake High School during redistricting proceedingsthat dragged on for more than a year. And despite his stated commitment to improving the performance of African-American students, he has yet to make appreciable gains in that area. Moreover, he has at times run afoul of teachers, and perhaps because of that felt compelled to concede a misstep when he transferred 60 teachers and administrators last year. He later agreed to new transfer procedures that in effect curtail his own power.
Dr. Hickey has embarked on a number of bold initiatives. Despite opposition from various parties (including us), he has moved forward with a study of year-round schools as an alternative to much more school construction to handle growing student enrollment. Also, his decisive response to human relations has instilled an atmosphere of respect for the diversity that is one of the system's hallmarks. But there is still much to be done.
Dr. Hickey has asked to be reappointed to a fourth four-year term. If he is to have that opportunity it must be with the understanding that Howard's school system can't rest on its laurels: The future poses challenges that will require stronger leadership than we have witnessed thus far.