Hickey finalist for Carolina job

January 17, 1995|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey -- who last year asked to be reappointed to his job -- is one of two finalists for the top schools post in the county system that serves Raleigh, N.C.

News of his finalist status for the Wake County superintendency comes as Howard's five-member school board is evaluating his performance with the goal of determining within several weeks whether to renew his contract when it ends in June 1996.

Just seven months ago, Dr. Hickey asked the Howard board to reappoint him, saying he wanted to help the Howard school system deal with challenges such as its explosive growth and the rapidly changing ethnic and racial composition of its student population.

Dr. Hickey's candidacy for the Raleigh post was made public by Wake County officials last Friday. He had told the Howard school board of his interest in the job the previous day, he said.

The 56-year-old educator said he plans to travel to the 77,000-student school system this weekend to meet teachers, parents, students and community leaders. A public reception has been planned for his visit. The other finalist for the job has not been announced yet.

Dr. Hickey said he did not apply for the job but was approached by a Charlotte-based consultant. He had an interview with the nine-member Wake County school board within the past two weeks.

He stressed that he is happy working in Howard County and has not decided whether to take the job if it is offered to him. "All I'm doing is looking at a situation that's been placed before me," Dr. Hickey said. "I'm not anxious to leave Howard County. Regardless of whether I stay or go, what makes Howard County is the people, as well as the staff."

School board Chairwoman Susan Cook said his finalist status would have no bearing on the evaluation process the school board started more than a week ago, before Dr. Hickey disclosed his involvement in the Wake superintendent search.

The evaluation process -- in which his possible reappointment to fourth four-year term in 1996 is to be discussed -- could take several weeks. "Anyone with the responsibility of a family is obligated to look at any offer that may come their way," Ms. Cook said. "They're obligated by their responsibility to their family."

New school board member Stephen Bounds, who advocated during his recent campaign starting a search for a new superintendent, said:

"If I were in his position and was not certain that I was going to be extended a new contract, I would at least listen to other people, which is exactly the situation he's in. I think he's got to keep his options open. It's just common sense."

Wake County has 77,000 students and 94 schools compared with Howard's 36,000 students and 57 schools. Wake includes the city of Raleigh and surrounding suburbs.

Wake school officials expect to open six new schools next year to accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 additional students. Howard officials expect to open one middle school and add about 1,800 students next year.

Both Wake and Howard are affluent, high-performing school systems. They face similar problems: rapid growth, an achievement gap between black and other students, and emotional redistricting issues triggered by the building of new schools.

"I was impressed when I was down there with what I saw," Dr. Hickey said. "In many respects, it's like Howard County -- on just a larger scale. There's certainly nothing to dislike about it."

Dr. Hickey said that Wake had an "added intrigue," in that its area has a mix of an urban and a suburban school system.

The Wake school board launched its search for a new superintendent in the fall with a field of 50 applicants. The board whittled down that field to six semi-finalists, whom they interviewed in the past two weeks before further narrowing their list to two.

"He brings with him experience," Judy Hoffman, head of Wake County's school board, said yesterday. "He brings with him a great history of improved test scores and parental involvement in schools. And he has excellent schools in his school system."

Dr. Hickey came to Howard County in 1984 to replace M. Thomas Goedeke, who retired after serving as superintendent for 16 years. Since then, county school enrollment has grown by roughly 12,000 students. Its minority student population has more than doubled to about 9,000.

Dr. Hickey also was considered for the top school job in the Seattle area about five years ago, but he decided not to take the job because it would have been like "starting over again in Howard County," he said. "Other than it being a lovely area, there was nothing new for me to learn in the larger sense. There were no new challenges."

Other education leaders in Howard County reacted cautiously yesterday to the news that Dr. Hickey might be leaving. Said James Swab, head of the Howard County Education Association:

"I think that if he's serious about assuming another position, then he must be in a position in his life where he's looking for something different, another challenge. I think that Dr. Hickey has always been an individual that has left a lot of options open."

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