Deciding Berger's Fate

June 19, 1995

As they prepare to decide the fate of Baltimore County Superintendent Stuart Berger, the members of the county school board must answer the following questions:

* Has Dr. Berger taken significant steps toward meeting the goals of the vision drafted by the community and the board before he was hired?

* Is Dr. Berger the right person to continue guiding the school system into the next century?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then it's an easy call: Renew the superintendent's contract for a 1996-2000 term. If not, then the board might have to start shopping for a new school chief. In any case, the decision must be driven by the facts at hand, not by rumor-mongers, demonizers and radio talk-show hosts in search of higher ratings.

Even Dr. Berger's loudest detractors would have to concede he has succeeded in fulfilling much of the vision laid out several years ago. He has introduced all-day kindergarten, school breakfasts and magnet schools. He has reformed the management structure and, most controversially, moved disabled students into regular schools. These are often derided by the Berger-bashers as his programs; in truth, they are the programs recommended by a diverse group recruited from the whole community. Dr. Berger does, of course, share the philosophy behind these recommendations -- which is why he was hired in the first place to carry them out. He was deemed the right man for the job at this point in the county's history.

Yet, as Dr. Berger himself admits, he has not always performed his job in a diplomatic manner. He has allowed himself to be a target in a conservative county that likes its officials somewhat smoother around the edges. Board member Robert F. Dashiell cut to the heart of the matter when he noted that the public has focused its anger over recent school innovations on the man who put them into place.

All this anger has not been good for Baltimore County. Dr. Berger, hardly a shrinking violet, sounds as though he wouldn't be disappointed if he weren't rehired. School board members, to their credit, have meanwhile indicated their awareness that the school system cannot be operated in 1995 as it was in 1975 -- however numerous and noisy the county residents who might prefer it that way. Is Stuart Berger still the best person to run the school system, not just in 1995 but in the year 2000? That is what the board members must now decide, calmly and rationally.

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