Continuing the School Reforms

June 28, 1995

Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart D. Berger says he has only detractors in the community. He's wrong. He does have supporters, including teachers, parents and public officials. They might not be so loud and gratingly persistent as his critics, but they're out there, and they understand why Dr. Berger has introduced several overdue reforms to the county school system since his tenure began three years ago.

It has frequently been noted that many of these "reforms" -- such as magnet schools, inclusion for special education students, school breakfasts and all-day kindergarten -- have long been standard programs in public systems across Maryland and the rest of the nation. They are new, however, to Baltimore County, where a lot of citizens live in denial that their once-gleaming suburb increasingly resembles the city it envelops. Thus the "reforms" would likely have met a hostile reception no matter who served them up. Dr. Berger's long-serving predecessor, Robert Y. Dubel, was smart enough to know that changes had to be made, and smart enough to retire before he had to make them. The dirty work was left to Stuart Berger.

No one, in fact, seemed more able and willing to do the job than Dr. Berger when he came to Towson. He had earned a reputation as a change agent during his previous superintendencies in Ohio, Kansas and Frederick County. He liked to shake up the status quo without fretting about feelings bruised in the process. Three years into his four-year contract, he has definitely altered the direction of the Baltimore County school system. And just as surely, feelings have been bruised.

The resultant anger has been focused on Dr. Berger, and now he is more known by the general public than a school superintendent ought to be. Even his supporters have reluctantly begun to express the view that education issues in the county will not receive the attention they require so long as the No. 1 issue remains Stuart Berger.

This week, the county school board is in an unusual hurry to complete its annual evaluation of the superintendent. The board's haste to finish a task often put off well beyond the official July 1 deadline does not seem to bode well for Dr. Berger. Regardless of the final decision, it is imperative that the board maintain the forward-looking vision that it crafted with the community's help in the late 1980s. Baltimore County schools must continue moving toward the 21st century and not retreat into the past.

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