Superintendent search focuses on 3 candidates Baltimore County school board hopes to fill job next month

February 28, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's school board has narrowed its search for a new superintendent and is focusing on three candidates, including two leaders of much smaller school districts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione is the third person being considered to lead the 102,000-student district, according board members who asked not to be identified.

JoAnn B. Manning, superintendent of the 7,660-student Chester Upland school district outside Philadelphia, and Jeffery Grotsky, who runs the 30,000-student system in Grand Rapids, Mich., also have been tentatively picked by the board to be interviewed.

Board members would not speak publicly about the superintendent search, citing a promise of confidentiality to the 25 candidates from across the nation who applied for the $121,000-a-year post.

But some board members, describing the selection process, said the board had decided that candidates would need eight of 12 votes to qualify for an interview, and only three made the cut.

Neither Dr. Manning nor Dr. Grotsky returned calls seeking comment yesterday. Dr. Marchione has acknowledged he is a candidate.

Dr. Manning, 50, superintendent of Chester Upland since 1993, leads a system that is hampered by poverty and racial isolation and is last among the state's 501 districts academically.

Eighty-seven percent of the district's students are black and about 60 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

In 1994, the state took over the schools, citing financial distress, according to Christine E. Corbe, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

In January, the school board decided not to renew her contract, which expires in July.

Dr. Manning grew up in Staten Island, N.Y., and has spent most of her career in urban education.

Before joining Chester Upland, she was assistant superintendent the William Penn District in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Grotsky, 51, superintendent in Grand Rapids since July 1991, oversees a $185 million operating budget, 85 schools, 5,000 employees and a student body that is 52 percent black, 35 percent white and 12 percent Hispanic.

His background includes jobs as assistant superintendent in Milwaukee, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Board of Education, director of long-range planning at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and special education teacher in Bucks County, Pa.

Dr. Marchione, who has been interim superintendent since the board bought out the contract of Stuart D. Berger for $300,000 last summer, has worked for the county school district 40 years, as a teacher, principal, administrator and deputy superintendent under Dr. Berger.

Supporters praise him for bringing peace to a district wracked with turmoil for three years. Detractors say he lacks the firm hand and vision to bring about changes needed to prepare an increasingly diverse student body for the modern workplace.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County has endorsed Dr. Marchione; the NAACP and the Coalition of Concerned African American Organizations, which represents about 35 local groups, oppose him.

NAACP leaders said Monday that Dr. Marchione had helped create a system that neglects black children.

Drs. Grotsky and Marchione are white; Dr. Manning is black.

The board must have a new superintendent in place by July, but it expects to make the decision much earlier, possibly in March.

Some board members said that although Drs. Manning, Grotsky and Marchione seem to be finalists at the moment, a consultant who is aiding the search is still probing the candidates and other contenders could emerge.

Some board members said privately that they are concerned that Dr. Marchione's appointment is "preordained" because of an interest in maintaining calm.

Some expressed concern that only three candidates are slated to be interviewed, given the field of qualified candidates.

Among the other applicants, according to board members and in some cases the candidates themselves, are:

* Arthur W. Steller, 48, deputy superintendent of Boston schools from 1993 until last fall, now special assistant to the superintendent. Dr. Steller, who was acting superintendent in Boston for four months last year while the district searched for a new leader, previously headed the Oklahoma City district for seven years. He was also superintendent of the Cobb County, Ga., school district.

In Oklahoma City, he significantly boosted student achievement in schools that were among the state's worst.

He closed down seven schools and reopened them with new principals and staffs -- a move that angered some teachers but produced swift results.

* A. Skipp Sanders, 53, Maryland's deputy state superintendent and formerly assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation.

* Constance R. Clark, Washington, D.C.'s, associate superintendent in charge of school support services, such as food service, transportation and facilities; former deputy superintendent for educational programs and operations.

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