Selecting a school superintendent Baltimore County: Board must weigh community input, candidate qualifications.

March 02, 1996

THE BALTIMORE COUNTY school board pledged from the start that its search for a new superintendent would involve a higher level of openness with the community. So far, the board has been fairly tight-lipped publicly, except to say that there are 25 applicants in a strong field.

But public feedback to the board has been significant, beginning with solicited written comments and group interviews about qualities expected in a new superintendent.

Two organizations of black residents have voiced objection, one way or the other, to interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, the system's long-time No. 2 man who has run the system since Stuart D. Berger was abruptly ousted as superintendent last summer. They blame the record of underachievement by black students over the years on past administrations, of which Dr. Marchione was a part.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County has endorsed Dr. Marchione for the permanent job. The County Council of PTAs nearly did so, but deferred because of the potential perception of racial divisiveness.

Clearly, race should not be the defining consideration in selecting a new superintendent. The school board should choose the best candidate for all the county's children.

At the same time, the county needs an educator experienced in dealing with multicultural student populations. Not only to deal with community frustrations over low test scores and high disciplinary rates of black pupils, but to recognize the changing demographics of the county school population, more than a quarter of which is black.

The ability to manage a large school system, with its distinct dynamics and demands, is another valuable qualification. The county's 100,000-plus student population is among the larger systems in the nation.

Following the turmoil of Mr. Berger's tenure, the new superintendent also needs considerable skills in diplomacy. Yet

the county system can't afford to return to the status quo. The urbanization of Baltimore County will continue, and the school board must face that reality. These are considerations the board must fully weigh. It has until June to secure a superintendent, so there is time for careful consideration of all applicants.

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