Quick selection of Marchione leaves skeptics complaining County school chief sets goals, tries to win over his critics

March 07, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Larry Carson and Mary Maushard contributed to this article.

With a fresh, four-year mandate to lead the Baltimore County schools, Anthony G. Marchione laid out his plans for the 102,000-student district yesterday -- even as some community leaders criticized the school board for his sudden appointment.

Dr. Marchione pledged to work to reduce class size, launch a mentoring program for inexperienced teachers and hire parent liaisons to help close the achievement gap between black and white students. He also said he wants to ensure that all second-graders can meet standards in reading and math.

"I believe our children deserve no less," Dr. Marchione, 64, said in a speech at school board headquarters, amid gold and blue helium balloons, grandchildren and applauding administrators.

"And we will provide whatever resources are necessary to turn this goal into reality. I will continue to work with all segments of our community to ensure that our children are prepared for the 21st century."

Responding for the first time to criticisms by African-American groups that opposed his candidacy, he conceded that a program begun in 1988 to boost minority achievement had not worked. But he said he had higher hopes for initiatives that would place mentors in schools that have many rookie instructors and would hire three liaisons to encourage parent contact with predominantly black schools.

The source of funding for the mentoring program is still uncertain. It is not in the part of his budget most likely to be approved by county officials; local officials hope the state will pay for at least part of the $5 million program.

Dr. Marchione, who has been interim superintendent since August, was named to a full four-year term Tuesday night by the school board.

He will take office facing not only African-American groups skeptical of his record, but two board members -- the only two blacks on the board -- who opposed his appointment. Robert F. Dashiell and Dunbar Brooks did not give their reasons for dissenting Tuesday, and did not return calls for comment yesterday.

"It's a legitimate concern that the NAACP has and we have the same concerns," Dr. Marchione said. "I'm not pleased with the lag of achievement of African-American students."

While many community leaders and elected officials praised the selection of Dr. Marchione yesterday, some com- plained that the board had acted in haste to duck the controversy over the search, which was conducted in secret.

The decision came just hours after a delegation returned from Chester Upland, Pa., where they probed the credentials of that district's superintendent, JoAnn B. Manning -- Dr. Marchione's last competitor for the job.

A third finalist, Jeffery N. Grotskey, superintendent of the Grand Rapids, Mich., school district, withdrew last week.

When The Sun published names of three leading contenders last week, some residents questioned why those three were chosen and why more of the 25 applicants were not interviewed.

"I see this as being confirmation that this board at no time had any intention of doing a credible legitimate search for a superintendent," said Dr. Bernetha George, education chairman of the NAACP's 500-member local chapter. She called the search a "charade."

Although several County Council members didn't like the school board's quick, closed-door hiring decision, most were willing to forgive because they agreed with the choice.

Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley and Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, objected to the selection process, though not the final choice. Both said that they believe the board acted to halt rising pressure to open the process.

"I have significant concerns about the process," Mr. Riley said, especially because the previous superintendent, Stuart Berger, was both hired and fired in secret. "It's as though they haven't learned any lessons."

Northern county Republican T. Bryan McIntyre had a different view: "I like both the way they did it and the choice. The longer [the board] stayed out, the more trouble would be stirred up."

Most school PTA leaders interviewed yesterday said that they were pleased with the choice, but that the process was too secretive and next time they would favor announcing finalists' names. Diane P. White, president of the Headville Elementary PTA, said that although she likes Dr. Marchione, the board should have provided more information about other candidates.

"They wanted him and made sure they went ahead and did it," she said. "They definitely didn't want a whole lot of extra hassle."

Sandy Trimble, president of the Perry Hall High School PTSA, said Dr. Marchione will bring stability to the system. But she said that her school's 32-member board was planning to vote next week on which candidate to endorse. "It didn't give us a chance," she said. "I think the PTAs have the right to know a little bit more about each candidate and they have the time to do that."

Board members yesterday defended their confidential process, saying it was needed to attract the most qualified candidates, who don't want to jeopardize their current jobs. They denied that the controversy over the search forced them to a quick decision.

"I personally didn't feel any heat," said board member Ronald Jacoby. "I felt that the process was very fair."

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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