North County High unifier retiring Consolidator: William P. Wentworth Jr., who brought two communities together to form North County High, leaves this month after six years.

June 02, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

William P. Wentworth Jr. is retiring from a job that many in the community felt wasn't needed six years ago.

Wentworth, who will step down as principal of North County High School this month, is credited with building the county's newest high school out of two old rivals: Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High and Andover High.

Teachers, parents and community leaders say a lesser personality could not have taken two distinct communities and created a single, enriching learning environment with respected sports teams.

"He was the perfect guy for the county to get to be the first principal of North County. He has gotten both communities together and he was strong enough to do that. I don't think it would have worked as well if you didn't have someone as strong as he was," said Alice Evans, a math and computer teacher who taught at Andover.

Andover and Brooklyn Park were archrivals, especially in sports, for as long as Rita Lowman, 42, a Ferndale native, could remember.

The socioeconomic lines dividing blue-collar Brooklyn Park from the more affluent Linthicum caused grumbling, and some people feared that consolidation of the two schools would fail, said Lowman, president of the Anne Arundel Council of PTAs.

"We were concerned we would have more fights than we were prepared for and the administrators were prepared for," she recalled. "But Mr. Wentworth and the staff he selected did a great job. The kids pulled together tremendously."

Before the consolidation, the number of students at Andover and Brooklyn Park was so low that students often had to choose between band or advanced science because some courses might be offered only once a day, said Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat.

"If you couldn't fit it into your schedule, you might have to drop one for the other," said Cadden, who supported consolidation to help North County achieve equity with other schools in the county.

But not everyone agreed it was the best way to improve education.

Cadden said the issue was so contentious that some constituents gave her "a cold shoulder for a year or two."

Said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Democrat who represents the area: "There are still people who don't speak to me because I supported the consolidation."

Wentworth, 51, understood their passion. He grew up in Brooklyn Park, attended the local schools and was principal at Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High for four years. "I am a product of the system," he said.

Wentworth told his hand-picked staff to talk and think in terms of North County High, not Andover and Brooklyn Park. Jackets with Andover and Brooklyn Park logos were to be left at home. A school store was opened to sell North County merchandise.

"It had to be done," said Evans. "We had to stop talking of the old schools and think of the new one."

North County High opened in September 1990 at the old Andover High in Linthicum, while the old Lindale Junior High School in Ferndale was renovated. North County High moved to that site in September 1993.

"We have created a North County state of mind, whether you're a retired person in the community, a grandparent, parent, aunt, student, teacher. It's very, very obvious you're a part of the spirit," said Wentworth, who oversees 92 teachers, five guidance counselors, five administrators and 1,665 students.

North County is a diverse school with a variety of programs, including 40 pages of course offerings and work-study programs through business partnerships. It sends more students to the Center of Applied Technology North than any other county school.

Wentworth often speaks of North County High as more than a school. He is quick to praise it and even quicker to defend it.

At an April school board meeting, board member Maureen Carr York of Severna Park grilled Wentworth about North County High's evaluation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Although the report praised the school's learning environment as "supportive, nurturing, challenging and effective," it said North County needed to focus more on building ties with the community.

When the school board met in May, Wentworth returned, accompanied by 60 parents.

The tall, lithe man with dark hair is not given to shows of emotion. But his voice becomes tight when he speaks of the pride he felt when parents turned out to defend him and the school.

"I think that exemplifies " Wentworth said, as his voice trailed away. "It's hard to put into words, but that really exemplifies what I mean when I say North County High School is more than a school. It's a state of mind. It's part of them. It's like they took it personally."

Wentworth has a reputation as a good listener who allows disagreements. Everyone seems to accept that the buck stops with him, and few seem to mind.

"He's very decisive. He gives the faculty a lot of freedom, but he expects them to do the job. He definitely knows his mind," said Barbara Young, a speech teacher who taught at Andover.

Students say Wentworth is a no-nonsense man who commands their respect.

"He let people know he was the principal and he was in charge. He was the principal and you had to do what he said," says Jennifer Lowman, 17, one of 325 students who graduated last week.

Wentworth said it's time to leave, having accomplished what he set out to do.

"The six years at North County High School have been the crowning jewel in my career," he said.

His last day at the school is June 25. The father of two said he plans to take six months off to relax with Mary, his wife of 27 years, at their Old Mill home and contemplate his next move.

"I have a couple of irons in the fire and hopefully I'll show up in public life sometime again," said Wentworth, who enjoys watching sports and tending his lawn in his spare time.

"I'm kind of looking forward when I walk out of here in June to not having to worry Sunday night about what's ahead of me Monday."

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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