After year, Marchione looks back Superintendent: His inaugural year as head of Baltimore County schools brought several crises, but he's satisfied the system is going in the right direction.

The Education Beat

September 08, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

FOR A DOZEN YEARS, Anthony G. Marchione toiled in obscurity in the second rank of the Baltimore County school bureaucracy. But a year ago he was tapped as acting superintendent, replacing the mercurial Stuart Berger, and he became "permanent" superintendent early last spring.

His first year at the top has not been easy for Marchione, 64. He had to deal with a crisis over school facilities and a related air-quality emergency at Deer Park Elementary School. He was criticized for opening schools on Memorial Day to make up for hours lost to last winter's blizzard. Out of left field came the "Pepper Spray Affair" -- Marchione's refusal to reinstate a 17-year-old honor student expelled for carrying the protective spray. A judge eventually ordered the district to reinstate the student, Jodie Ulrich.

Marchione was interviewed last week in his office near Towson.

What are the pluses of your first year as Baltimore County school chief?

I dealt with a potential $12 million budget shortfall, and I think I've been able to refocus the system on day-to-day instruction. I'm working hard to establish good relationships with all of our publics: county officials, PTAs, the NAACP. We've hired parent liaisons to work in Woodlawn, Milford Mill and Randallstown.

I think we've set a course to hold ourselves accountable for achievement. We're going to meet the expectations that all parents have, and we're particularly going to address the concern of African-American parents that their children haven't been achieving.

How about the minuses?

The biggest mistake was to hold the pepper spray news conference, knowing that the parents would be there. They took the news conference away from me. The parents became the story, not my explanation of our policy.

I still think the policy was the right one. But any decision I made was going to be wrong. If I put Jodie back, a host of students were in the same situation and I would have had to deal with them. In standing by the policy, I was accused of being unbending and inhumane.

On the Memorial Day opening, again any decision we made was wrong. I actually wanted to add 15 minutes to the beginning of the day. If we'd done that, we wouldn't have had to open on the holiday. But the parents didn't want an extended day, so I had to take the angry calls on Memorial Day.

Do you have a handle on the school facilities problem?

I think now we do. This began developing years ago, even before Stuart Berger. In my role as deputy, I didn't supervise buildings, and I didn't know how serious the problem was. Once I did, I took immediate action. I changed personnel. I got the right people in and reorganized.

Our problem was that we had people giving bad advice at the lowest levels, and this was filtering up to people making the ultimate decisions.

You've said you want every child in Baltimore County to be able to read, write and compute at grade level by the end of the second grade. How are you going to do this?

Our problem is that we've been all over the place with the reading program. We've come to the conclusion that it needs to be structured. Research indicates that almost all children come to school ready to learn. But some children are in households where there are no conversations between adults and children.

We have to start very early, earlier than we've ever started. Linda Proudfoot, [principal] of Bear Creek Elementary, on every child's first birthday visits the parents, presents them with a book and introduces them to reading-readiness activities.

We're assessing the children for reading now. Eventually, our elementary office will go into every school to make sure the program is being implemented. The ones who aren't at grade level will be offered help.

Will you emphasize phonics?

Yes. It's very phonics-oriented.

Has your first year as school chief been rockier than you thought it would be?

For a period of time it was, but not overall. I've been here a long time and seen other superintendents in the hot seat. In any job there are days when you think, why am I doing this? But I think we're going in the right direction. I'm committed to having it work for kids.

Clarification and correction

It was The Education Beat, not Maryland State Teachers Association President Karl Kirby Pence, who referred here Aug. 25 to the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore as MSTA's "enemy" (humorously, we thought). Pence called from the Democratic National Convention to request the clarification. On Aug. 4, this column said James Watt invented the steam engine. Jarrettsville reader Gertrude Zvonar submitted encyclopedic proof that it was an English engineer, George Stephenson.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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