Schools seeking a 'doer' as chief Education credentials not listed as necessity in job description

October 12, 1997|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's next public schools chief will be a business-savvy change agent who relates to the city's mostly black and poor students as easily as he or she handles the mayor and the governor.

The new chief executive will inspire a heightened sense of urgency in city schools by setting high standards for academic achievement and by holding school staff members accountable to them.

He or she will be a "doer," a "planner" and a "thinker," but not necessarily an educator.

So says a profile of the kind of leader being sought by the new city school board with the help of a national search firm, Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles.

The profile, and a long job description forged in the past few months, shape the search for the first permanent chief executive officer of the city school system.

School board members probably will begin reviewing candidates in coming weeks. It is likely that a chief executive will be hired by December, when Robert E. Schiller, the interim chief, is scheduled to leave his post.

Talk of trying to keep Schiller on permanently -- which would require a change in the state law barring him from that post and could spark a fight between the school board and state legislators -- has died down. But race, which has been a factor in school politics for years, remains an issue.

"We're proceeding quite nicely," said Ed Brody, a school board member and chairman of the committee heading the search. "We know what we're looking for, and now we're just waiting to see who turns up."

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the character profile is what it doesn't say. An advanced degree in education isn't required. Nor is experience in education. Only three of the 10 desired characteristics mention schools or students.

That's right on target, say framers of the state legislation that created shared city-state management of the city schools and ++ the chief executive position.

"We expect the hire for chief academic officer to be someone with the educational background," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.

"The chief executive officer needs to be a manager. Just because you know something about schools doesn't mean you have the skills to run the whole operation, and that's what this person will be doing."

Hoffman said a college president would be an example of an educator who might be qualified for the chief executive post. A captain of industry would be a better fit, she said.

"The ideal might be someone who has made a very good career and now just wants to do something altruistic," Hoffman said.

She said it will be important to consider black candidates for the chief executive post but that school board members should not make that a priority.

"I think if you look at all three top positions in the district -- chief executive, chief academic and chief financial -- you've got to have at least one African-American among them," Hoffman said. "Which one should it be? I don't know. I think you make mistakes when you make that the priority."

Michael Hamilton, president of the city schools' parent-community advisory board, agreed that the most qualified person should get the job but said race matters, too.

Role model sought

"One of the things I think we need to consider is that it's very important for African-American kids to have role models outside of sports," Hamilton said. "This is a position that will be in the forefront in this city and very important. I'm sure there will be individuals in Baltimore who want to make sure someone black is in that position."

Hamilton said his primary concern is getting someone who understands Baltimore's largely black student population.

"Black or white, the chief executive should come from someplace where the demographics are like Baltimore's and the urban problems are the same," Hamilton said. "They should have experienced it. That would be better than someone from a suburban setting."

School board Chairman Tyson Tildon, who said two months ago that he would like to explore ways to retain Schiller, who is white -- acknowledged that race might be an issue with others but said it won't matter to him.

'The best person'

"I want the best person we can find, period," Tildon said.

Also in the character profile and job description are details about the terms under which the chief executive will be hired.

The new leader will be required to bring "demonstrable improvement" to the academic performance of city students. His or her initial contract will not exceed four years.

Four people will report directly to the chief executive: a chief academic officer, a chief financial officer, a research evaluation and accountability officer and an administrative support officer. Salaries will be negotiated.

Hoffman said the school board might have a tough time persuading someone to take the job but that whoever does take it will have an opportunity to make a difference in the city schools.

"They're doing the right things now, with the transition plan and the staff changes. We're seeing a real culture change in the system," Hoffman said. "There's something for the permanent chief to build on now."

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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