Grotsky's last day as chief is Friday Harford Co.'s head of schools dismissed after less than 2 years

March 17, 1998|By Lisa Respers and Suzanne Loudermilk | Lisa Respers and Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

The Harford County school board officially dismissed Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky yesterday after less than two years of service, noting a difference in philosophy with the brusque school chief who sometimes had clashed with the board.

The board named Jackie Haas, 49, a veteran county educator, as interim superintendent. She will become the first woman to head the school system.

Grotsky, who took the helm of the 38,519-student system in July 1996, will step down as superintendent Friday but will remain as a consultant to the system until the end of the school year, board President Geoffrey R. Close said.

"This, we felt, was in the best interest of all parties involved," Close said.

Board members, who appeared emotionally drained during yesterday's board meeting, announced that Grotsky, 54, will stay on during the transition to assist Haas, the assistant superintendent for educational services.

By June 30, the board has the option of appointing Haas permanently, extending her interim term or naming a new school chief.

"We need to give things a rest and let things calm down," Close said. "This has been a trying time for me and all of the board, but we felt we needed to go in another direction because the fit just wasn't there."

Officials declined to release details of Grotsky's settlement package, but sources have said he is poised to receive at least $210,000 -- equivalent to the remaining two years of his four-year contract.

While the seven-member board and its student representative adjourned for a half-hour closed session, Grotsky -- whose contract paid $105,000 a year and a $375-a month car allowance -- sat in the auditorium at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air and refused to discuss the proceedings.

When the board returned to announce its decision, Grotsky sat on stage with the members. After Haas' appointment as interim superintendent, she briefly addressed the group of about 50 school administrators.

"I have one goal right now," the educator said. "We have the children to focus on."

Freda Davis, president of Edgewood Middle School PTA, praised Haas, who was principal of the school for five years before becoming an assistant superintendent in July.

"She's very personable," Davis said. "She always serves in the best interest of the kids."

The only show of emotion during yesterday's meeting came when Haas gave Grotsky a hug, saying, "I'm looking forward to working with you on a smooth transition." Grotsky quickly left the school after the meeting.

The dismissal drew to a close a publicly cordial, but privately stormy relationship between Grotsky and the board, with his detractors accusing him of having poor communication skills and an abrupt, controlling style.

"It's just like a marriage," school board member Eugene C. Chandler said before the meeting. "This turned out to be a bad marriage between him and the board."

Many in the county hailed the dismissal as the right decision for the school system, which has managed to remain fourth in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program despite a fast- growing school population and budget constraints.

"We have an excellent school system in Harford County, and I think we need someone to take us to that next level of excellence," said Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann. don't think that was what his priorities were."

Publicly, Grotsky had been hailed for his business-oriented, "customer-first" approach to education.

Among his initiatives were instituting school meetings and quality training sessions for all employees from janitors to principals.

Former school board president Ronald Eaton, who was a member of the board that hired Grotsky from Grand Rapids, vTC Mich., praised the superintendent for business acumen.

"I support his capabilities but not the way he went at it," Eaton said.

Many say Grotsky tried to wield too much power and shook up the system by reorganizing his staff -- forcing some to retire and others to reapply for their jobs -- and by creating programs such as one which required administrators to act as substitute teachers.

Grotsky was hired in Harford after serving as the head of the 26,500-student system in Grand Rapids, where he received an unsatisfactory evaluation from the nine-member school board, which noted his control-oriented management style.

Harford County Council President Joanne S. Parrott said she believes Grotsky did not grasp the importance of working with local politicians on school issues -- something he was not required to do in Michigan.

"I know that the board worked very hard in expressing to him that he came from a system that didn't involve forming cooperative relationships with elected officials," Parrott said. "They tried to stress to him how important that was in Harford, but I don't think he ever caught on to that."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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