Grotsky to manage troubled city schools He was dismissed as superintendent in Harford in March

July 01, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

A blunt guy for a tough job?

That's part of the thinking behind the appointment of Jeffery N. Grotsky to head a newly created administrative area that includes 15 of Baltimore's worst-performing schools. The city school board hired Grotsky as an area executive officer last month. He begins work today.

In his last two assignments -- as school superintendent in Harford County and in Grand Rapids, Mich. -- Grotsky has earned a reputation of having a no-nonsense, and some say brusque, leadership style. He was dismissed from the Harford County job in March amid harsh criticism of that style. He resigned in Grand Rapids two years ago after that city's school board gave him an evaluation that described him as control-oriented and blunt.

Nonetheless, Baltimore school officials are optimistic that Grotsky's past can help him turn around 15 of its most troubled schools.

"We hired him because we think he can do the job," said Ed Brody, the Baltimore school board's point person on personnel issues. "We're not hiring him to be superintendent, but to manage an area of low-performing schools. He has a background in this sort of thing, and we have every confidence that he will be up to the challenge."

The task that awaits Grotsky will not be easy. He will be responsible for schools such as Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, where 98 percent of the students are poor enough to receive free or reduced-price lunches, and Rognel Heights and Cherry Hill elementary schools, where passing rates on state tests plummeted last year by double digits.

Grotsky said those challenges are what drew him to the job.

"There's a sense of urgency here, I think," Grotsky said. "Part of the excitement of taking this job is trying to do something about that. A lot of people talk about making sure all kids can learn. I want to do something about it."

Asked about his reputation for being blunt, Grotsky demurred and appeared puzzled.

"I really don't understand it. I think I'm a nice guy," he said with a JTC laugh. "But I will say that I'm a tireless fighter for the interests of children, and I don't let anything get in the way of that. Maybe that translates into being a stern person to some people."

In Grand Rapids, Grotsky shut down four struggling schools and reopened them with new principals, stronger curricula and different staff.

"He's not warm and fuzzy, but he has a record of doing what needs to be done for kids," said James R. Rinck, a Grand Rapids school board member who supported Grotsky. "When you hire him, you know you're going to get a blunt, hard-charging fighter for kids."

In Baltimore, Grotsky will concentrate on reading and math in his schools, and reach out to business and community groups to help.

"Rather than people wanting to run away from these schools, I want them to be embracing them," he said. "People need to understand that these are not throwaway kids."

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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