FOR 16 YEARS before Michael E. Hickey took over as superintendent, Howard County schools were led by M. Thomas Goedeke. Dr. Hickey announced months ago that when he finishes his 16th year in 2000, it will be someone else's turn to take the reins.
The county school board has hired a headhunting firm, Hazard Young Attea & Associates, which will present a suggested profile of the next superintendent in May. A subsequent national search will yield several semifinalists for the board to interview. After the board considers two or three finalists, it will announce its decision about a year from now.
It sounds simpler than it likely will be. Dr. Hickey, who currently has the longest tenure of any superintendent in a Maryland school system, won't be easy to replace. He has undergone quite a bit of education himself over the past 15 years -- not only about running the fastest-growing system in Maryland but also about how to handle the politics of securing an adequate budget for Howard schools. The next superintendent must be a person similarly able to excel in both the academic and political worlds. He or she must be able to pick up where Dr. Hickey leaves off in pulling up the test scores of African-American and low-income students, integrating the disabled into regular classes, offering challenging courses for gifted students, and providing incentives to lure the best teachers to Howard County.
As this year's budgeting process nears, Dr. Hickey is again asking for enough money to offset the shortchanging that Howard schools endured earlier this decade when new students arrived at the same time a recession brought budget cuts. He won't get everything he asks for. But if past years are any example, the tenacity with which he will lobby for his cause will provide headhunters with part of their "profile" of what the next superintendent should be like.