Montgomery, Prince George's counties fill schools superintendent positions

Del. state official first woman to run P.G. system

June 18, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

UPPER MARLBORO -- The state's two largest school districts filled their superintendent vacancies yesterday -- one for four years, the other temporarily.

The Prince George's County school board selected Delaware Education Secretary Iris T. Metts to head the school system until 2003.

Montgomery County Superintendent Paul Vance agreed to delay his retirement past June 30 until the search for his successor is completed.

Montgomery fell behind schedule early last month after its first choice for superintendent, Baltimore County Assistant Superintendent Elfreda Massie, withdrew when her personal financial problems became public.

State law requires districts to have a superintendent under contract or to have named an interim one to a one-year agreement by July 1.

Metts, 56, is the first woman and second African-American to head Prince George's schools, with more than 128,000 students the state's largest district.

She will be paid a base salary of $160,000, $30,000 more than Jerome Clark, who is retiring next week.

Metts was selected over Howard County school administrator Jacqueline Brown and the chief financial officer of Baltimore schools, Roger Reese.

At a news conference yesterday that was filled with Prince George's and state officials, Metts said she will "build a culture of change" to turn the troubled system around.

"I believe that with the collaboration and support of the people on the Board of Education we can begin to build that road, that path, to excellence and make this district the top district in Maryland," she said.

Metts said she asked the school board to make her four-year contract "performance-based," because if teachers are being held responsible for meeting standards, so should she.

"If I am successful, the system is successful, then the board ought to reward me. If I am not, I think they ought to point that out," she said.

Metts will assume control of a system with a number of problems, but also with great potential.

Prince George's is grappling with the effects of 25 years of court-ordered busing meant to achieve racial balance. Many of its schools closest to Washington are crowded and crumbling.

More than 40 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals.

Prince George's standardized test scores are second only to Baltimore as lowest in the state, and the two jurisdictions have the highest number of uncertified teachers. That number is likely to grow because the county is struggling to hire 1,400 teachers by mid-August.

But Metts inherits a system that has received a great deal of financial assistance from the state, and will build 13 schools during the next six years.

Board members said Metts' experience in Delaware is what made her their top choice.

She supervised a desegregation plan as superintendent of the Christina School District, which was 70 percent white and 30 percent black.

Metts also restructured the administrative staff, something that has been recommended for Prince George's by a management oversight committee appointed by the governor.

Metts is a Richmond, Va., native who holds a doctorate in education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She was named Delaware's education secretary in 1997 after seven years as a school district superintendent there. Before that, she worked in Richmond and in the Evanston, Ill., school system.

Reginald Felton, president of the Montgomery school board, said his county will use the additional time to conduct background checks and allow the public time to comment on its choice.

"Then, if we like them and we think they meet our needs, we will offer a contract," Felton said. "I would hope that in July we can come to closure."

Pub Date: 6/18/99

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