Bar set high for chief of schools

Search under way for Balto. County's next superintendent

October 03, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

She should be charismatic, a natural leader.

He should tap into teachers' expertise and respect them as professionals.

She must be a keen-witted financier.

He must weed out incompetence.

No one knows who will be Baltimore County's next school superintendent, but school board members and other education players -- parent, teacher and minority representatives -- have a pretty clear idea of the type they'd prefer.

The ideal person is an education guru who is equal parts teacher, curriculum wonk and forward-thinking bureaucrat with a master's degree in business administration who knows how to make employees feel energized and appreciated.

School officials are dreaming big as they set out to replace Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, who will retire in June after four years as head of the 106,550-student system. Some previous superintendents have come up through the ranks, and others have been hired from outside. All have been white men.

"I don't know that there is a perfect candidate out there, but I want to find the best available player," said Sanford V. Teplitzky, a school board member since 1993.

School board members will meet for the first time Tuesday with a representative of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates Ltd. -- the firm they hired to search for a superintendent.

At that meeting, school board members could work up a more specific profile. They've asked some groups, including the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, for advice.

Parents and minority groups hope to contribute their own candidate sketches, too. "We haven't been approached yet, not officially, but we want it to be an open process," said Linda Olszewski, president of Baltimore County PTA.

School board members want to sign a contract with a new superintendent by February. They've set aside $50,000 to pay for the search, which could pit Baltimore County against Howard County and at least six other large school systems nationwide, all looking for superintendents.

Still, Baltimore County officials are confident that the opportunity to head the nation's 25th-largest school system could help to snag a talented candidate -- someone who can, among other things, keep a close eye on school construction and help narrow the system's minority achievement gap.

"You have to understand curriculum development and evaluation," said Ella White Campbell, chairwoman of the school system's African American Advisory Group and a Liberty Road activist. "That's the key to educating our kids."

School board members, interest groups and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger will expect much of the next superintendent.

They want a leader who won't bow to pressure from state or county officials, especially while fighting for money for controversial programs or curricula.

At the same time, the county's next superintendent should be a masterful diplomat who knows how to work harmoniously with administrators, teachers, parents, business owners and children.

"First and foremost, the person has to be a leader, someone who instills confidence, someone people will be willing to follow to reach a common goal," Teplitzky said.

Teachers say they want a skilled communicator who appreciates their bargaining group.

"We want someone who is confident enough to deal with us face to face to get through a point of conflict," said Mark Beytin, president of the county teachers union.

Although some minority groups and teachers say they would prefer an educator, board members seem open to nontraditional candidates, including retired military officers or business executives.

"I want someone who will use common business principles to run the school system," said Donald L. Arnold, school board president. "Someone who would look at operations and procedures, more of the mechanics of the school system, so that we can operate more efficiently."

But teachers and other watch-dog groups could be reluctant to endorse a superintendent who lacks classroom experience.

"It perturbs me that people say we have to run the school system like a business because there is an educational side to it that has to be run with the student in mind," said Beytin.

Says the PTA's Olszewski: "The superintendent has to be a child-centered person because that's what the job is all about, it's about educating children. In the midst of everything else, that has to be the focus."

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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