School chief finalist makes his pitch to Howard public

N.Y. administrator vows classroom focus

January 19, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Four days after emerging as one of two finalists for the Howard County public school superintendent job, New York state native John R. O'Rourke met last night with about 50 parents, school board candidates and community leaders.

O'Rourke, 55, the superintendent of the Pittsford Central School District near Rochester, N.Y., told the audience that his administration would focus on classroom instruction, partnerships with the community and improving student achievement.

The Pittsford district, in one of Rochester's wealthiest suburbs, enrolls 5,800 students and has a reputation for high academic achievement. O'Rourke's salary is $135,000.

O'Rourke spoke for a little more than an hour in the first of two public sessions designed to allow residents to meet the finalists.

He is scheduled to meet with school system staff members at a public reception from 3: 30 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Board of Education, 10910 Route 108 in Ellicott City.

The other finalist is David E. Sawyer, 54, of Florida, who will visit the school district tomorrow and Friday.

"Leadership for me involves engaging the community, articulating a vision of what might be, thinking through what it is we want for our children, how will we provide it, and how will we know if we've done it well," said O'Rourke, who visited five schools yesterday.

During the day, he also met with the school board, the assistant superintendent, the Howard County Council and County Executive James N. Robey.

"He definitely seemed very open and friendly and interested to hear what parents had to say," said Mary Jo Neil, the Parent-Teacher-Student Association council president.

In 1997, O'Rourke was named New York State Superintendent of the Year and National Superintendent of the Year by a national group of education administrators.

Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is stepping down in June after 16 years. The school system that Hickey's successor will inherit is largely white and affluent, but increasingly diverse.

Arguments have surfaced in the past several months over older schools where students have achieved low scores on state tests and over the way county school funds are shared. In the most recent statewide testing, Howard County slipped for the first time from the No. 1 spot, falling to No. 2.

Ninety percent of Pittsford's students are white. About 4 percent are black, 5 percent are Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander, and 1 percent are Hispanic. Pittsford has five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools.

Howard County has 43,000 students in public schools, including 37 elementary, 17 middle and 10 high schools. Seventy percent of the students are white, and 30 percent are minorities.

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