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's job, New York state native John R. O'Rourke met last night with a crowd of about 50 parents, school board candidates and community leaders.

O'Rourke -- the 55-year-old 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.

O'Rourke 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. Sawyer 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.

A day of meetings

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 recorded low scores on state tests, as well as over how county school funds are shared.

Slip in scores

In the most recent statewide testing, Howard County slipped for the first time from the No. 1 spot to No. 2.

Ninety percent of Pittsford's students are white. About 4 percent are African-American, 5 percent are Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander, and 1 percent Hispanic.

Pittsford has five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools.

Demographics

Howard County has 43,000 students in public schools, which include 37 elementary, 17 middle and 10 high schools.

The Howard school population is about 70 percent white and 30 percent minority.

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