Allbritten recalled a time when Hairston -- without speaking to union representatives -- implemented new performance reviews for principals. When the results were released and some principals were shown in need of improvement, Hairston caught a nasty backlash.
"What we were trying to do was at least hear him out," Allbritten said, referring to Hairston's ideas and proposals. "But that wasn't the agenda for other folks."
Criticized for bluntness
Hairston's bluntness and fast-paced management style didn't go over well with some system employees and community members.
"If there's a `people' weakness anywhere, it's that [Hairston says], `I'm doing the right thing, and I'm sorry, if you can't see this is the right thing to do, then there isn't a whole lot we can do to make you see this is the right thing to do,' " said Rieck.
Word of Hairston's imminent appointment -- and his career history -- make some in the Baltimore County school system nervous.
"I understand that he is real good with technology, but I'm not sure he knows how to deal with teacher morale," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "That's my biggest concern."
The Clayton school system lost about 1,000 teachers during Hairston's tenure, many of them because of morale problems, Trotter said.
"Employee morale hit rock bottom here," Trotter said. "It got so low you could scrape it up like Silly Putty."
Tried to work with teachers
Hairston said yesterday that he tried to work with teachers in Clayton. His wife, Lillian, has been a high school history teacher for 29 years, he said, adding that teachers in Baltimore County should "relax" because any decisions he makes will be "predicated on the values of the community."
At Clayton's Forest Park High School, there is mostly praise for Hairston, who was the driving force behind the school system's computer repair program, said Principal Jeff Hunt.
Students in the high school's "PC systems lab" learn to repair personal computers. Yesterday, in a room lined with two dozen computers, one student new to computers removed the cover of one to explore its inner landscape, learning to tell the mother board from a memory card.
Other, more advanced students were learning to move a small electrical conductor to allow a repair technician to bypass a user's password. Third-year students are eligible for apprenticeships at computer stores or at the school system's Management Information Systems division.
"It's all very tangible," Hunt said. "They get out of here at 2 o'clock, we give them an MIS radio and tell them, `Go fix things.' "
`Time to move on'
Despite successes such as the computer repair program at Forest Park, the wear and tear of poor school board relations was too great for Hairston. In the end, he knew he had to leave or "go out the back door," former associates said.
"Joe was fast approaching the point where he had done all he could to bring new innovations into the system," said Rieck. "It was perhaps time for him to look at other opportunities."
Hairston said he felt that the timing was right.
"I played the role that I had to, but as far as my career is concerned, it was time to move on," he said. "It was time to move on to the next dimension."