Hairston meets with parents, denies being confrontational

March 09, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Joseph A. Hairston -- Baltimore County's pick to be the next school superintendent -- clarified a few things about his character and his educational philosophy at a two-hour meeting with parents last night in Perry Hall.

Hairston said he's not confrontational, he's not an autocrat and he's not another Stuart D. Berger.

Hairston, who will likely be appointed the next schools chief at a meeting Tuesday, doesn't want to be compared with Berger -- a former superintendent who was fired because he butted heads with county politicians and parents.

"I'm not controversial," Hairston said during the forum at Perry Hall High School with about 200 Parent Teacher Association leaders and members.

"I'm here tonight because I don't have anything to hide."

Parents made sure Hairston lived up to his statement, grilling the educator on such topics as classroom technology, student accountability and his past, including his stormy, five-year tenure as superintendent of the Clayton County, Ga., school system. Hairston resigned from that position in January.

"I was in a very hostile environment," Hairston said of his time in Georgia, explaining that he had to use "restraint and passive resistance" when dealing with school officials there.

John Keenan, PTA president at Stoneleigh Elementary School, wanted to make sure Hairston would be a sage manager, "not another Berger."

"Would you say you are an autocrat?" asked Keenan.

"No, I would never use that word," said Hairston. "I am not an autocrat."

During Hairston's recent visits with county education groups, including the teachers union, he has sought to create a middle ground, promising to talk first and act later.

"You seem like a nice person," said Steve Yarn, PTA president from Hernwood Elementary School. "But will we get you? Is this a done deal?"

Yarn did not get an answer. Hairston gave the question to school board President Donald Arnold and Vice President Phyllis Ettinger. They only smiled.

Yarn, like many others, expected the board to approve Hairston's employment at a Feb. 29 meeting.

But the board delayed the vote after a last-minute request from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council to allow Hairston to meet with the public.

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