Field of candidates to head schools trimmed to 11

They will be interviewed over next few weeks

April 07, 2000|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The superintendents of several school districts -- from Florida to Long Island -- and Baltimore's chief academic officer are among a narrowed field of candidates being considered to head Baltimore's school system.

The city school board, which began choosing a new chief executive officer in February, has picked 11 of about 50 applicants to interview over the next few weeks, said Michelle Noel, a board member who is heading the selection process.

A source close to the selection process said the contenders include Albert Williams, superintendent of Richmond, Va.'s public schools; James Harris, a recent superintendent in Buffalo, N.Y.; Anthony P. Cavanna, superintendent of a small Long Island school district; Carmen Varela-Russo, an associate superintendent in Broward County, Fla.; and Betty Morgan, chief academic officer for the Baltimore schools. Morgan had no comment. The others did not return calls.

Noel would not confirm or deny that the five are among the final 11 being considered. She said the school board and a panel of representatives of the community have agreed not to release names until finalists are chosen in mid-May.

"That will be an opportunity for the community to hear and ask questions of the finalists," Noel said.

The school board is hoping to avoid what happened in Baltimore County, where the county executive intervened recently to give the public time to meet Joe Hairston before he was appointed superintendent.

The city schools' chief executive officer, Robert Booker, who was recruited from San Diego County, Calif., announced in January that he would not seek an extension of his two-year contract when it expires in June.

The candidates come from diverse backgrounds and districts. Varela-Russo is in charge of technology, strategic planning and accountability in Broward County, a system with 240,000 students. She was a finalist for the superintendent's job in that county last year, but the school board chose an outsider. From 1990 to 1993, she was chief executive for high schools in the New York City public schools.

Cavanna comes from a small school district on Long Island, Plainview-Old Bethpage, which has about 5,000 students. He has had the job since 1996.

Harris told the Buffalo school board in August that he would not ask for an extension of his contract this year. According to published reports, Harris came under pressure to resign after one of his top administrators was charged with embezzling $22,000 from a school system grant. She was convicted last month.

Williams, the Richmond superintendent, spent most of his career in Virginia Beach, Va., where he started as a teacher in 1972 and became principal at four elementary, middle and high schools, and assistant principal for secondary education. He took the Richmond job in October 1997.

Betty Morgan started as a teacher and moved through the ranks in New York City and Montgomery and Frederick counties before becoming Baltimore's chief academic officer. She has been responsible for academic reforms since November 1998.

In their last search for a superintendent, school officials looked for and found a leader with a strong financial background. They believed Booker, a former chief financial officer for the Los Angeles schools, would bring stronger management to the school system.

Booker has been criticized for his lack of expertise in academic affairs, and the board this time appears to be looking in a different direction.

"We are not ruling out business. We may find someone with both [academic and business backgrounds]. That would be great," Noel said.

After initial interviews next week, three or four finalists will be chosen to come to Baltimore for interviews with the mayor, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, legislators and perhaps the governor in mid-May. A group of board members will travel to the top candidate's home city to interview people, Noel said.

The process is expected to be completed by the end of May.

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