Two remain in search for city schools chief

June 09, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's search for a new schools chief abruptly shrank to a two-woman contest yesterday when the third finalist withdrew from consideration even as the school board was weighing its choices.

A. Skipp Sanders, second-in-command of the state Department of Education, had impressed several school board members and Mayor Martin O'Malley with his determination to prove that underachieving city schools could perform as well as other Maryland schools.

Sanders' withdrawal narrows the choice of the city's third schools chief in as many years to Bonnie S. Copeland, the Baltimore director of a nonprofit educational group, and Carmen Varela-Russo, an associate superintendent of a large Florida school system.

Both are well-regarded and each has strong support on the school board. Some city school observers say Copeland has an advantage because she was a board member in 1997-1998.

The eight-person board met privately last night and had been expected to discuss a successor to Robert Booker. The city schools' low-profile chief executive officer will leave when his contract expires at the end of the month. Board members said they had just heard of Sanders' withdrawal and doubted whether they would quickly reach a consensus. A New Jersey superintendent withdrew last month and took another job.

In choosing between Copeland and Varela-Russo, the must determine who is better suited to lead a multimillion-dollar reform effort that has produced remarkable gains in the elementary schools but has yet to do the same in the higher grades.

Baltimore's next education chief will have to build on the progress made by elementary school children, who showed significant improvement on standardized tests this spring, while devoting more attention and resources to high schools with high dropout rates.

Equally important will be establishing better internal controls to prevent the no-bid contracting that was revealed last week and led to the resignation of the school system's chief financial officer and a one-month suspension of its business officer.

Sun staff writer Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

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