Ecker accepts Carroll post

Interim leader of schools to begin 4-year term in July

September 14, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

School administrators, parents and members of the Carroll County Board of Education were pleased yesterday by the news that interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker agreed to accept a four-year appointment as superintendent starting in July.

During the 13 months that Ecker has served as interim superintendent, many people have credited him with reaching out to the community and improving the system's tarnished image in the wake of investigations and lawsuits regarding bungled school construction projects.

As a result, dozens of teachers, parents and school administrators approached school board President Susan W. Krebs and asked, "Why can't he stay?"

Knowing that Ecker had insisted from the start that his tenure in Carroll was temporary, Krebs always replied, "I don't know."

Wednesday night, Krebs announced the school board's intention to appoint Ecker to lead the 28,000-student school system starting July 1.

"He's a great administrator, a great leader," Krebs said of Ecker. "He's great at empowering people to get things accomplished. He is exactly what we were looking for."

What convinced him to stay, Ecker said yesterday, was his realization that if another superintendent was hired, he or she would make more changes within a school system that has undergone a fair amount of change. That wasn't acceptable to him. "The school system needs some stability," he said. "I'm enjoying it here. The citizens of Carroll County are really very fortunate to have the very dedicated staff we have in our public school system. I just thought I'd like to stay."

Since his arrival in August last year, Ecker has impressed the county with his frankness, sincerity and no-nonsense approach to leading the school system. Krebs noted that his accomplishments are diverse, among them opening communication lines among administrators and staff, improving the school system's relationship with the county and the state, and working to align the progression of students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The job hasn't been easy, especially during the last six months.

In March, a South Carroll High School senior was arrested after he was accused of compiling a "hit list" of students whom he had threatened to kill. The 18-year-old student was placed on probation after the county prosecutor acknowledged that police found no evidence that he intended to carry out his threats.

In addition, during a three-week period in the spring, three Carroll teachers were charged with child sexual abuse.

Ecker credited the cooperation of the state's attorney's office, state police, social services and other agencies with helping the system through the events. "The way they handled those unfortunate incidents last [school] year were really remarkable," he said.

A former two-term Howard County executive, Ecker started his career working as a teacher, coach and assistant superintendent in Carroll County schools for 15 years. He then worked in Prince George's County schools from 1967 to 1974 before joining the Howard County school system, first as superintendent, then as deputy superintendent.

Ecker took over in Carroll after former Superintendent William H. Hyde quit with two years left on his contract. Ecker, a Columbia resident, said then that he didn't plan to make any large changes in Carroll schools because he would have the job for only 10 months. In December, Ecker agreed to add a year to his temporary contract, giving the county more time to search for a permanent schools chief.

Since June, Ecker has made a number of significant changes: reorganizing the administration, moving administrators to different schools and changing staffers' job titles and descriptions.

His plans include putting an end to social promotions and making school programs more rigorous. "I'd really like to make Carroll County one of the top three or four school systems in the state," he said.

Although the school board was in the process of choosing a company to search for a permanent superintendent, Krebs said board members also had been thinking about asking Ecker to take the superintendent's job permanently. She approached him last week with the proposal.

"I'm looking forward to working here and serving the people," Ecker said. "It's a wonderful staff and a wonderful county."

A grandfather of 10, Ecker, 72, underwent single-bypass surgery in January but said neither his age nor his previous health problems will impede his work: "I feel great now. My health -- knock on wood -- has been [good]."

As interim superintendent, Ecker is paid $10,000 per month. His salary as superintendent has not been determined, Krebs said.

According to state law, Ecker's appointment will become official once he signs his contract after Feb. 1.

By the end of this year, Krebs said, she hopes Ecker and the school board will meet to develop their annual performance plan and expectations for the superintendent. "That way, he'll know what our expectations are for him," she said.

She also said Ecker will hold a series of community meetings so that people can discuss with him their concerns and hopes for Carroll schools. "We are sensitive to have community input to picking a superintendent," she said.

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