James R. Sasiadek, the new president of Baltimore County's school board, said he wants the board to tackle school crowding, help educators meet demanding legal requirements and maintain standards of excellence under his leadership.
"We want all of our kids to have a good education," Sasiadek said last week, after his unanimous election to the top post. "That's one of the hallmarks of a sound county - who wants to move to a county without a good school system?"
A longtime principal in Baltimore City who has been active in county schools for years, Sasiadek, 55, succeeded Donald L. Arnold, who had led the school board for four years.
As president, he vows to help teachers and principals face the many challenges confronting schools, starting with new state and federal laws that threaten to penalize schools for failing test scores.
He also said the board should continue looking at ways of relieving crowding, perhaps by redrawing boundary lines and building more schools.
And, he said, the board needs to make sure the school system retains its high standards while coping with those issues, as well as the growing enrollment of minorities and the expiration of seven board members' terms over the next two years.
"We're not a static county. We have to ensure we maintain that excellence - and that includes facilities," said Sasiadek of Mays Chapel, whose two children graduated from county schools.
During the past year, the 12-member school board has been attacked by parents, activists and politicians who have called the body arrogant and secretive. On separate occasions, it discussed the 2003-2004 budget and agreed to renew Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's contract behind closed doors.
Sasiadek said the board didn't violate any laws, but he pledged to improve its image. For example, he hopes to post notices of all of its meetings on the school system's Web site.
"The decision-making is pretty open right now, but I'm going to make sure everybody knows what the official side is and [that] we tell everybody what we're doing and when we're doing it," he said.
A former seminary student who abandoned his childhood goal of the priesthood to become a teacher, Sasiadek is an elementary school principal in South Baltimore. He is entering his 35th year in the city schools.
"You can have the lawyers. You can have the accountants" on a school board, said Idalyn Hauss, a Pikesville parent who is a fellow city principal. "But we're not a business, and kids aren't widgets, and he brings that compassion to the board. I think they made an outstanding choice."
During his three years on the school board - the past two as vice president - Sasiadek has contributed an educators' perspective to discussions, talking about how proposals will affect teachers and principals.
Cheryl Bost, president-elect of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, expects he will do the same as president. "He's in schools. He'll have the perspective of teachers," she said.
Before joining the school board, Sasiadek spent nine years on a committee of parents advising schools in central Baltimore County.
"He will be a great asset to the various community advocacy groups," said Maggie Kennedy, former president of the school system's advisory committees who served with Sasiadek on the central area advisory council.