City school board OKs system chief of staff

Deputy housing chief to replace Grotsky, who moves to supervisory post

July 19, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board voted unanimously at a meeting last night to approve city housing official Douglass Austin as the system's new chief of staff.

Austin will replace Jeffery N. Grotsky, who has worked in Baltimore's school system for seven years and is known for his no-nonsense style.

Austin has worked for 2 1/2 years as deputy housing commissioner for development. He is the second city housing official recently hired into the school system - a sign of Mayor Martin O'Malley asserting more influence on the system.

In May, Deputy Housing Commissioner Eric T. Letsinger was named chief operating officer, overseeing the financing and execution of school construction.

In a telephone interview last night, Austin said he's had a longtime interest in education. Before his city housing job, he ran a consulting practice that helped overhaul public school systems in Detroit and Miami.

"The quality of public schools has a direct impact on the work I did in housing," he said. "The better the schools, the less difficult it is to attract people into the city."

Austin, 41, lives in the city and has children in the public school system.

Grotsky and school officials said he asked to leave his post as chief of staff and return to his former position as academic officer in charge of Area 4, which includes 27 elementary schools.

"It was something I wanted to do," Grotsky said. "It's a chance to be back in the schools and working with the principals."

When Grotsky came to the city in 1998, he was known for his brusque leadership style. He had served as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Harford County and had alienated school boards and subordinates in both. He was dismissed by the Harford board after less than two years.

Grotsky thrived in Baltimore, where he supervised 26 schools, including 14 of the worst. In 2002, all but two of the schools in his command received cash awards from the state for improved performance.

Last night, he said he was not looking at other jobs outside Baltimore schools. "I'm excited about returning to Area 4," he said. "It will be like going home."

In other action, the board voted to approve contracts for four charter schools: Empowerment Academy, Northwood Appold Community Academy, Inner Harbor East Academy for Young Scholars, and Patterson Park Public Charter School.

One school's contract has yet to be approved - KIPP Ujima Village Academy.

"We have an agreement in principle," said David Stone, the system's director of charter schools. "There was just difficulty finalizing the contract."

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