New face shares his school views


As it often goes in families, Victor E. Bernson Jr., the youngest of four brothers, got perks that were denied his older siblings.

By the time he was old enough to attend high school, his parents had enough money to send him to St. John's Preparatory School, a prestigious Catholic college-prep school in Massachusetts. His brothers had all attended public school.

Despite that, and the fact that his two children attend St. Mary's, a private Catholic school in Annapolis, the newest member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education said he will be a voice for public education.

"As a concerned citizen, I have as much of a stake as anyone else. I want to see kids prepared. I really don't see it as an `us vs. them' situation," said Bernson, a White House attorney who lives in Millersville. "We all want the very best for these kids. Education is the ticket to opportunity."

He considers his own life a manifestation of the American dream. His father grew up a ward of the state and lived with eight families before he struck out on his own and joined the Air Force. His mother, who is Mexican-American, was cleaning houses when she met Bernson's father in Roswell, N.M.

"My mom was picking cotton when she was my daughter's age," Bernson said. "Now she has a son working in the White House. That can only happen in America."

After graduating from high school - ranked 18th in a class of 256 - he earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Brown University, a law degree from Boston University, and a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. While attending Brown University, he met his wife of 17 years, the former Helena Pereira, a cousin of a classmate.

Bernson spent nine years in the Navy; he says he approached the recruiter, not the other way around. During that time, he lived in the Philippines and Italy and spent two years at sea aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk. After completing his military service, he lived in San Diego before settling his family in Millersville.

Since 2004, Bernson has served as general counsel for the White House Office of Administration.

Bernson said his family's choice to send Alexandra, 16, and Bobby, 14, to St. Mary's had nothing to do with the quality of the county's public schools. (The two would have attended Severna Park High School.) Religion played a role in making the decision, he said, and he believes that his children will benefit from being at a smaller school that focuses on college preparation, similar to the education he received.

The difference between his high school education and that of his brothers, he said, was that expectations at his Catholic school were much higher.

"They really stressed academics," he said. "They might say `That was a very fine 93 on the exam, but you can do better.'"

This year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed Bernson to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Bernson formerly served on the Governor's Commission on Quality Education in Maryland.

Bernson decided to run for a seat on the school board when he learned that Paul G. Rudolph was stepping down after serving two five-year terms. College preparedness is a concern for him, he said, and he would like to see the county's high school curriculum more closely aligned with college courses.

Bernson said he'd also like to see the business of the school system conducted with more transparency and will focus on controlling costs and demanding accountability when it comes to student performance.

He is also adamantly opposed to redistricting.

"It has to be the very last option," he said. "It breaks up communities."

School board vice president Eugene Peterson said that Bernson is a welcome addition to the board.

"He comes well prepared and he's got a great sense of humor," Peterson said.

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