Getting along

November 01, 2006

What a difference a new CEO makes. Last week it was announced that Prince George's County has so many failing schools that the State Board of Education has put the district in "corrective action," a designation that could justify a state takeover. But state education officials are also giving the district's new superintendent, John Deasy, time to make changes to improve student performance. Would that Baltimore had been treated with the same courtesy.

In March, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the state board tried to take over 11 failing Baltimore schools. Then-CEO Bonnie S. Copeland and other city officials fought back, and the General Assembly imposed a one-year moratorium on the state's proposed action. The episode reinforced the long-contentious nature of the relationship between Ms. Grasmick and Ms. Copeland, but the takeover postponement brought only temporary relief for Ms. Copeland, who was bounced from her job and left July 1.

The interim Baltimore schools CEO, Charlene Cooper Boston, who most recently headed the school system in Wicomico County, has a more harmonious relationship with Ms. Grasmick. That obviously helps account for the fact that Ms. Grasmick now insists that the persistent problems in Baltimore's school system, which is also in corrective action, are being addressed with more "dedication" and "seriousness" by Ms. Boston, forestalling, at least for the moment, any demands by the state for further changes. Although the state has not yet approved an updated master plan for Baltimore's schools, the system is being given credit for a greater sense of urgency in addressing the problems of failing schools and trying to come up with viable solutions.

Similarly, state education officials have not imposed a plan of action on Prince George's County, but are giving Mr. Deasy time to make good on his attempts to bring together interested parties, from politicians to parents, to help teachers and boost student achievement.

Is there a lesson in all this in an election year? It could be a simple matter of state education officials reacting more favorably to personal CEO styles that go along and get along. Or, perhaps once burned, twice shy.

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