Standoff broken on school board

Mayor and governor jointly fill three vacancies, extend terms of chair, vice chair

January 30, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and Gov. Martin O'Malley announced yesterday that they have appointed a former principal, an attorney and a children's television host to the city school board.

Dixon and O'Malley also reappointed two board members, Chairman Brian D. Morris and Vice Chair Jerrelle F. Francois, whose terms expired July 1.

The new faces on the nine-member board are Maxine Wood, Neil E. Duke and Robert Heck. They are filling open seats created by resignations.

The mayor and the governor appoint the city school board jointly. But O'Malley, as Baltimore mayor, and then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. couldn't agree on the five appointments.

By law, the mayor and the governor must fill open seats within 60 days, but two positions were unfilled for longer than that.

Morris, 35, said last night that he's "thrilled" to be reporting now to a mayor and a governor who agree with each other. He said it will be "refreshing" to not have to constantly defend the system against "attacks that are politically motivated."

"It's a breath of fresh air," Morris said. "All of our focus can be on the schools."

Morris is the CEO of Legacy Harrison Development. His name has circulated in political circles as a potential mayoral candidate, which would have required him to run against Dixon in the September Democratic primary. Jokingly, he said of his reappointment to the school board: "I guess that puts me out of the running for mayor."

Morris, Francois and Duke will serve through July 2009. Wood will fill out the remainder of a term expiring in July 2008. Heck's term lasts until July of this year.

Wood, 64, served in the 1980s as principal of two city elementary schools, Medfield Heights and Guilford. She went on to become an assistant superintendent in the Alexandria, Va., school system and spent a year there as the acting superintendent.

She is now director of operations for Talent Development High Schools, a reform program for troubled schools run through the Johns Hopkins University. She said she hopes to bring "encouragement and support for the people working hard in Baltimore City public schools."

Heck, 53, is the former PTA president at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, where his two children are enrolled. For the past 15 years, he has served as a children's television host for Maryland Public Television, performing as "Bob the Vid Tech." He started a second job this week as the legislative director for the Baltimore Education Network.

In recent years, Heck has been a regular critic of the school system, calling for greater transparency and parental involvement. "The fact that they've actually chosen me to be one of the commissioners is a verification that they want a new direction, and I will bring that, without a doubt," he said.

Francois, 70, and Duke, 42, could not be reached for comment.

Before becoming a school board member, Francois spent 34 years in the city schools as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. She has also worked as a consultant for Catapult Learning.

An Air Force veteran, Duke managed the economic crimes unit of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was also the first vice president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP.

Currently, he works as an employment and labor attorney for the law firm Ober Kaler.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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