The head of Baltimore County schools, whose current contract expires this summer, might learn this week whether he will be asked to stay another four years - a move that could make him the county's second-longest-serving superintendent.
The school board has scheduled a meeting tomorrow to vote on whether to offer a third four-year contract to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who oversees the state's third-largest school system with about 105,000 students. The system is among the nation's 25 largest.
State law gives school systems until March 1 to decide whether to reappoint a superintendent.
Board President JoAnn C. Murphy said the 11-member panel is choosing to meet sooner because "it's important that the issue be settled as early as we can do it."
"With the General Assembly in session and our budget process under way, people need to know what the leadership is going to look like in order to have good-faith dealings," she said Friday.
Hairston declined to comment on tomorrow's meeting.
Murphy said she didn't want to talk about the board's relationship with Hairston or whether it has been satisfied with his performance.
"I would hate to say anything that might influence anyone," she said.
Murphy said she plans to request a roll-call vote, in which each member will state his or her vote individually, rather than raising their hands as a group.
"Given the importance of this, I think people need to be clear on who was yea or nay," she said. "Board members take this very seriously. It probably is our most important responsibility."
The system's longest-serving superintendent, Robert Y. Dubel, retired in 1992 after 16 years at the helm, schools officials said.
Hairston - who became the county's superintendent in 2000 and earns about $260,000 annually - has garnered national attention for technology initiatives, eliminating the system's low-level courses and achieving the country's highest graduation rate for African-American males among large school systems.
He launched AVID, a national college-prep program that is available at all county high schools and is being expanded to the middle schools. AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination - is aimed at students "in the middle" who, educators say, are capable of more challenging work but need more resources, such as tutoring and training in organizational skills, to reach their potential. Last year, nearly 120 high school students completed the program and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships.
Hairston has been credited with increasing participation of minority students in Advanced Placement, honors and Gifted and Talented Program courses.
In recent years, school system data have shown some progress in closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities. Still, Hairston and other educators have said that more must be done. The system's demographics have steadily changed in recent years, with minority enrollment increasing to about 50 percent this school year.
Born and raised in Virginia, Hairston earned a doctorate in education administration from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., a master's degree in administration and physical education from American University in Washington and a bachelor's degree in biology and physical science from Maryland State College, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Hairston began his teaching career in 1969 in Prince George's County - where, in 1989, he was named assistant superintendent. In 1995, he became superintendent of the Clayton County, Ga. public schools.
In 2005, a year into his second contract with Baltimore County public schools, Hairston briefly considered an offer to become superintendent of the Virginia Beach, Va., public school system.
At the time, county school board members gave him a raise, when he committed to remaining through his contract, which ends June 30.
The school board's special meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the ESS Building, Greenwood campus, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson.