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Baltimore County schools chief wins praise for raising achievement despite rise in poverty

10-year veteran Hairston says he tries to avoid highs, lows

March 24, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

'She remembered me'
Hairston sounds exhausted when discussing AIM but peps up whenever discussion turns back to children. On a recent morning, he dropped by Pinewood Elementary in Timonium for a surprise visit and tucked his massive frame into a bitty chair so he could check on the progress of second-grader Angelina Gioffreda, whom he met two years ago. He listened patiently as she explained how she kept her binder organized. "She remembered me," he said afterward with delight. "Isn't that something?"

He talked with another girl who had recently arrived from Turkey and assured her that he had been much shyer than she when he moved around as a military brat.

Next, he headed to an assembly of student government leaders from around the county, who peppered him with questions about technology in classrooms, the sequencing of history courses and condoms in the nurse's office.

He seemed thrilled that some of the sharp questions came from Woodlawn High students. "That's the first time I've heard them be that eloquent," he said. "They have a lot more confidence in themselves."

"Being around positive people just fires you up, doesn't it?" he said after leaving the assembly.

He'd need the energy for an afternoon of helping his administrators sharpen their presentations for a coming board meeting. Hairston seemed particularly concerned that state-ordered reorganization plans for several schools contained few specifics beyond planned staff overhauls. "I'm still trying to look for that hook," he said sternly.

Hairston, who says he's unlikely to seek another term when his contract is up in two years, talks often about the difficulties of a superintendent's life - the weeks spent negotiating with adults instead of thinking about children, the decisions that will invite blame no matter what, the schedule that has him at legislative hearings early and awards banquets late. He regards himself as the calm eye at the center of a perpetual storm.

The only days of genuine calm, he says, are the last ones before major holidays and summer vacation. He asks his transportation coordinator to call him at the end of such days to let him know that the last bus has made its rounds safely.

"That kind of serenity is priceless," he says. "I know that we've done our job."

Joe Hairston
Age: 62

Job: Baltimore County schools superintendent since 2000

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Va.

Salary: $301,791

Family: Married to Lillian, a social studies teacher at Owings Mills High School, and has two grown sons

Accomplishments: Introduced Blueprint for Progress that has guided system for nearly a decade, created corporate partnership to build "virtual" classroom at Chesapeake High, increased AP course offerings to an average of 16 per high school, helped guide Woodlawn Middle School off state-monitored improvement after almost eight years.

Fun fact: Played on offensive line at Maryland State with future Hall-of-Famer Art Shell and tried out for the Washington Redskins in 1969

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