Hairston opens new school year

Superintendent promotes county's successes and looks forward

August 20, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

A crowd of about 800 Baltimore County school administrators gathered at Perry Hall High School on Friday to face a question from their boss. Superintendent Joe A. Hairston asked how they can continue "making the right things happen" for nearly 104,000 students.

As he delivered the 11th opening address of his tenure as superintendent of the 173-school system, which has about 17,000 employees, he did not expect an answer.

"The complete answer to that question is revealed only as our former students become adults — as we see who they become and what they achieve," said Hairston, who took over leadership of Maryland's third-largest school system in 2000, when this year's senior class began first grade.

The annual speech traditionally sets the tone for the school year, said Hairston, who punctuated his remarks with statistics familiar to his audience and a message that what comes next is what matters most.

"We have proven and continue to prove that education for all is achievable," he said. "We are modeling what is possible in public education."

A convivial atmosphere filled the auditorium, where it seemed as though everyone knew each other.

"All the administrators are a collaborative team who work well together," said Manuel Rodriguez, assistant superintendent for middle schools.

The crowd laughed loudly as a brief video ended with comments from the youngest students saying, "I'm ready," and "Here I come, school."

Earnest Hines, president of the board of education, urged educators to take advantage of the people, resources and infrastructure in place and move forward even in a stubbornly sluggish economy.

"Where others are retrenching in this economy, we are moving forward," Hines said.

Though the economy has created fiscal challenges, Hairston pledged "more efficient use of resources and a better job with what we have." The county schools are well prepared to train students for college and for the jobs of the future, he said in an interview after his address.

"Our job is to make sure our students are college-ready and that work force programs are in place," he said. "When the economy strengthens, we will be ready."

The event also showcased student art and musical prowess or, as Hairston said, "our talent galore." Jamila Purnell, a student at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, sang the national anthem a cappella. Two rousing numbers from the A&S Chorus, whose members attend elementary schools across the county, won a standing ovation.

Hairston looked forward with optimism and focused on the successes of the system that graduates 7,400 students annually, the sixth-highest graduation rate in the nation, according to Education Week. About 85 percent of those graduates go on to higher education.

By year's end, Hairston also will be dealing with "an uncertain political landscape," a new administration and a mostly new County Council that will oversee his $1.4 billion budget.

"Elected officials come and go," he said. "But everyone is looking for the quality that works, and that quality and our future are sitting in our classrooms."

Sonja Karwacki, executive director of special programs, said, "This speech always sets the tone for the school year. It renews our focus on Dr. Hairston's blueprint that has helped us build excellence through the last 10 years. If we stay the course, we will only get stronger and better."

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