Finalists for superintendent discuss school issues

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Walter G. Amprey, 46, associate superintendent for the division of staff and community relations in Baltimore County.

LOCAL CONTROL: The notion is not new but represents what many principals have been doing all along.

"You've got to embrace it. You've got to have your people embrace it. Sometimes people feel they're giving up control -- that they didn't have in the first place. That takes staff development."

PLANS AND IDEAS: No plan would be developed befor conversations with people within and without the school system.

"There's a tendency for many of us, some of us who havbecome consultants, to promote a one-size-fits-all answer to problems that are very complicated. . . . It has been a challenge to me not to put out pronouncements."

The top priority would be keeping youths in school, in terms of both improving attendance and increasing graduation.

"Schools have to be inviting. They have to be attractive. They have to be magnets. When I say magnet, I don't mean magnet in the pedagogical sense. . . . They have to be an environment that attracts youngsters despite the odds."

He believes in recognizing the positive and building on it.

"I think how people move and make progress is very simple. I think they do it based on how they feel about themselves. If we can get this group, this city, the collective groups together to say that this thing is doable, I think the rest falls in place."

The superintendent's role is to inspire and build coalitions to solve problems.

"People say, 'What are you going to do about it?' I'm not going to do anything. I'm going to pull you all together, and we're going to solve the problems.

"To think that I'm going to come in here and have all the answers, that's not a realistic expectation."

STYLE: Would identify people with skills that complement hi and "let them be my teachers."

"My greatest sense of power has come from giving it away. It's by getting the best out of people."

BALTIMORE: City schools are "not as bad as made out to be."

"If you ask me what the city's greatest problem is, I would say it needs a continuous program of development regardless of who the people are. That's another way of saying stability. . . .

"I think there are definitely some problems, and I think there are some serious problems.

"I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think we could solve the problems."

Charles M. Bernardo, 53, former Montgomery County and Providence, R.I., superintendent and, since 1980, an educational consultant and real estate professional in Florida.

LOCAL CONTROL: Advocates shifting more power to schools, but "I don't see a system where each school operates as a school system. I don't believe it would be legal or preferable. . . . I do see that discretionary power can be given to principals."

PLANS AND IDEAS: Would develop a strategic plan witbroad-based community involvement.

Suggests establishing a privately funded foundation to provide incentives and rewards for good programs in city schools.

Some areas of emphasis would be math and science, children'readiness for kindergarten, safety in schools, seeking adequate funding for the system, raising the community's expectations of its schools and improving staff's "sense of inspiration."

Central office staff must be brought to realize that "the only reason they are there is to aid and assist professionals to cause children to grow."

Principals would be judged on their implementation of the plan and on raw achievement test scores showing students' progress. His motto: "Inspect what you expect."

"I see a central strategic plan. I see centralized citywide goals and objectives. And I see an organization at the top that aids and assists people."

Baltimore can be "the lighthouse urban school system within a reasonable period of time." The soonest that measurable change should be expected is four years. "By the end of three years, we should know where we're going."

"Look what you've done in this city in terms of capital and physical reclamation. . . . Why can't we make the next decade in Baltimore the decade of reclamation of children? We just might do it. I hate to fail."

STYLE: "I expect a great deal from myself, and therefore I expec a great deal from the people around me.

"The superintendent's style will be one of reaching out to the community and not waiting for invitation."

BALTIMORE: "The ship has been turned around. You don't nee a savior. . . . You're already on a fast track. You're not in shambles. And it would be a pleasure for me to learn from you."

Sees a "collective will" in Baltimore at odds with the divisiveness in many other cities. "There's a focus here."

Patsy B. Blackshear, 43, associate superintendent for management services, human resources and labor relations, Baltimore public schools.

LOCAL CONTROL: "Our current effort is a beginning. . . . It is impossible if the responsibility and accountability and authority are separated.

"Also, because we don't have ample resources, people have to be creative with what they do, and in order to be creative, you have to give people flexibility."

PLANS AND IDEAS: Advocates a "comprehensive plan" to identify strategies and directions.

"I consider a comprehensive plan to be basic. All it does is say, 'This is where we're going.' This serves as a focal point to keep everybody on target."

Another critical need is creating a "can-do attitude" in schools. A way to do that is staff development and training.

"You cannot get things done except through people." Funding must be targeted on top priorities and resources expanded through partnerships with other groups and institutions to "leverage available assets."

Parent and community involvement can be improved by publicizing the meetings of the school board's committees and setting regular dates for meetings, as well as providing minutes and establishing regular meetings with parent groups.

A lesson learned from the experience of outgoing Superintendent Richard C. Hunter: "Mobilization is an ongoing effort, and it has to be constantly worked at."

The solution to schools with long track records of failure: first provide "appropriate support." If failure continues, change the staff and principal.

The school system needs to better employ its process for evaluating and dismissing unsuccessful employees.

STYLE: "Entrepreneurial," focusing on bottom-line results.

"In the District [of Columbia], half of them loved me, and half of them hated me. I think here you might find the same thing. I do my job."

BALTIMORE: "People in this school system feel that they are no valued, that their opinion is not something that's valued -- that people outside the school system have a better sense of how to run the school system than the people in the school system.

"Yes, there are hindrances in the system. Attitude is one. Focus on the status quo. I believe that others think that they know better than the people in the school system who run the school system. . . . all of that changes through working with people. And working with people is critical."

Lillian Gonzalez, 45, assistant superintendent in Washington, D.C., in charge of services to handicapped, bilingual and homeless children and adult education.

LOCAL CONTROL: Responsibility should be shifted from the central office as schools and communities are trained to accept it and should be awarded based on schools' performance and needs. Control over hiring and firing, for example, "can happen when and if the community is ready for that at any given school. . . . You want to hire and fire; then show me success."

PLANS AND IDEAS: The city must develop a vision of wher schools should be in five years and work toward that. The superintendent's job is to provide leadership in developing and carrying out the vision. Parents should be trained to help them become involved and form coalitions. Staff development is key. "Invest in your staff so that they are the best."

The superintendent must expand the pool of resources through grants and cooperative ventures with groups and institutions and through seeking more city and state funding. Funding should be focused on the system's top priorities and tied to results. "What works? What doesn't work? . . . Don't keep funding those aspects of our institution that don't work."

Community consensus begins with close ties between the superintendent and the school board. "My strongest feeling is if the board and superintendent have very similar goals and we can move the district in that direction, I think you are much more likely to have a coalition of interests."

Measurable progress should develop within three years. "Too often we abandon programs that work. . . . We're quick to react and say we have to find quick solutions. I think if we gave the opportunity for talented individuals to move their agendas forward, to prove at given benchmarks that they are making progress, I believe you would see more success."

STYLE: "I'm extremely intense. I'm extremely demanding. I ask for high expectations. I ask for timeliness. I ask for results." Shared decision-making should be used at the central level and within schools to "unleash the creativity."

BALTIMORE: "What has intrigued me and attracted me to the Baltimore system here is a demonstration that the community here has come together to help the children. I was impressed. The mayor has made a commitment . . . you don't get that in many districts. I am looking at a district that is willing to change."

David W. Hornbeck, 49, former Maryland state school superintendent and a nationally known consultant to local governments on school reform.

LOCAL CONTROL: Views shifting control to schools over a period of five to six years as integral to reform, would like it to include all city schools.

PLANS AND IDEAS: Would build a reform plan around elementincluding school-based decision-making, a sophisticated testing system, extensive pre-kindergarten programs, comprehensive staff development and a plan in which schools are measured against desired standards and rewarded or punished based on their performance. Sanctions against troubled schools could include taking more responsibility away from the school and across-the-board financial penalties for staff.

Such comprehensive changes are necessary because, "We cannot produce as different a set of results as we want to produce by marginal changes."

The educational plan would be developed in concert with school staff, parents and community groups. "Those are the essential elements in my view. The devil is in the details, and the details would be the place where I should think there would be widespread conversation inside and outside the school system."

Advocates direct parental control over schools. Wants to explore using the school system to help community groups organize citizens for greater participation in schools.

Funding for his plan is more likely to come about now than it was in previous years, when such requests were rejected by the legislature: "We no longer have the economic luxury of throwaway kids. We're going down the tubes if we don't succeed. I think that creates a new set of possibilities, a new sensitivity."

STYLE: "I tend to manage in a consultative way, in a way thaincludes lots of people. . . . I would want to have frequent personal contact, for example, with principals. I don't think there ought to be a separation between the superintendent and the people who see the kids everyday."

He would build "a strong staff who would be able to play the day-to-day operation role."

ON BALTIMORE: A parent of two sons who graduated from cit schools, he "found possibility within the system that good TC education could take place. . . . I also had the opportunity to see the weak spots, the bureaucracy, the low expectations, the weak spots in the professional development system."

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