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School board grilling is finished But no clear leader has emerged from among five choices.


A school board search committee may choose the city's new superintendent as early as next week or the week after, according to Stelios Spiliadis, the board's vice president.

On Saturday, five candidates for the job finished a grueling series of interviews with school and community leaders and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The search committee, which is headed by Spiliadis, is now in the process of picking the superintendent with recommendations from the school and community leaders who grilled the candidates.

When the interviews concluded, neither Schmoke, Spiliadis nor any of the other board members would say if a front-runner had emerged. Neither would representatives of such key interest groups as the Greater Baltimore Committee, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"I think the process produced some strong candidates," Schmoke said yesterday. "All of them are very good people who have different strengths. I am looking forward now to hearing feedback from some of the groups involved in the interview process."

Asked whether any favorite had emerged, Schmoke demurred. "I am not going to talk about front-runners," he said with a smile.

The new superintendent will take over for outgoing school chief Richard C. Hunter, whose term expires July 31.

The candidates are David W. Hornbeck, the former state school superintendent; Lil

lian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent from Washington, D.C.; Patsy Baker Blackshear, an associate superintendent in Baltimore; Charles M. Bernardo, the former Montgomery County school chief, now an educational consultant and real estate professional; and Walter G. Amprey, associate superintendent in Baltimore County.

While the mayor and board members declined to comment on individual candidates, some of the other interviewers shared their impressions.

Iris G. Reeves, who chairs the City Council's education and human resources committee, said she was worried that Hornbeck, a nationally known educator, might have trouble devoting all his undivided attention to the city schools.

She said Amprey had a "homey, more folksy" style, and had a goodsense of Baltimore's particular character and needs. "But he was not as specific in some areas as I would have liked," she said.

Reeves and others praised Gonzalez, an expert in the area of special education and in dealing with the needs of homeless children and other "special populations."

"I would say that Gonzalez was by far the best candidate," said Del. Delores G. Kelley, D-City, a professor at Coppin State College.

She called Gonzalez a "careful listener" and said she offered more than simple textbook solutions to the problems posed by panelists.

The Rev. William Johnson, who represented the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, also was impressed by Gonzalez.

"I think she's really people-oriented," he said. "She's got a handle on the pulse of what's needed."

Susan Leviton, president of Maryland Advocates for Children and Youth, saw a sharp contrast between Hornbeck and Amprey.

"Amprey did not have a specific agenda, and he was basically saying he would create a process," she said. Hornbeck, by comparison "was very clear about what he wanted to do."

Leviton said that while Gonzalez was a good listener and had "good people skills," her experience is narrow.

In his interview with community groups Saturday, Amprey pledged strong leadership with an eye toward turning around community attitudes toward the schools.

"This entire city has accepted the fact that it's not doing well, it's given itself a bad report card," he said. He called for tight links between the schools and the community.

Amprey generally supported the move toward so-called "school-based management," or greater autonomy for local schools -- a top priority of the mayor and school board.

But he also said the concept is nothing new, and that innovative principals already try things independent of the administration.

Hornbeck, meanwhile, laid out a detailed agenda of what is needed to make Baltimore schools successful.

He said the system must demand results in teaching math, science, English and history, and hold schools responsible. He would link that approach with rewards for successful schools.

Hornbeck urged that parents and teachers share in making decisions in the schools. He called for more staff training, a beefed-up pre-kindergarten program and better use of technology.

And he cited the need to link schools with other city institutions -- holding training sessions in libraries, for example, or involving health and social service agencies in reducing the dropout rate.

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