If a school superintendent were to be judged mainly by whether he or she cared about the kids, then the 16-year tenure of Baltimore County school chief Robert Y. Dubel would have to be rated a success. Whether reading to a class full of children or cheering from the sidelines as a county sports team battled an opponent from outside the jurisdiction, "Dr. Bob" showed he had the tender touch.
However, Dr. Dubel, who officially retires June 30, could also be tough. A county boy who grew up fast as a teen-aged Marine at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, he earned a reputation in the 1950s and '60s as a supremely skilled Annapolis lobbyist. In Baltimore County, where he worked as a deputy school superintendent before being named to the head slot in 1976, Dr. Dubel is often described as the most savvy politician in the jurisdiction. He used all these attributes to build a well-paid, loyal administration in which power has flowed from the top. Few people in the county have had much trouble remembering who sits at the top.
The superintendent made good use of his highly centralized power, creating anti-drug and values education programs that have been praised and imitated nationwide. Also, under his guidance, Baltimore County maintained a thriving Students Against Driving Drunk presence while SADD chapters have been shutting down in other states. And he repeatedly brought home the bacon for the schools. Even in a bad economy, his education department continued to capture almost half of the overall budget for Baltimore County.
Yet, Dr. Dubel has had his critics. Teachers claim his demanding style allowed them little say in school operations -- and, as they like to point out, they are the ones in the trenches every day.
Others knock Dr. Dubel for having been slow to acknowledge that Baltimore County is no longer the sleepy, middle-class, lily-white suburb it once was. (The county -- and, consequently, the county school system -- has seen a marked increase in minority population during the past decade, along with an influx of social ills associated with city life.) Black parents have decried a lack of black teachers in mostly black schools, as well as a lack of programs to help minority students boost academic achievement and extra-curricular involvement.
In selecting Stuart D. Berger as Dr. Dubel's successor, the county school board clearly sought to alter the course of the system as the county itself undergoes some dramatic changes.
Although Dr. Berger appears to be cast as the agent of change, there is at least one Dubel tradition he should uphold -- caring about the kids in the superintendent's charge. As Bob Dubel would be the first to say, the students deserve no less.