Breaking with a long tradition, the Baltimore County school system has recruited parents, students, PTA officials and community leaders to help select school principals and other administrators.
The 90 applicants interviewing for jobs this weekend -- including a number of out-of-towners -- will be part of an innovative selection process that many participants seem to like, although some complain that they haven't had time to prepare for it.
"It's an attempt to get as many different perspectives as possible," said Superintendent Stuart Berger, who put this change into place quickly, as he has many others in his first year on the job. "At the principal level, it's an attempt to have the sites have some say."
Dr. Berger and his staff will make the final selection from the whittled-down list of candidates the screening committees deliver.
The job seekers will go through a first round of interviews today with committees selected to represent various interests. For example, the committee looking for a music coordinator includes a member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, two music teachers, a high school music student and at least one parent.
"It's all part of a desire . . . for the community to participate in the school system," said Penny Booth, coordinator of the selection process.
There will be six interviewing committees for seven positions in the central administration and four more committees to talk with candidates for principal at 10 schools.
The 90 candidates were selected from more than 600 responses the school system received after advertising in education journals and out-of-town newspapers. But many also come from within -- eight of the 16 candidates for principal positions are assistant principals in county schools, Ms. Booth said.
Eleven are being flown in at school system expense; the rest live within six hours driving time, she said. One is from Wichita, Kan., where Dr. Berger was superintendent until last July. Others are from Illinois, Michigan and Washington state, said school spokeswoman Myra Treiber.
The applicants for principal who make it through the first round today at the Holiday Inn in Timonium will be interviewed tomorrow at individual schools by another set of committees made up of teachers, parents and others with a particular interest in each school. There will be about 120 interviewers in all.
Dr. Berger, who initiated the interview-by-committee process, said he used this method some years ago when he was superintendent of schools in North Olmsted, Ohio, "and it worked very well. It's completely consistent with my philosophy."
All of the committee members went through an orientation and have been given job descriptions and candidates' resumes to prepare them for their work. But now they're on their own, Ms. Booth said.
"They will say, 'yes, this candidate should be pursued' or 'no, this candidate should not be pursued,' " she explained.
Phyllis Bloom, president of the PTA at Randallstown Elementary School, said her committee is excited about the prospect of looking for a principal but is worried because the whole operation has been organized in only three weeks.
"We only met as a committee one time," she said, but added, "we developed our questions; we know what we're looking for. We're going to pick the best."
Ed Veit, president of the Teachers' Association of Baltimore County, said his union recommended six teachers to serve on various committees. Although he applauded the process, he criticized the school system's courting of out-of-town educators, saying the expense is "criminal."
In addition to music coordinator, the other administrative positions are: assistant superintendent for community, planning and alternative programs; manager of children and families; coordinator of library and media services; coordinator of career and technical education; supervisor for the office of business education and supervisor of trade, industry and agriculture.
The schools with vacancies are: Randallstown and Dundalk high schools; Middle River and Perry Hall middle schools, and Winfield, Rodgers Forge, Pinewood, Red House Run, Joppaview and Randallstown elementary schools.