When C. Berry Carter was named school superintendent in July 1992, we joined Anne Arundel residents in looking forward to a leader who knew the county's school system inside and out. A year later, no one questions Mr. Carter's knowledge. But his leadership has disappointed.
Faced with situations that begged for outrage, sympathetic words or efforts to support parents and students, Mr. Carter has almost always under-reacted. Like others in this school system of which he is so much a product, he tends to deny problems, as if denial renders the problems non-existent.
By far the most damning example is Mr. Carter's handling of the Ronald W. Price affair. Within a week of the arrest of the Northeast High School teacher and his admission that he sexually abused students, the scandal was mushrooming out of control. Mr. Price made accusations about other teachers, and his appearances on tabloid TV were turning Northeast's problems into a national disgrace. People were asking how school officials could not have known about such blatant wrongdoing. The situation called for a strong, immediate response. Yet Mr. Carter never went to the public to say that the school system deplored such conduct, that he was determined to find out what had happened and to make sure it never happened again. He failed to mobilize school forces to support Northeast, which needed help. By the time he authorized an outside investigation in mid-June, the damage was already done.
Mr. Carter made mistakes on other issues, too. He barely acknowledged a report showing that two-thirds of black male high school students aren't meeting minimum academic requirements. He set up a committee to study discipline, surprising the County Council of PTAs, which already was studying the issue. He decided to try a four-period schedule at Chesapeake High next year after giving parents only a week's notice of the change.
Mr. Carter's 38 years of experience in the county system is one of his biggest assets. It also is apparently one of his biggest weaknesses. This school system has a history of unresponsiveness, poor communication and denial; Mr. Carter reflects that. He is a nice person and a sincere educator. But if he hopes to lead the schools more effectively, he must break out of the mold that made him.