Did Stuart Berger make a mistake three years ago when he accepted the job of Baltimore County school superintendent?
Maybe so, to hear him talk these days. In interviews, Dr. Berger has sounded defeated. He openly admits -- perhaps a bit histrionically -- to feeling worn down by all the criticism leveled at him and his administration since 1992. "Every night I go home and say to my wife, 'Well, here's today's crop.' That gets old," the superintendent told The Evening Sun's Mary Maushard.
During the weeks to come, as the county school board decides whether to rehire Dr. Berger for four more years, the members must determine whether the Berger era has gotten "old" for them, too.
They certainly can't fault Dr. Berger for failing to fulfill much of the educational vision drafted several years ago by the board and various community representatives. Following the recommendations laid out in that plan, he has implemented all-day kindergarten, school breakfasts, magnet schools, management reform and the inclusion of special education students into regular schools.
Some county residents say the changes have come too rapidly, and for this they blame Dr. Berger as the change agent. Others point out that he had to move so quickly because the so-called innovations should have happened a decade ago.
Change is often hard to accept, especially in such a conservative place as Baltimore County -- a conservatism, in fact, that surprised Dr. Berger. However, it was made more difficult in this instance by the superintendent's lack of public relations skills. Board member Robert Dashiell offered an apt summation when he noted that the public has taken its anger over the school reforms and aimed it at the man who introduced them -- and whose demeanor has made him an easy target of critics, including rumor-mongers, opportunistic pols and know-nothing talk-radio hosts.
The board should not ignore the criticisms of Dr. Berger. Nor can they allow the more irrational detractors to dictate how Dr. Berger's fate is decided.
If the board members' appraisal of his performance leads them to conclude two things -- that he has taken significant steps toward meeting the goals of the vision statement and that he is the right person to continue guiding the Baltimore County school system into the next century -- it's an easy call: He should get four more years. If they conclude otherwise, they have to begin shopping for a new school chief.