Acting school chief talks continuity

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes on the challenges of the future. He wore a colorful Jerry Garcia tie, and joked that his theme song would be the Grateful Dead's "I Will Survive."

But interim school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione stressed yesterday that he would not change the direction of Baltimore County schools -- despite the tumultuous tenure of his predecessor, Stuart Berger.

In his first address to about 700 school administrators, the lanky, 61-year-old educator did hint that several about-to-be-released reports on school programs and policies would provide a framework for the school year.

The reports include studies on the gifted and talented program, magnet schools, multicultural education and school violence.

"We are developing a response. We will be guided by these," he told the administrators, who had greeted him with a standing ovation at the annual meeting before the start of school.

Dr. Marchione, named acting superintendent Aug. 1, also expressed concern about the school system's $604 million budget, which was cut almost $4.4 million this spring by the County Council.

"We have a shortfall," he said, adding that the deficit, as well as construction and maintenance, would need "our constant attention."

Although the ousted Dr. Berger wasn't mentioned, Dr. Marchione said he backed many of the programs instituted in the past three years, including full-day kindergartens and magnet schools.

"I support the changes," the former deputy superintendent told the administrators gathered at Loch Raven High School. "I believe we cannot go back to what we did five or 10 years ago."

Dr. Marchione said he also plans to expand technology in schools, despite canceling a proposed contract with Educational Management Group, a Phoenix, Ariz., company seeking a three-year, multimillion-dollar contract with the county system.

"The board is committed to educational technology," echoed school board President Calvin D. Disney, who also spoke to the administrators.

However, he said the board is postponing any decisions until it can move forward financially.

Dr. Marchione said the budget crunch was due not to county fiscal actions but rather to decisions made by school staff and school board members, including reclassifying clerical workers and placing administrators on a salary scale.

"We have asked schools and offices to hold back 25 percent of their allocations until we get a better handle on how to deal with the shortfall," he told the administrators.

Mr. Disney also said the school board was not going to shift its focus.

"The direction the school system chose to go in . . . is not going to change," he said. "We want to continue to improve schools."

To accomplish that goal, Dr. Marchione said he favors implementing recommendations made in a recent school report on violence and disruption. But he did not detail the suggestions he would follow.

Among the report's recommendations are calls for additional support staff in schools, such as psychologists, and incentives to attract top teachers to the most troubled schools.

The report also said parents must make a commitment to work with schools, particularly at the secondary level where such cooperation has declined.

Dr. Marchione also said findings on magnet schools and multicultural education would be forthcoming.

But one immediate concern, he said, was to provide better coordination among the school system's five geographic areas.

Dr. Marchione recently appointed Michael Riley as acting associate superintendent for administration and instruction to accomplish that task.

Dr. Marchione reminded educators that the bottom line is the children.

"I believe the students are our clients . . . our inspiration and mission," he said.

When the county's 158 schools open Aug. 28, at least 100,000 students and more than 6,000 teachers are expected in the classrooms.

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