When Stuart Berger was fired as Baltimore County schools superintendent in August 1995, he asked a favor of the principal of the Carver School Center for Arts and Technology -- find a way for him to give his daughter her diploma when she graduated as he had done with his other four children.
Last night, Berger got the opportunity -- and more.
In a move that raised more than a few eyebrows among county educators, Berger was the featured speaker at Carver's graduation ceremony at the Lyric Theatre in Baltimore. Carver is one of the first magnet schools begun during Berger's tumultuous three years as head of the district.
"I was honored that they asked me," said Berger, who remains involved in education through consulting and a company involved in helping districts manage alternative schools.
Before the ceremony, Berger promised not to make news about the school system or county politics. "The quality of the school system in the last three years speaks for itself, and that's all I'm going to say," he said.
Berger was fired almost three years ago after his abrasive style and aggressive policies earned him enemies among parents, teachers and the county's political establishment.
For the most part, Berger's 15-minute speech managed to fulfill his pledge.
Berger praised the faculty, saying that "public education wouldn't be in crisis if every school were like Carver."
He urged students to help "the 'have-nots' of our society" and be strong leaders.
In his lone foray into county education policy, Berger urged parents to support magnet schools such as Carver, saying that having choices in public education is better than such alternatives as charter schools or vouchers.
Given his role in creating the arts and technology magnet, Berger was an appropriate choice to speak at the graduation. Carver's founding principal, Mary Cary, talked to him about starting the program as soon as he was hired as superintendent in 1992, and Carver opened one year later.
Berger "helped make our school a reality," Cary told the students.
However, Berger's role as Carver's graduation speaker was a hot topic of discussion among county educators.
"I just don't want anything to take away from the graduates and the graduation ceremony," said board member Michael Kennedy, who participated in the ceremony and stepped aside to permit Berger to give his daughter her diploma and a hug. "I'm glad he has the opportunity to participate in his daughter's graduation. I'm sure it means a lot to him."
No countywide policy exists for selecting adult or student graduation speakers, and some high schools skip having adult speakers in an effort to keep ceremonies shorter, said schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler.
Pub Date: 5/22/98