JOE HAIRSTON may have taken on the most difficult job in Baltimore County. The new school superintendent is expected to improve student performance throughout the system, but he is not supposed to be "an agent of change."
Change is a word that conjures up uncomfortable memories at Greenwood, the system's headquarters. When Stuart D. Berger became superintendent in 1992, he roiled what had been a complacent school system. He made a number of necessary changes -- creating magnet schools and emphasizing school-based management, but his brash and arrogant management style created enemies among groups that should have been his allies.
Dr. Hairston is well-acquainted with that history and wants to avoid it, as does Baltimore County's Board of Education. The board and Dr. Hairston are cautiously creating a common agenda. Last month, the board and the new superintendent got acquainted at a weekend retreat. The board did not issue any directives to Dr. Hairston, nor did he suggest any initiatives to the board.
This deliberately careful approach may serve everyone's purpose initially, but new approaches must be an important component of Dr. Hairston's administration. Challenges such as raising minority achievement, raising academic standards for all high school graduates, hiring and retaining good teachers and managing the state's third largest school system will require altering current management practices.
The board and Dr. Hairston should acknowledge their desire for improvement requires doing things differently. Dr. Hairston wasn't hired to continue the status quo. He has a reputation for improving education performance and for getting his way.
Next month, Dr. Hairston and the board will meet to discuss his transition team's findings. After that meeting, they should share a sense of what needs to be done. Change must be given a prominent place in their agenda.