Baltimore County business professionals met with Superintendent Joe A. Hairston at a country club mixer last night, which served to introduce the educator to some of his most demanding clients - men and women eager to hire well-educated high school graduates.
"We want to have the best of the best," said Harry Gowl, eastern division president of Advanced TelCom Group, Inc., which was host of the event at the Towson Golf and Country Club in partnership with several local chambers of commerce.
"If [graduates] aren't well-educated, if they don't know how to speak and write the language, then we are all lost," said Gowl. "It's one of the things that keeps me up at night. It's our No. 1 worry."
Hairston seeks help
Hairston, who started his job as chief of Baltimore County schools July 1, offered reassurances about his commitment to turn out top-notch graduates.
But he said he can't realize that goal without help.
"There is not a superintendent around who can make a school system successful without the community - and that's you," Hairston told the crowd of about 300. "Our children will only perform to the expectations that we set as adults."
Lending support shouldn't be a problem, said Robert L. McKinney, Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce president.
"He wowed our chamber," said McKinney, referring to a meeting between Hairston and the business group shortly after Hairston was announced as the school board's top pick for superintendent. "He was very businesslike and he talked about goals and accountability. He was very realistic."
Hairston demanded support for educational programs at that meeting but did not get specific, said McKinney, who added that he expects to have more fruitful conversations about technical and financial support after Hairston gets settled in his new position.
"I want to build a relationship with Dr. Hairston that will allow us both to be successful," said McKinney.
A large number of Baltimore County business people send their children to local public schools, said McKinney, who graduated from Kenwood High School in Essex in 1968. "There are those of us who are products of Baltimore County public schools, just like me."
Still, the County Council has approved school revenue bonds worth about $54 million for private schools since 1996.
The public school system - with an annual budget of about $1 billion this year, including state revenue - is the largest part of the county's budget, or about 50 percent of the operating fund.