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School search seen as test


The three finalists for superintendent of Anne Arundel County public schools will each face an unusual test this week: a grueling, daylong set of interviews that will include a live, 45-minute broadcast on public-access television.

The county Board of Education announced Friday that each finalist will be brought in for a day - Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday - to tour the county and meet with sample groups of students, teachers, clergy and elected officials.

At 5 p.m. each day, the school system will air the live interview with a finalist and a random selection of parents and leaders from community and business interests, said Tricia Johnson, vice chairman of the school board.

"The board wanted to have a very open and transparent process so the county and the community at large would know the people we are considering," Johnson said.

The school system announced last week that the three finalists were Robert E. Schiller, retired state schools superintendent of Illinois; Dana Bedden, superintendent of William Penn District, Pa.; and Kevin Maxwell, a community superintendent in Montgomery County public schools. Schiller is to arrive Tuesday, Bedden on Wednesday and Maxwell on Thursday.

Some elected officials - and representatives for County Executive Janet S. Owens - were surprised Friday to learn about the interviews but were generally supportive.

"I'm very favorable to the open process," said County Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, who had been informed of the three-day schedule. "We need to take a look at them, and they need to take a look at us."

Reilly said he had feared that the abrupt resignation of Eric J. Smith amid rocky relationships with the school board and teachers union last year "tainted our image in the United States in not getting qualified candidates." Although he thinks that assertion has been disproved, given that 20 candidates applied, the finalists "have to understand the political pressures and the fishbowl they will be living in."

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, the group hired by county schools to conduct the superintendent search, established the interview process.

"This is their process," Johnson said. "They are organizing the whole thing. We are tweaking it a little," referring to the live broadcast segments of the candidates that will be aired each afternoon on the school system's Channel 96.

The day will be divided into three parts. Each candidate will meet informally with community leaders in the morning. The bulk of the day will be spent in separate 45-minute interviews with a random sample of several groups: teachers; principals; parents and leaders from community and business interests; school system staff; and students. The candidates will also interview privately with the media and the school board.

Among those being asked to participate in the events is Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, commander of Fort Meade.

Outspoken in seeking to improve standards at Meade High School, he helped successfully petition the school board to introduce the rigorous International Baccalaureate program to Meade. McCreedy has also been part of a statewide movement to establish a math-and-science magnet program at the high school.

"Anne Arundel County has a good school system, but it can be a great one with the right leadership," McCreedy said in an e-mail.

Bridget Boardman, executive director of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said that because of the serious growth in west county, it's "imperative" the new superintendent be "proactive in bringing the schools to a level that will attract people who are looking to relocate to our area."

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, praised the idea of public involvement, but said there is only so much people will be able to discern from the interviews.

"When you are hiring for a superintendent or an employee, hiring is like before the wedding. And once you get married, it's much different," Beidle said.

Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, called the interview process "an innovative idea."

"What have we got to lose?" Middlebrooks said. "It didn't go so well last time around. So let's give this a shot."

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