Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
The metaphorical Superman that has been relentlessly touted in contemporary educational lore has made several appearances in Prince George’s County. Over the past 15 years, he has materialized as a scholarly visionary, a transformational superstar, an operational wizard, and a compassionate educational genius. Yet, what he never understood is that here, in Prince George’s County, we’ve got Kryptonite.
Tragically, being superintendent of the Prince George’s County Public Schools has become the best school job in the nation that no one really wants. Not even an educational man (or woman) of steel can contend with the lack of support, micro-management, crushing parental apathy, money shortages, political machinations, and constant blame that clearly comes with this position.
With its unique set of socioeconomic indicators, Prince George’s County is a community primed for greatness. The individual who can pull this school system out of the basement will make educational history. He or she will inspire other districts with similar populations to follow suit.
All we need is an educational leader who will take us there. I was hopeful that you were that person, Dr. Hite.
Over the past decade our roster of school leaders reads more like a K Street Law firm Clark, Metts, Hornsby, Burnett, Deasy & Hite. You were all undone, in reasonably short order, by boards of education that refused to do what the public entrusted them to do: provide legislative and policy oversight in support of the professional educator charged with managing the school system.
While I can only speculate as to why you have chosen to leave, I can fathom a guess that it has quite a bit to do with the system’s climate, the culture and the conditions under which you were forced to operate.
Stability in the position of school superintendent is the most critical challenge facing any school system, especially Prince George’s County. We needed you to stay and fight for our children.
Successful school systems understand this basic reality. For example, among large districts in the region, we’re the only system, outside of the D.C. Public Schools, that continues this exasperating game of “musical” superintendent. It’s made us a laughing stock.
For example, in Montgomery County, Jerry Weast retired after 12 years at the helm. In Baltimore County, Joe Hairston also retired after 12 years. In Fairfax County, Jack Dale is entering his ninth year. Howard County’s Sydney Cousins recently retired after long distinguished service, and in Charles County, James Richmond is entering his 15th year as superintendent. Even in Baltimore City, the only jurisdiction that we have heretofore outperformed in Maryland, Andres Alonso is entering his sixth year as that troubled system’s leader. This “Race to the Bottom” must end.
What does it say, I wonder, about a school system with more than 9,000 professional educators where no one is deemed to be qualified to lead the district? Our depth and richness in talent appears obvious to every school system but our own.
These constant changes are devastating to teacher morale. For many in the classroom, there is no need to adopt the vision of the new leader because, if trends hold true, the superintendent won’t survive long enough to implement any real plans.
Further, losing our school leader has a deleterious effect upon our ability to grow and attract large scale economic development to our county. Everything is impacted by how well our schools perform. Before a family will commit to buying a home, they want to know, how are the schools? Before a company will decide to move their plant or office here, they want to know, how are the schools? Our school system serves as the anchor for our community. Our ship cannot set sail if we do not raise the anchor.
I share school board member Henry Armwood’s disappointment with your departure. However, as educators, we are altruistic by nature. We do the job because we believe in the students. Dealing with the political posturing and drama of others has no place in running an effective school system. It has become a quite unattractive aspect of what we do.
So here we are again in old familiar territory on the verge of launching another costly search for someone who can lead our schools. Undoubtedly, they will come from outside our system. The strange irony is that our personnel are highly sought after by other systems, (Los Angeles and now Philadelphia notwithstanding) but considered persona non grata right here at home.
When I decided to buy a home in Prince George’s County near the end of 1999, I remember telling my then-Montgomery-County neighbors. One of their responses gave me pause when they asked: “Are you moving there on purpose?” I was shocked and offended by that comment but after 13 years, I find myself with a somewhat different perspective.