Prince George’s faces superintendent search

The Prince George’s County Board of Education began a six-week summer break on Monday. But when it returns, the board will face the crucial task of finding a temporary replacement for outgoing School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

Hite, who was entering the final year of a four-year contract, announced last week that he was leaving to become the schools chief in Philadelphia.

The announcement came on the heels of Deputy Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter’s decision to leave Maryland’s second-largest school system to take a job in Mississippi. Prince George’s is also in the middle of an election season, with five school board seats up for grabs.

“There are going to be some challenges, replacing the two top people with school opening within a couple of months and all the planning that needs to take place in the summer,” said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Prince George’s), who helps track education for the county’s state House delegation. Howard said she expects there to be a “void, but it will work out. It always does.”

School board Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) said the board will seek to ensure a smooth transition.

The board said last week that an interim superintendent will be named within weeks and that, at that time, it will announce plans to work with the community on a process for selecting Hite’s successor.

“I feel very confident that we’ll put a proper transition in place and move forward,” Jacobs said. “That’s what we have to do.”

Hite is negotiating with the school board and Philadelphia officials to determine how long he will remain in Prince George’s.

“I’m planning to honor the contract,” he said Tuesday. “To the degree that we can accelerate a transition, it accelerates my ability to leave. . . . We have to put the system in a posture that is ready for school.”

Under the contract, Hite is required to give the school board 120 days’ written notice“unless the board and the superintendent agree to a longer or shorter period of time in writing.”

On Tuesday, Hite had what he described as one of his regular meetings with County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). Hite said the two have met privately to discuss education and Baker’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which takes a holistic approach to lowering crime and increasing economic development in certain communities.

“Now the talk has shifted to the transition” and the state of the school system, Hite said. Baker acknowledged the progress schools have made over the years and thanked him for his work, Hite said.

Judith Brown Dianis, who has a daughter in fifth grade at Accokeek Academy, said she worries about the constant flux in the school system. She said her daughter’s school has had three principals in five years. Now, the school system is again experiencing turnover.

“There’s always concern when you lose a superintendent,” Brown Dianis said. “Everything is up in the air until there is a selection, and then we probably have a two-year lag before you gain any real stability back in the district.”

Board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8) said he is not certain that county officials could have kept Hite from leaving.

“Dr. Hite was here for six years and ultimately when you get the call from a larger school district like Philadelphia, I’m not sure if any incentives or negotiations would change that,” he said. “If they are successful, they are going to move to another district.”

Burroughs said the board made clear that it wanted Hite to stay. He did not say whether a formal counteroffer was made to the superintendent.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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