Leadership in Maryland’s second-largest school system has been in flux since William R. Hite Jr. abruptly left Prince George’s County to take control of Philadelphia’s schools over the summer.
With Hite’s departure, Prince George’s lost its longest-serving school superintendent. Other top-level administrators have also left in recent years, creating a leadership void atop the 123,000-student system. Now the county Board of Education is embarking on its most important task to date: finding a permanent superintendent.
The selection not only will have significant implications for the school system but for the overall future of Prince George’s, which has struggled to attract businesses and retain residents in part because of its historically troubled school system.
“It is very important that we get the right person in there,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who plans to play a role in the selection. “We are making strides in every other area — public safety, transforming neighborhoods and building a regional health-care facility. . . . We have had progress with our schools, but this is the one area where we need to accelerate the progress.”
Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the search company contracted to identify and screen candidates, has met with members of the community and stakeholders to discuss the type of superintendent they would like the board to hire. The company will present its findings to the board at a public meeting Dec. 13, and a list of candidates will be announced and interviewed in the spring. The board is expected to name a new school chief by July.
Many involved in the process said they want a leader who can provide stability.
“We do not want to see somebody who will stay here two or three years,” said Jacqueline Brown, executive director of the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center, who participated in a recent forum with leaders of nonprofit groups, clergy and community associations. “Stay here 10 years. We keep turning over, turning over and turning over.”
Brown added: “I hope we get someone who is prepared to grow old here. [Former Montgomery County superintendent] Jerry D. Weast influenced kids from first grade to graduation. That’s an amazing thing.”
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s branch of the NAACP, agreed, saying the community wants “someone who will make a commitment for the long haul.”
The county is in its fourth superintendent search in less than a decade. Five superintendents, including Hite, have run the school system in a permanent or acting capacity since 1999.
Hite had one of the longest tenures of the five. He joined the county in June 2006 as deputy superintendent and took over as interim chief after John E. Deasy left in 2008.
With one year left on his four-year contract, Hite announced his resignation in July. His departure came on the heels of the resignation of the deputy superintendent, which meant the county had no natural successor. Since then, the director of personnel, general counsel and chief financial officer have left the system. The director of transportation had left earlier this year.
The school board took steps recently to fill the positions. It hired Alvin Crawley, the deputy chief of programming in the Office of Special Education for D.C. public schools and a former assistant superintendent for student services, as interim chief.
A. Duane Arbogast, the former chief academic officer, took over as acting deputy superintendent for academics. Monica Goldson, the assistant superintendent of the high school consortium, was named acting chief operating officer. And Doug Anthony, who ran a division of the system’s human resources department, is temporarily leading the personnel department.
The new superintendent must understand the complexities of the county’s school system, which is made up of students who live in urban, rural and suburban neighborhoods. Despite the county’s affluence — and because many parents send their children to private schools — nearly 70 percent of Prince George’s students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the county’s House delegation, said she wants the school board to hire someone who is “open to new ideas and willing to work with all of the stakeholders, including students, parents and the business community.”
School board Chairman Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) and four other members did not return calls seeking comment. Briant Coleman, a board spokesman, said members will not discuss the type of candidate they would prefer until they receive community input.
Residents and community leaders said they want a superintendent who will continue the academic progress the school system experienced under Hite and Deasy.
The NAACP provided the search company with several characteristics it would like in a new chief: Someone who embraces year-round schools, promotes “an inviting atmosphere for parents at schools,” is labor-friendly and is an advocate for art programs in schools.
“We need somebody who knows the community and is politically savvy,” Ross said. “Someone who is innovative and doesn’t mind making waves to get the job done.”