Homer O. Elseroad, former Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent

January 24, 2013

Homer O. Elseroad, the Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent from 1964 to 1975 who presided over the final vestiges of desegregation in the fast-growing school district, died Jan. 16 at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital in Baltimore. He was 93.

A son, David Elseroad Sr., said the former schools chief died of complications from a stroke and pneumonia.

Starting as a math and physics teacher, Dr. Elseroad climbed the ladder in the Baltimore County school system and eventually became an assistant superintendent there. He entered the Montgomery County school system in 1962 as deputy superintendent to C. Taylor Whittier, whom he succeeded two years later.

By the end of Dr. Elseroad’s tenure, the district had 123,000 students and went from the 18th to the 17th largest system in the nation; it remains the 17th largest, with a student population of 148,779. The county’s teachers had doubled in number, and the school system budget tripled under his watch.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 ruled in favor of the desegregation of public schools, but many fought the order or delayed fully implementing it for years. In Montgomery County, some schools remained segregated, for all intents and purposes, into the early 1970s because of lack of integration in several neighborhoods.

In 1972, Dr. Elseroad pushed for desegregation of Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring to prevent it from becoming predominantly African American. At the time, The Washington Post reported that his recommendation was the first by a Montgomery schools administrator to prevent a racial imbalance in a school.

Bowing to community opposition to the busing of students, Dr. Elseroad eventually withdrew his plan to transfer more than half of the school’s students to prevent a black majority.

“The proportion of black students (at Rosemary Hills) has been increasing rapidly and markedly,” Dr. Elseroad said in a 1972 Washington Post article. “This could soon become an all-black school. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Dr. Elseroad presided over the county schools through a nine-day teachers strike about pay in 1968. He resigned in 1975 as the district was planning to close 60 schools over a 10-year period because of declining birth rates.

After leaving Montgomery County, Dr. Elseroad moved to Denver as a director for the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of public education. Dr. Elseroad permanently retired in 1980 and settled in Frederick.

Homer Oro Elseroad was born Feb. 24, 1919, on his family’s dairy farm in Woodensburg, in northern Baltimore County. He grew up without electricity and milked cows every morning before school. At 8, he learned to drive a team of mules pulling a wagon, his family said.

He graduated in 1940 from what is now McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and received a master’s degree in education from Columbia University in 1948 and a doctorate in education from the University of Maryland in 1961. He was a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War.

Dr. Elseroad’s first wife, the former Laura Breeden, died in 1998 after 56 years of marriage. In 2004 he married Mary Ruth Chlad, who resides in Frederick.

Besides his wife, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Jeff Elseroad of Towson, Md., and David Elseroad Sr. of Fulton, Md.; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In nearly every public photo of Dr. Elseroad, he is wearing a bow tie.

“In public he was a very formal person,” David Elseroad said. “He wore a long-sleeve shirt, a jacket and a bow tie to every event he went to, even a picnic.”

His son said Dr. Elseroad’s bow ties were an example of his practicality.

“He always said, ‘You never spill anything on a bow tie, and they last forever.’ ”