Pr. George's Fills Top Job in Schools
By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2003; Page B01
Andre J. Hornsby, a former Yonkers, N.Y., school superintendent known as much for his aggressive management style as for his success in raising test scores of minority students, was named chief executive of Prince George's County schools last night.
The Board of Education voted 8 to 1 to give Hornsby a four-year contract to lead Maryland's second-largest school system, starting in July. He will succeed Iris T. Metts, whose contract ends in June after four turbulent years.
Hornsby, 49, was chosen ahead of two other finalists for the $250,000-a-year position. Board President Beatrice P. Tignor said his experience running a district as challenging as Yonkers should have prepared him to prevail in political fights like those that often sidetracked Metts and overshadowed her academic initiatives.
"I think that Yonkers is a very political city. I think Prince George's is highly political," Tignor said last night. "We would hope his experiences there would fall under the category of lessons learned, and we hope he'll be able to bring test scores up."
Judy Mickens-Murray was the lone board member to vote against Hornsby, saying she concluded that he would not be a collaborative enough leader. "I felt that Prince George's County's constituents are too volatile from the emotional experience of the last few years, and I thought that we needed someone who was a healer and a collaborative spirit to help us move to another level," she said.
Hornsby also was hired over the objections of labor unions that represent about 17,000 Prince George's teachers, principals, support workers and custodians. Last month, union leaders met with each finalist as part of the school board's interview process. "Morale in the system right now is so low," said Doris Reed, executive director of the Prince George's principals union. "We need someone to come in here who can heal the system. . . . We certainly did not see that in Hornsby."
The unions endorsed Barbara Moore Pulliam, the school superintendent in St. Louis Park, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, whose style was viewed as far more team-oriented than Hornsby's. The other finalist was John "Jack" Keegan Jr., the longtime superintendent in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Reached by phone at his New York home last night, Hornsby called the Prince George's job "one of the best challenges that exists in America."
He said: "I think it will take a full commitment on behalf of all stakeholders in being able to cooperate and collaborate in helping children in Prince George's County demonstrate what they are able to do. Our greatest challenge is to identify the gaps that exist in their learning and fill those gaps."
He said his problems in Yonkers were with labor leaders, not with rank-and-file teachers. "I was always open. I was always willing to listen," he said. "Sometimes, you have to make unpopular decisions. You have to be willing sometimes to bite the bullet because you know, long term, it's going to be in the best interest of the system."
During his two years as superintendent in Yonkers, teachers briefly went on strike, and Hornsby clashed with the city's mayor. The mayor-appointed school board fired him in June 2000, even as Yonkers students, particularly African Americans and Latinos, began performing better on state and national standardized tests. The firing angered supporters who regarded him as a talented, if sometimes abrasive, advocate of boosting student achievement.
"The children of Yonkers were done a disservice by ending his contract, because in the short time he was here, he did so much to improve the school system," said Maria Chiulli, a Yonkers school board member. "I can only imagine where we would be if he were still here."
Yonkers -- New York state's fourth-largest city -- has about one-fifth as many public school students and campuses as Prince George's County, which has 135,000 students and a $1.1 billion annual budget. Yet there are notable similarities: Both districts have struggled with tight budgets and with the challenges of raising test scores of minority students. About 77 percent of Prince George's students are African American, while African Americans and Hispanics constitute the majority of Yonkers students.
Yonkers also has had high turnover of superintendents; Hornsby's replacement left after 21/2 years, saying the school board micromanaged him.
Before moving to Yonkers, where he became the city's first African American superintendent, Hornsby spent two decades in Houston. There, he was a teacher, magnet program coordinator and principal before becoming superintendent of the 24-school South Central district. In his role as superintendent, he was praised for creating a high-performing school in a public housing project and for raising test scores of students in impoverished neighborhoods.
In Houston, he also worked with Roderick R. Paige, now the U.S. secretary of education, who is listed as one of Hornsby's references.
"He's stubborn, but he's not stubborn and unreasonable," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, who had her share of run-ins with Hornsby. "He's going to fight for his position, but he's always listening."
Hornsby had been seeking a job since January, when he was one of about 70 high-level administrators laid off by the New York City Department of Education in what was described as a budget-cutting move.
After he was fired in Yonkers, he worked as a supervising superintendent for New York City's public schools, mentoring other administrators. He is also president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
Hornsby was born in New Orleans and raised in Gary, Ind. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Tulsa, a master's in physical education from the University of Houston and a doctorate in educational administration from Texas Southern University. In recent months, he was a finalist for -- but was not offered -- the superintendent job in New Orleans.
For the Prince George's school board, last night's decision marked the latest chapter in a four-year drama. Metts's initiatives -- which included all-day kindergarten, mandatory summer school and longer blocks of class time spent on reading and math -- were overshadowed by her disputes with the elected school board that hired her in 1999 and then tried to fire her in 2002. She outlasted that board, which state lawmakers replaced with an appointed panel in June, but found herself at odds with the appointed board members in recent months.
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