Finalist for School Superintendent Visits Pr. George's

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The leader of a small Southern California school district was introduced yesterday as a finalist for the Prince George's County schools chief vacancy, and sources said his two competitors are education officials from Kansas and New York City.

John E. Deasy, superintendent of the 14,000-student Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, led a three-day public rollout of finalists in several hours of meetings with union leaders, elected officials and other key players in the school system, which has Maryland's second-largest student population and second-lowest test scores.

Three school board members who observed Deasy during media interviews in Upper Marlboro declined to name the other two candidates scheduled to be introduced today and tomorrow.

But sources familiar with the leadership search, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the recruiting process, identified them as W.L. "Tony" Sawyer, schools superintendent in Topeka, Kan., and Marcia V. Lyles, a regional superintendent for the New York public schools.

Neither Sawyer nor Lyles responded to telephone messages left at their offices Friday and yesterday seeking comment. An aide to Lyles said yesterday from Brooklyn that she was out of state.

During his visit, Deasy depicted himself as an educator with a squeaky-clean record and a passion for raising student achievement. Those are two paramount concerns for the nine-member Board of Education, which is seeking to replace Andre J. Hornsby, who resigned as schools chief last year amid an ethics controversy.

"All of us want someone who can come in here who is highly ethical, has integrity, has proven successes," said school board member Charlene M. Dukes (Glenn Dale), who is coordinating the search.

Deasy, 45, has led the Santa Monica-Malibu district since August 2001. With 19 schools, the district is about one-tenth the size of the Prince George's system. Previously, he led a 7,000-student system in Coventry, R.I., for five years, and before that he was a high school principal.

He said Prince George's, which has nearly as many students in public schools as Montgomery County and test scores higher only than Baltimore's, offered an alluring challenge for an educator looking to move up.

"This is a remarkable opportunity," Deasy said in an interview with The Washington Post. "It's a community that has a great base to launch from. . . . There's no reason in my mind why this can't be the premier school system in Maryland." Deasy said he wanted the county to start drawing educational talent away from the Montgomery and Anne Arundel systems rather than the reverse.

Deasy also said he has never been fired, has excellent relations with his school boards and unions and has never been accused of scandal. "No allegations" would show up in a newspaper clip search, he said. "Do your LexisNexis. Not going to find a thing. Nor should you."

The president of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board confirmed Deasy's assertion that he had raised achievement at high-poverty schools in the district, where about half the students are non-Hispanic white, one-third are Latino and one-tenth are black.

"We're a school district that has great privilege and great poverty," said Julia Brownley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu board. "He has been an extraordinary superintendent and a guy who is extremely knowledgeable and able. He has a laser-sharp focus around teaching and learning."

To show solidarity with teachers, Deasy said, he declined performance bonuses during two years of sagging budgets. He said he later accepted bonuses after his teachers and staff were given raises. His base salary is $153,000. Prince George's is offering a $250,000 minimum.

If hired, Deasy would be the first schools leader in Prince George's in more than a decade who is not black. More than three-fourths of the county's students are black.

Deasy said he would hasten to build bridges to the community and speak forthrightly about education and race in a system with historic racial achievement gaps.

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