Schools Support

Monday, October 2, 2006

ALL THE FACES won't be known until after the general election, but come December there will be marked changes in Montgomery County's political leadership. One area likely to be affected is the school system and its hard-charging superintendent, Jerry D. Weast. We hope that the shift, in which some of the superintendent's most important allies will step down, won't mean a lessening of support for him and the important work he is doing.

Two people who formed a powerful partnership with Mr. Weast -- County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Councilman Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) -- are leaving office, as is another reliable backer, Councilman Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large). The Post's Lori Aratani reported that Mr. Subin's departure will be acutely felt because the longtime chair of the education committee was an effective and knowledgeable advocate for school funding. In addition, the Board of Education, which will decide next year whether to extend Mr. Weast's contract, is likely to include at least three new members.

While none of the leading candidates for County Council or school board have come out publicly against Mr. Weast, dissatisfaction has emerged under a clarion call for "greater scrutiny" of the school system. We don't disagree that, with more than half of the county's budget going to schools and given the importance of education, there should be oversight and open debate. The public has a stake in how well the schools do, and it is incumbent on Mr. Weast to open up his decisions for discussion. However, we would hate to see oversight descend to intrusive meddling. And we don't understand the thinly disguised hostility directed toward Mr. Weast. Those who are implying dissatisfaction or complaining about insufficient oversight should answer openly: What is it they don't like about what he has done?

We ask for a focus on the record, because by any measure Mr. Weast has shown exceptional leadership, and Montgomery schools are headed in the right direction. As soon as he arrived in 1999, he recognized that the county had become two districts -- one serving the well-off, largely white population and the other neglecting poor and minority students. He recognized that as a formula for disaster, but he also understood that any solution had to both target resources to the neglected and improve quality for everyone.

He delivered on that demanding goal. He won support for early-childhood programs, smaller classes, all-day kindergarten and a uniform curriculum. He worked to get rid of bad teachers, make good teachers better and train principals. The achievement gap has narrowed in many important areas and in the best way: All categories of students have progressed, with those in greatest need progressing fastest. It is ironic that many of the candidates calling for more scrutiny of schools are claiming credit in their campaigns for some of the accomplishments effected during Mr. Weast's tenure, such as reduced class size and all-day kindergarten.

Mr. Weast is not perfect. His hard-charging style comes across as bullying with some, and he hasn't solved all the serious problems facing the schools. Some people may resent his generous salary. But in today's market, an educational leader with Mr. Weast's record of accomplishment has no trouble finding employment. Those running for office should be encouraging him to stick around and finish the job he started.

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