Pr. George's Superintendent Is Leaving

John E. Deasy will become a deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
John E. Deasy will become a deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John E. Deasy, the superintendent of Prince George's County schools, will leave his post as the head of Maryland's second-largest school system to take a job as a deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Reached at home last night, Deasy said, "I have been offered a job, and I will make a public announcement of it tomorrow." He declined to give further details, saying only that he had been in "an ongoing conversation for several months" about the job.

Deasy told the board yesterday that he was leaving the 130,000-student Prince George's system for one of the largest private philanthropies in the world, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Deasy will leave around February, the source said.

The board held a closed session "to discuss a personnel matter" at 5 p.m. yesterday; public notification of the session was given almost half an hour after the meeting had begun. After the meeting ended, the board's chairman, Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large), said that she had "positive news" and that a statement would be issued today.

Several other board members reached last night declined to comment.

Since Deasy was hired in 2006, scores on state tests in Prince George's, the most commonly used measure of a school system's performance, have improved significantly. But when Deasy leaves, he will be departing less than three years after taking over, contributing to a history of rapid turnover in the district's leadership.

Four superintendents -- Iris T. Metts, Andre J. Hornsby, Howard Burnett and Deasy, in that order -- have run the system in a permanent or acting capacity since 1999. None has lasted in the job more than four years.

The board fired Metts in 2002 but was itself subsequently dissolved by the state legislature. The new appointed board rehired Metts, who decided not to seek a new contract in 2003. The appointed board hired Hornsby, who resigned under the cloud of a federal investigation in 2005. Hornsby was convicted July 23 of wire fraud, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.

With Burnett as acting chief, the board searched for someone to stabilize a system that generally ranked second from the bottom, ahead of Baltimore, among Maryland's 24 jurisdictions in state test scores. The board unanimously chose Deasy, who took office in May 2006 with an annual salary of $250,000 after beating out rivals from Kansas and New York.

He was in some ways an unlikely choice. The Prince George's school system, with about 130,000 students, was almost 10 times as large as the 14,000-student Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where Deasy had been superintendent. Deasy also noted himself that he was white, succeeding three black school chiefs in a predominantly black county. He asked Prince George's officials whether his race would pose a hurdle, and they said no.

Deasy had a reputation as someone who fought to close the gap between schools serving rich and poor residents, a problem familiar to Prince George's. He was comfortable talking about race. He said he was free of ethical taint, challenging anyone to scour his record. And he said he would stay between four and eight years, the length of time it would take to make a difference.

"People want stability and the best candidate -- black, white or purple," Beatrice P. Tignor, then the school board's chairman, said soon after choosing Deasy.

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