Prince George's Schools Chief Faces Key Staff Vacancies

Prince George's Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.
Prince George's Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009

Nearly a year into his tenure as head of Maryland's second-largest school system, Prince George's County School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is searching for lieutenants to execute his strategy.

The executive cabinet of his predecessor, John E. Deasy, has largely scattered. Since Hite was chosen as interim superintendent in December and then as Deasy's permanent successor in April, the heads of academics, accountability, human resources, student services and communications have left the school system. At least two others have applied for publicly posted jobs in other systems.

Hite said that acting officials had filled all of the positions and that he hoped to have them permanently filled within 30 days. Asked whether the departures would hinder his ability to run a school system of 130,000 students and 15,000 employees, Hite said they would not.

"I said when John left how it's about the work we have begun here in Prince George's County, and it has to remain about the work," Hite said. "As people exit, that can't actually define our ability to continue to work. . . . That work must continue."

Hite has had a tough introduction to the difficulties of running a large school system that is trying to free itself from state-mandated corrective action and stay afloat financially. He took over during a recession that has hurt education budgets across the country. He has overseen much-debated plans to eliminate hundreds of jobs, close schools and redraw boundaries to solve problems with crowded classrooms and under-enrollment.

But these initiatives were largely executed by his predecessor's staff. When swine flu hit the school system in the spring, communications chief John White was in front of the cameras. He is now a press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. Derek Mitchell, who worked out the technicalities of the complex plan to redraw the boundaries of dozens of schools, left in May for a job on the West Coast. Betty Despenza-Green, a longtime educator who had a number of responsibilities, including student athletics and the homeless education program, retired in August.

Hite declined to comment on the departures of two other top officials, human resources director Nikki Knighton and accountability chief Donna Muncey, saying they were "personnel-related."

Of the others who were hired away, he said he was pleased. "I think that is a tremendous statement about the caliber of individuals who are working at Prince George's County" public schools, he said.

Some said the changes were needed to allow Hite to surround himself with staff members who support his agenda and goals.

"I think the people that left or were asked to leave, however they left here, needed to go anyway," said Doris A. Reed, executive director of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel, the union that represents Prince George's administrators. "I said to Dr. Hite, 'You have people here who are loyal to John Deasy, not Bill Hite.' My view was, he needed to make changes. My main concern is he bring in the right people."

Nevertheless, the changes could contribute to the tumult in the system, Reed said. One example is the recent crisis in which 8,000 high school students arrived for the first day of school and found they didn't have class schedules.

"It destabilizes the system, because, you know, you have a new superintendent come in and everybody wants to make their mark," she said. "Every time you change administrations, you throw the schools into chaos."

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