Montgomery schools need to plan ahead to keep Jerry Weast

Thursday, March 18, 2010

IMAGINE a corporation with a chief executive officer whose vision and management skills resulted in unparalleled product improvement. Imagine the company about to face some of its biggest challenges. No one would think it a good idea to change leadership. Yet, that is what is about to happen to the Montgomery County school system if officials don't figure out a way to hang on to Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

Mr. Weast is soon to enter the final year of his third four-year term. Under conditions of his contract, he has until Feb. 1, 2011, to tell the school board if he wishes to seek another term, and the members have a month after that to let him know if they are interested. Mr. Weast has led people to believe he is ready to retire, having accomplished much as one of the longest-serving superintendents in the country. His detractors, as The Post's Daniel de Vise wrote last year, were counting the days to his departure. Some board members are impatient to start a search, and the issue is sure to figure in this fall's school board elections.

We don't know whether Mr. Weast would sign on for another term, but to our eye he still seems to be fully engaged -- and succeeding. No, he is not perfect. He may have been too generous in handing out salaries and benefits, and he probably doesn't always listen sufficiently. But few school leaders can match his success in helping minority, low-income children catch up in achievement to white students of means. Not only did he make progress at a time when the system was facing its most challenging demographic changes, but he can also boast that students in all categories performed better. His innovations in teacher mentoring and opening new student pathways to advanced-placement courses serve as models for the nation.

Montgomery schools are in for some tough financial times, with Monday's proposed cuts by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) just the beginning. Moreover, as good as the schools are, there is still work to be done: Mr. Weast looks at his students, less than half of whom are college-ready, and he wants 80 percent of them to be college-ready by 2014. Leadership and continuity have never been more crucial -- as Montgomery's elected leaders should recognize before it's too late.

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