Several days before the Montgomery County school board voted to renew the contract of school Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, The Washington Post asked board members and others close to school activities for their observation's on Bernardo's performance. The following are excerpts from some of the interviews:
Board member Herbert Benington: "I first met Charlie when I interviewed him for superintendent. Within the first 10 to 15 minutes, he made the point that he believed in good management and that good management did not have to be antithetical to good education. A superintendent should know the classroom, but he should also be able to run the plant - the teachers, the buildings, the money. He has demonstrated he can do that very well. Charlie is a strategist - a manager in the most profound sense of the word. .fs. .
"When reorganization started, boy, did heads roll. Charlie has shown real courage in getting rid of the principals and supervisors who weren't up to the challenge of Montgomery County schools . . . If anything worries me about Charlie it's his ability to guide the school system compassionately and sensitively through change. Some people say he's ruthless and arrogant and in some cases Charlie admits he has been. But a manager has to be some time."
Board member Marian Greenblatt: "With reorganization, the idea was to cut down administrative overhead. That wasn't done at all . . .The staff, teachers, principals are very demoralized. They have no sense of confidence in him, they're not enthusiastic. Everybody's being monitored . . . one teacher told me if he checked off everything he's supposed to (under a newly piloted program which monitors how much students have learned) it would take over a month. The kind of questions you can give in reading and social studies (for this program) is limited.How do you get an appreciation of poetry on a short answer test?"
Board member Roscoe Nix: "There has been some improvement (since Bernardo became superintendent.) Test scores continue to go up . . .I don't think he's a perfect man. He's been under some severe attacks because of fundamental changes in the school system . . .
What one has to understand about the nature of the situation is one, he's not from this part of the country, and two, he did not go to the University of Maryland. But there are plenty of people in the school system who feel comfortable with this kind of a background . . . People complain about his vocabulary. My God, his vocabulary doesn't floor me. He's a school superintendent. I think it's ludicrous to want a superintendent without a vocabulary."
Board member Blair Ewing: "I know he comes across (arrogantly) to some people. I think it has to do with his manner - it's quite stiff and formal, in business and personally. He talks in a very formal way and that tends to put people off. He has a strong sense of his own capabilities and that comes off as immodest to some people, or even arrogant. . . . It doesn't bother me. I'm much more interested in results as opposed to style and manner. I've seen good results. . . .
"He's earned the confidence of black parents. I'm pretty sure people feel he's sensitive to their concerns.People on the minority relations committee tell me that. People in my neighborhood tell me. A lot of the people who call me and say I should support the superintendent's renewal are black. . . .
"I was unhappy with the way consultations with professional staff over reorganization went last fall. I had expected active consultation with professional staff and it wasn't there. That was a mistake. . . .
"It would be foolish of me to think everything is perfect. I think he's done a good job under difficult circumstances - declining enrollment, declining county government willingness to support the school system, I can't imagine anyone under those circumstances doing extraordinarily better than he has done."
Board member Daryl Shaw: "I think he's done what the board has asked him to do. If there's any criticism it should be levied against the board. We have tremendous local newspaper coverage. I think they try to outdo themselves with coverage. They are maligning him. It's undermining the school system."
Board member Elizabeth Spencer: "When we hired him, he seemed to be articulate, energetic, young, and enthusiastic. The system needed those qualities. He's certainly still all those things . . . I have mixed feelings about reorganization. I'm not sure I would have designed it the same way. But we had to reorganize. We were cutting back classroom teachers and not cutting central office staff. . . .
"I'm not pleased with the political climate I see in the country - the staff unhappy, the suspicion surrounding the board . . . I think the situation will improve. He knows people now and how they will react. Between us, we have ruffled almost every type of feather and upset every group."
Board member Verna Fletcher: "He and the system have managed to accomplish a lot. Before Dr. Bernardo came, a child in a special education class in elementary school didn't have a program when he went to junior high. Bernardo and the board developed programs for these children."
Henry Heller, head of the Montgomery County Educators Association (MCEA) which represnts 4,800 of the county's 7,000 teachers: "The perception is that he's more concerned with his personal image and professional development than with running the schools. He does not have the experience or a personal base in the school system. Homer (Elseroad, the former superintendent) would think nothing of picking up a phone and calling a principal and bouncing a good idea off him. I doubt if you could think of 10 principals who are close advisers to Bernardo. He's isolated himself from the school system - from the teachers and the administrators."
Harriet Bernstein, former member of the board that hired Bernardo: "Homer (Elseroad) created a system of personal loyalty, but it wasn't a system focusing primarily on children's needs. Charlie's does. Charlie's trying to build an adult-to-child system. He really has tender qualities. He really cares compassionately about children, even though he's not very good with them.
Charlie's awkward. Homer was great with kids. He could go into a kindergarten and have a whiz-bang conversation with a kid. But, I don't care if Charlie can make small talk with kids on a ceremonial waltz through a school. I care if he can make a system to manage kids."
Edward Andrews, associate superintendent for personnel: "I think he came to Montgomery County at the toughest time in the history of the school system since I've been here (15 years). . . .It's a piece of cake having to build schools and staff them compared to handling the problems and feelings associated with a school system where you lose 3,000 to 4,000 students a year. . . .
Charlie told me when he came here, he'd never had a job where someone else wrote a letter for him. That's an impossibility here. One of his biggest problems was realizing how big this system is. . . . He has an interest in seeing kids achieve. He also has a large ego. He's interested in his own success. That's a good drive in a sense."
Joyce Constantine, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs: "He's doing a job. He hasn't always gone about it in the right way, but he has done good things. He needs some support."