Paul Masem, 39, a top official in the Montgomery County school system and close adviser to Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, will leave his post in August to become superintendent of schools in Little Rock, Ark.
Masem, who is head of continuum education, which includes special education and alternative programs, was asked by Bernardo in 1976 to come here from Washington County, Md., where he had been superintendent of schools. He said that he will leave Montgomery because he wants to work as superintendent in a small system where he can have closer contact with administrators and students.
Masem, who was caught in some of the crossfire over the current administrative reorganization of the school system, said neither reorganization nor relations with Bernardo had anything to do with his leaving. The reorganization left Masem's department virtually unchanged, he said. "I think people perceived the reorganization not affecting continuum education as some kind of a special endorsement of me by Bernardo," Masem said.
"I think I've had a good working relationship with Charlie," he said. "I think I've learned some things from him, and he's learned some things from me."
The Little Rock school system, which he said has 24,000 students and 36 schools, is now revising its deegregation plan, Masem said. "I've had pretty extensive experience working their defined problems I've worked with. For instance, they're concerned about white flight and also the possible flight of the black middle class."
The school system, now composed almost evenly of black and white students, according to Masem, came to national attention in 1957 when then President Eisenhower sent 1,000 paratroopers to Little Rock when mobs of shrieking, angry residents, led by Gov. Orval Faubus, tried to prevent nine black students from attending Central High School as part of court-ordered school integration.
"Little Rock got a much undeserved reputation as racist," said Masem. "From what I've been able to tell, there was external influence from the state. The city pretty much had plans to desegregate."
Accounts of the incident 21 years ago point out that then superintendent Virgil T. Blossom did have plans for minimal desegregation of the Little Rock schools, but the proposals did not receive strong public support.
Masem said Little Rock was now "a good, solid system with strong community support for desegregation."
Masem's experience with desegregating schools goes back to the School Desegregation Consulting Center which he proposed and set up with federal funds at the University of South Carolina in 1968. The center provided staff training and programs to aid desegregation in school systems. Masem worked with desegregating school systems in South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. He was cited for his work by a southern regional office of the U.S. Office of Education.
Masem worked there until 1970. He then worked with a project to implement innovative programs in central Pennsylvania schools until 1971 when he went to the Providence, R.I., school system. In the four years that he was there, he became assistant superintendent under Bernardo, who was then the superintendent.
Masem, who was raised in New York, has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's in education, both from the University of South Carolina. Between degrees, from 1962 to 1967, he taught social studies subjects in Columbia, S.C., and Harvey, Ill.