Depending on whom you ask in Orlando, Fla., Superintendent Linton Deck, who will take over as Fairfax County superintendent in Janurary, is described as an "outstanding school administrator" with an unparalleled command of the language, or an "autocratic leader" who twists the meaning of words to suit his purpose.
As Deck prepares to leave the Orange County schools, people who worked with him there express strong emotions about a man most say is a forceful administrator.
As Orange County superintendent for the past six years, Deck is credited -- or blamed -- for many changes in that system.
He introduced team management to administrators, took school promotions out of the political arena, made improvements in special education and, in a budget-conscious move, increased secondary teachers' instruction periods from five to six, thus reducing their planning time.
These measures, coupled with lengthy teacher contract negotiations last year, have earned Deck admiration from school administrators and animosity from the 3,000-member teachers' union.
"You can look forward to great things. He's one fine adminstrator, although that opinion is probably not shared by everyone," says Orange County school board member Ethel Kennedy Lyon.
Counters Joan King, president of the teachers' union and an outspoken opponent of Deck: "In a way I'm relieved to see him go, but of course, the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don't know."
Deck 50, is a portly man with a booming voice laced with a southern accent. He comes to Fairfax County after nearly 30 years as an educator.
He launched his career in Fulton County, Ga., where he started as a science teacher in 1950 and left 14 years later as a high school principal. Deck, his wife Frances, and their three children moved up and down the East Coast during the next 15 years, as he pursued post-graduate studies (at Harvard) and his career.
Their only son, Hampton, is a student at Princeton. One daughter, Dayna, lives in Norfolk with her husband and 7-month-old daughter, and the other daughter, Laura, manages a restaurant in Knoxville, Tenn.
Dayna Deck describes her father as a "jolly man with a terrific sense of humor." She says her family always has been close -- vacationing together and gathering for holidays in spite of her father's demanding string of jobs.
"We moved every two years after I was in fourth grade," she recalls. "People were always asking me if we were military."
Dayna Deck is quick to point out that her father's concerns go beyond the educational arena.
"We were brought up Presbyterian and have always been active in the church," she says. "My father has a terrific voice -- he's a tenor. He used to sing in the church choir but hasn't had time lately."
Deck also sports an impressive list of civic activities on his resume, including five board directorships.
Deck came to Orange County from the superintendent's post in Bibb County, Ga. He took the $45,000-a-year job in Florida with a mandate to remove politics from the school system. Deck's admirers and critics agree that he was successful.
"When he came here, we had a system run politically," says school board member Lyon. "You had to do favors to become a principal. When Linton Deck came here, all of that changed. He's a man of vision, he gets the best out of people."
Deck has been praised and damned for his many programs and for his "management ability."
Mills Riddick, director of classified personnel for Orange County schools, says Deck breathed new life into the administration.
"He used teams for all kinds of management things," Riddick said. ". . . he also inititated a program called management by objectives. He encouraged people to set goals above the normal job description. The objectives were spelled out, on paper. People were then evaluated on how objectives had been met."
Jim Shott, deputy superintendent for instruction, praises Deck's educational philosophy, saying it was his greatest contribution to Orange County schools.
"Whenever Dr. Deck and I discuss curriculum, the conversation ultimately ends with some discussion of the need for young people to become better problem solvers," Shott says. "Thinking skills may be the most basic learning skill. I would be very surprised if he didn't bring to fairfax a very healthy emphasis on thinking skills."
Shott credits Deck with developing a program to teach teachers to emphasize thinking skills. The program, "Reading in the Content Area," is voluntary for teachers in grades 7 through 12.
Although Shott says no correlation can positively be drawn, College Board and other tests scores began to climb in Orange County soon after the thinkng skills program began.
Teachers, however, criticize Deck for being too concerned with programs instead of people. Some of his ideas, they say, resulted in piles of paperwork for teachers and cut the amount of time teachers had to spend with students.
"The man is a super-smart person, but he's program-oriented," says Jim Nocks, an elementary school teacher and an active member of the teachers' union. "I'm more child-oriented.
"He increased the size of the administration down here. He had a lot of programs -- people monitoring programs and programs on top of programs. The programs look supergood on paper but in practice they just weren't happening."
When it comes to budgets, which will be one of Deck's major considerations in budget-conscous Fairfax County, Deck is described as "practical-minded."
"By law the superintendent must present a balanced budget to the board every year, and Dr. Deck did that with no major problems," said Alton Nolle, associate superintendent for Orange County business services. "He was very democratic in his approach to the budget and he always let all staff members have input into the decision-making. He's also very firm when something has to go -- it has to go."
Nolle said art and music programs remained intact and teacher salaries were increased by 8.5 percent after last year's budget was planned. Major reductions were made in school bus purchases.
Echoing the sentiments of school administrators throughout the Orange County, Robert Cascaddan, deputy superintendent for support services, said Deck's departure will leave a void.
"I've had a tremendous working relationship with Dr. Deck. Professionally, I'm a much better school administrator for having known him," Cascaddan said emotionally."He's going to be missed. He made a mark on this system."