Jack Davidson, the prospective Montgomery County school superintendent, recharged the grin he had flashed non-stop since 8:30 a.m.
It was 11 a.m. and between scenes of the school superintendent selection show, which played for four days this week atop the Bethesda Marriott.
The elevator door slid open like a stage curtain. Out stepped a group of elementary school principals on their way to see Davidson. The Hispanos had just left. Before them, the press had spent an hour with Davidson. After the elementary school principals, the teachers' union representatives were scheduled. Later the PTA had a turn. The night before it was the black community leaders.
Inside the gold-carpeted Presidential Suite, surrounded by ersatz Early American furniture, Davidson was ready with his grin and carefully prepared answers to questions he knew he'd be asked. His wife was out pricing Montgomery County houses.
Davidson, the handsome, 53 year-old outgoing superintendent of Austin, Tex., schools hopes to fill the $60,000 Montgomery school post vacated last year by Charles M. Bernardo.
Most Montgomery County school board members apparently share Davidson's hopes, for they agreed to spend about $1,000 to give county residents a look at Davidson and vice versa. The board must select a successor to meet a state mandated-Feb. 29 deadline.
Davidson and his wife flew to the area Monday to appear before a gauntlet of Montgomery County special interest groups agreed upon in advance by Davidson and board members.
If the visit goes well, school officials say, Davidson probably will be offered the job of running Montgomery County's 185 schools, a task now handled by Interim Superintendent J. Edward Andrews, a well-liked veteran administrator who does not want the taxing job permanently.
Earlier that morning, over danish and coffee, local reporters quizzed Davidson on how he would cope with a school system nearly twice the size of Austin's and a community with nearly twice the median income of Austin's $12,000.
Davidson admitted he has no experience closing schools suffering from declining enrollments, a traumatic experience endured by many Montgomery County neighborhoods in recent years.
"After 20 years as a school superintendent, I look forward to something different; a new challenge," said Davidson, an Indiana native. "I am attracted by this school district because of the high quality of education here."
Davidson resigned as Austin's superintendent after 10 years when the Austin school board made it clear that his contract would not be renewed. The board, Davidson maintains, simply wanted a change.
"Some marriages don't last 10 years," he said.
All groups inevitably queried Davidson on desegregation, a legal thorn in the Austin school system's side all during the 10 years of Davidson's administration.
After a decade of court battles, Austin was ordered recently to begin busing this fall to racially balance its segregated schools. Some Austin minority leaders maintain Davidson could have done more to resolve the conflict sooner.
"There are varying opinions," Davidson said at his early morning press conference. "There are those who feel I could have done more and those who feel I did too much. Physical desegregation is a difficult and complex goal and the community is sharply divided on the tools necessary to achieve it."
Davidson said he preferred when possible to desegregate schools by moving boundary lines or working out student exchanges between individual schools.
Davidson lauded Austin's progress in hiring minorities and introducing new educational programs designed to benefit minority students. The city is 27 percent Mexican-American and 18 percent black.
On that score, one of the toughest audiences Davidson had to face during his stay was Montgomery County's vocal black leaders.
Davidson said he was pleased with his two-and-a-half-hour session Monday night when seven black community representatives but understood their wariness towards him.
"If I were in their shoes, I would be too," he said.
Blacks left the Presidential Suite with mixed feelings Monday night, several wondering if they had a real handle on the man behind the smile.
"He was, in my opinion, the typical candidate being interviewed," said Hanley J. Norment, representing Alpha Phi Alpha, a black service organization. "He was pleasant, polite and shared his point of view."
After club sandwiches and cokes in the suite with Davidson Tuesday, representatives from the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the teacher's union, had similar reactions.
"I think he's extremely pleasant and congenial," said David Eberly, MCEA president. "But I don't think you can get a real sense of a person in an hour. It's not even fair."
Eberly and other teachers, who are currently negotiating a new contract with the board, said they are worried about the fact that Davidson has thus far only worked in states where teachers have no bargaining power.
Montgomery County Hispanos, however, emerged from the suite bubbling with praise for Davidson. The five Hispanos all said they were happy about Davidson's extensive experience in school systems with Spanish-speaking students. Davidson was a superintendent in Florida before going to Texas. The Hispanos did not seem bothered by Austin's integration suits, which also involved Mexican-Americans.
"We do not blame him. If he comes here, we will support him," said Ora Adams of the Hispanic Association of Maryland. "We are ready to help."
So far the board has no official plans to seek reactions to Davidson from the groups who paraded through his suite this week. But staff members predict they will hear opinions before a final decision is reached.
"This is Montgomery County. We'll hear from them all right," one staff member said with a sigh.