Iris T. Metts said yesterday that as Prince George's County's next school superintendent she will improve instruction, raise test scores and increase accountability, and she voluntarily has tied part of her future earnings to meeting those goals.
Metts, 56, currently Delaware's education secretary, was named by the county's Board of Education yesterday to succeed Jerome Clark, who will retire June 30.
She will be paid an annual base salary of $160,000 during her four-year contract, and will be eligible for thousands of dollars in bonuses if she produces results in five areas: improving test scores, decreasing the number of provisionally certified teachers, closing the performance gap between black and white students, implementing reform measures, and upgrading technology.
"I believe in accountability," Metts said at a news conference in Upper Marlboro, before a standing-room-only crowd of education, government and business leaders. "I have agreed to produce specific results for the board. I believe if you work hard and are accountable yourself, the system will be accountable."
School board members hailed Metts as an experienced educator who has the political savvy to build coalitions among competing interest groups and weather the criticism that comes with the superintendent's job. Metts was a teacher, a principal in Richmond schools and a superintendent of the Christina School District in Wilmington, Del., before becoming Delaware's top education official in 1997.
"One of her best attributes is her ability to garner the support of various stakeholders," said board member Robert J. Callahan (Bowie). "She has the ability to deal with a legislative body, having worked for the governor and with the legislature. She has the ability to negotiate through the political process without being swayed."
Metts must be affirmed by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who has praised her leadership abilities. Metts will take over a 128,000-student school system that is under intense scrutiny.
State leaders have threatened a takeover and appointed a panel to monitor reform efforts. Prince George's must hire 1,400 teachers by mid-August and build 13 schools in the next six years. Furthermore, the county has the highest percentage of provisionally certified teachers in the state and the second-lowest average standardized test scores.
When Metts arrives July 6, she will face the hurdle of uniting school and county leaders behind her reform efforts. Her selection by the school board was not unanimous.
Six of the board's nine members -- Callahan, Catherine A. Smith (Cheverly), Alvin Thornton (Suitland), Doyle Niemann (Mount Rainier), Kenneth E. Johnson (Mitchellville) and Angela Como (Laurel) -- voted for Metts, sources say, but Marilynn Bland (Clinton), James E. Henderson (Seabrook) and Bernard Phifer (Hillcrest Heights) voted for Howard County school administrator Jacqueline F. Brown.
But Brown's ties to the county -- she was treasurer for County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) during his first run for office in 1995 -- were questioned by some members, who said they wanted someone with new ideas and no alliances.
Curry was on vacation yesterday and could not be reached for comment, but his chief of staff, Glenda Wilson, said, "We're going to work with whoever they choose because we want that system to work."
Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Prince George's) said he expects Metts to meet with elected officials soon after she arrives. "I want to be sure that when we bring somebody in, we don't just say, `We've got a superintendent so we've solved the problems,' " Baker said. "There are other issues to be dealt with. Wait-and-see is where we are."
Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's), a Curry ally, said he hopes Metts surrounds herself with accomplished deputies.
"If she does that, I think she'll find it much easier to build a base with the other elected officials who've been kind of skeptical of what's transpired over here in the last four years," Hubbard said.
Earlier this week, Artis Hampshire-Cowan, head of the state-appointed management oversight panel and a friend of Curry's, said that she will support Metts but that her panel expects to have input on whom Metts hires as her deputies.
"I personally, and the oversight panel, want to work with her," Hampshire-Cowan said.
County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) said he hopes all county leaders are receptive to Metts.
"What's best is not for them to whine because they're not consulted or whine because their candidate didn't get the job," said Hendershot, a former school board member. "The best thing is for them to work well with this superintendent."
Metts said her priorities include: helping the 12 schools that have been targeted for possible takeover by the state for poor performance; surveying parents about their opinions on the schools; increasing staff development and dealing with the teacher shortage; and redesigning curriculum to improve students' performance on state exams.
"If you look at the achievement scores and they're not improving, there's something wrong with the curriculum . . . and the way teachers are teaching," she said.
Charming her audience with anecdotes and an engaging laugh, Metts appeared comfortable in the limelight as schools chief.
"I want to build a culture of change and a belief that we can get better," she said. "If we have collaborative support, we can begin to build the system and make this one of the top districts in the nation."
Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Iris T. Metts appears comfortable in the limelight of her new position.
CAPTION: Iris T. Metts, center, shakes hands with members of the Prince George's County school board. Metts has been named the superintendent of the system.