New Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts said yesterday she wants to put a telephone in every classroom, recruit 10,000 mentors, and raise more money to help improve student discipline and renovate run-down schools, and she pledged to "stay on the job until we make improvements."
With the start of the new school year looming Monday, Metts welcomed about 14,000 school employees to a convocation at US Airways Arena and outlined her goals for the 133,000-student district, promising to work tirelessly to achieve them.
"The superintendent in Montgomery County may be a better negotiator than I am," Metts said of Jerry Weast, whose salary is $237,794 a year, compared with her base salary of $160,000 plus $30,000 in annual performance incentives. "However, I'm going to work harder. I'm going to earn my bonus. I came to this school system to make a difference."
Metts, who took over July 1, called the assembly--the school system's first in 14 years--a pep rally for teachers, administrators and staff members, who have been told repeatedly by state and county leaders that their school system is deteriorating.
Earlier in the week, Metts told reporters that she believes the school system, the largest in the state, can rise to the top 10 in Maryland within four to five years. Prince George's now stands 23rd out of 24 counties in statewide exam scores.
Yesterday, Metts was clear that the route to change will come with new ideas. She named her four top deputies, all of whom come from other states: Frank Rishel, the deputy superintendent of the Christina School District in Newark, Del., will oversee school administration; Suellen Skeen, the superintendent of the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Del., will oversee instruction; Alberta Paul, the director of technology for the Philadelphia public schools, will oversee technology here; and Ken Brown, the director of business and finance of the Christina School District, will have the same duties.
For the past two years, Metts was Delaware's state education secretary and prior to that served for seven years as the Christina schools chief.
"We are going to emphasize literacy and basic skills and technology and discipline," Metts said. With County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and other county and state leaders sitting behind her on the dais, she said, "I want to fight to add money to make the schools safe and clean."
Metts drew a 30-second standing ovation when she said she wants to put a telephone in every classroom. "If we really want teachers to reach out to parents, they need to have open lines of communication like everyone else in the world," she said, over the applause.
Metts was received warmly by the crowd, which appeared excited by her arrival.
"We need some changes, and I think Metts is the one who can make them," said Karen Ross, a teacher at Flintstone Elementary School in Oxon Hill, pumping her fist in the air. "She has a lot of ideas for children that can make an impact."
Ken Youngert, a technology specialist at Longfields Elementary in Forestville, said: "I have some hopes. We're at the point where we can go either way--get worse or get better. I think she's committed to improving morale and wages, and from what she says, I believe her."
State and county leaders also praised Metts, who already has eliminated 130 positions in the central office, which she says was bloated and sometimes inefficient.
State Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D) said Metts "is just want we need. She understands we need change, and she's willing to bring it. I think it's going to help us in the General Assembly" in a push for more state money next spring.
CAPTION: Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry greets School Superintendent Iris T. Metts, sitting with State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.