She has been a superintendent of schools for the past 13 years, but when Suellen Skeen got the call from Iris T. Metts asking if she wanted to oversee instruction in the 133,000-student Prince George's system, she jumped at the chance.
Sure, she would give up the total control she was used to in order to serve as a deputy to Metts, who took over as Prince George's school superintendent July 1. But Skeen liked the idea of working in a larger, more urban district than the 5,000-student Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Del. And she said that her training is in designing curriculum and that she was excited to get back to a hands-on position.
"This gives me the opportunity in a large system to do the part I like best," she said recently.
And the salary didn't hurt either: $130,000 a year.
Indeed, Metts opened the purse strings to bring in what she says is an experienced and talented staff of deputies, which, in addition to Skeen, includes: Frank Rishel, the deputy superintendent of the Christina School District in Newark, Del., who will oversee school administration; Alberta Paul, the director of technology for Philadelphia public schools who will oversee the same area here; and Ken Brown, the director of business and finance for the Christina district who will have similar duties.
Rishel also will make $130,000 annually, while Paul and Brown each will make $105,000. Metts makes a base salary of $160,000 and is eligible for performance incentives of as much as $30,000 a year. Her predecessor, Jerome Clark, made $130,000.
Metts's senior advisers include only one person from the Clark administration: Howard Burnett, who will be an executive assistant.
Metts was Delaware's education secretary and was the superintendent of the Christina School District from 1990 to 1997 before coming to Prince George's. She worked with Rishel and Brown daily in Christina and knew Skeen through state education circles. She knows Paul, a Washington native, through a mutual friend.
By bringing in staff members from outside the system, Metts said, she can help ensure that new ideas will come, too.
"There are capable people here, and we definitely want to promote people from within and help them grow. But in reviewing the applications, these were the best candidates," Metts said.
School board members, who approved her selections, said they were comfortable that the top four deputies were outsiders. Clark's top deputy, Louise Waynant, retired when Clark left, and Clark's second deputy, Robert Slade, will retire Sept. 10.
"I don't think it's a problem," said board Vice Chairman Doyle Niemann (Mount Rainier). "There are some good people inside the system, but she needs a management team that can take charge and one she has confidence in. They, in turn, will be building on the solid strengths that are there in the staff and structure, so I think it's a winning team all around."
Before taking over the Cape Henlopen district in 1993, Skeen was the superintendent in Roseville City, Calif., for seven years. She spent five years as the director of curriculum and instruction in the Tracy School District in California. She has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a master's in education from Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., and a doctorate in reading education from the University of Oklahoma.
Skeen has been named the 1999 "superintendent of the year" in Delaware.
Rishel, 54, has been the deputy superintendent of the 21,000-student Christina district since 1997. Before that, he spent seven years as the assistant superintendent for administrative services under Metts, during her tenure in Christina.
Rishel, who has a bachelor's degree from Bloomsburg State College in Pennsylvania and a master's from the University of Delaware, has worked in Delaware his entire career, as a teacher, assistant principal and personnel director.
Brown has managed the Christina district's $184 million budget since 1991 and has worked in that district since 1968, starting as a math teacher. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bloomsburg State, a master's from the University of Delaware and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"They're both amazingly strong detail people," said a source in the Christina district who did not want his name used.
Paul has overseen technology for the Philadelphia public schools for the past year and a half. She spent eight months as the director of the Community Business Center in Washington, overseeing the management of employment and training programs. She has a bachelor's degree from Howard University and a master's from Antioch College in Massachusetts.