Despite upheaval at the top, Prince George's County public schools seem unusually stable this summer after years of head-spinning change.
Most principals in the 200-school system are staying put. Only about two dozen newcomers are expected in the school year ahead, officials say, about half as many new principals as there were in each of the last two years. And the reading and mathematics curriculums are getting a mere tuneup a year after they were overhauled.
At a retreat this week in Northern Virginia, principals and senior administrators said former schools chief Andre J. Hornsby -- whose resignation, submitted last month, is effective today -- put a lasting stamp on academic policy and personnel during his two-year tenure.
Hornsby "set the intellectual stage" for the schools, said Helena Nobles-Jones, principal of Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale. "He surrounded himself with people who shared his vision. And they're able to continue the journey."
Nobles-Jones, 60, became Flowers's principal in 2000 after working as a school administrator in Baltimore and the District. "I've had many leaders," she said. "I don't know who's going to come behind [Hornsby], but, boy, do they have shoes to fill."
Other administrators, speaking privately about Hornsby because they feared career repercussions, chafed at what they perceived as his unilateral leadership style and his propensity for controversy, including various ethics questions and an FBI investigation into his handling of federal funds.
Several said the 136,000-student system itself was bigger than Hornsby. "All the leaders of the system are going in the same direction for the students," said interim schools chief Howard A. Burnett.
Shelley Jallow, the chief academic officer, said the daily work of education would continue. "If everything falls apart because someone leaves," she said, "then there's something you didn't do."
Still, Hornsby's fingerprints were everywhere during the three-day getaway for Prince George's principals that ended yesterday at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne.
One afternoon, middle school principals tuned in to technology developments, a Hornsby priority. They heard about a new online service with videos for classroom lessons and staff development. Each principal also received from the system two slim data-storage devices, known as flash drives, attached to cords worn around their necks. They marveled at the snazzy pendants, which will allow them to work at any computer with a compatible port and save their data.
"These are great," said Mark King, who is entering his second year as principal at James Madison Middle School in Upper Marlboro.
King, 37, a Hornsby appointee, leads a school the state has monitored for four years. Its situation is typical of dozens of county schools: getting better but needing improvement.
Madison's Maryland School Assessment scores rose enough this year to meet state standards. If it can repeat that performance next year, Madison will move off the state watch list. King treated his staff to a meal at the Stonefish Grill in Largo to celebrate. "We had a ball," he said.
In another session, elementary principals heard the latest on reading and writing. Pre-kindergartners will get new books and longer literacy lessons as the school system increases the number of such classes from 100 to 140. That, too, was a Hornsby initiative. In other grades, lessons will be longer on certain days to give students additional instruction on how to understand what they read and how to discuss it in depth. Too often, educators say, students without those skills are scoring poorly on state tests.
Tom Smith, 42, a second-year principal at Rogers Heights Elementary in Bladensburg and another Hornsby appointee, wondered aloud how he would fit all that into an already crowded school day. But Smith praised the curriculum.
"What we did this past year, it worked," said Smith, whose school is meeting state standards. "And we proved that it worked. We've got great success stories."
New principals Rhonda Gladden of Barnaby Manor Elementary in Oxon Hill and Teri Hudson of G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover also came to the retreat. Hornsby named them in his final weeks in office. They are taking over schools whose test scores for some groups of students this year were substandard -- disabled students at Barnaby Manor; disabled, impoverished and black students at Gholson.
"This school has so many possibilities," Hudson said.
Gladden said: "Those children deserve the best, like anyone else. It does not matter where they're coming from. They're ours. And we need to make sure we give them the best education possible."
Yet another Hornsby echo could be heard at the retreat, in a room for vendors of textbooks, teaching guides and computer gear. Two representatives from LeapFrog SchoolHouse hawked LeapPads, LeapMats, LeapDesks and other products designed to help youngsters learn to read. Hornsby became engulfed in controversy after it emerged that Prince George's schools bought $1 million of equipment from LeapFrog last year while he lived with a company saleswoman.
At the Lansdowne center, a LeapFrog salesman noted that he started in March. "I wasn't here for all of the hullabaloo," he said.
Mark King is entering his second year as principal of Madison Middle School.
Ex-chief Andre Hornsby's effect on the schools continues.