JERRY WEAST, unanimous choice of Montgomery County's school board for superintendent, comes with nationally recognized skills that seem tailor-made for his new challenge. As superintendent of the Guilford County, N.C., system, Mr. Weast has won praise for improving early childhood education, putting more teachers and resources in lower-performing schools, making teachers more accountable, raising test scores and -- increasingly important in today's Montgomery -- closing achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds.
Montgomery -- home of a good system, well piloted by the retiring Paul Vance -- still has room for improvement on all these fronts; Mr. Vance would be among the first to agree. While the population is changing, the constituency remains vigorously demanding. Roughly a fifth of the county's 128,000 students in 185 schools are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and have special instruction needs. That is no new situation for Mr. Weast, whose county system, while smaller -- 61,000 students, 94 schools -- has 33 percent of its students eligible for the lunch program.
School officials there praise Mr. Weast's program to identify and assist teachers who were found not performing well enough. Some benefited, others were terminated. With huge enrollment increases around the Washington region putting a premium on well-trained teachers, efforts to improve the skills of those hired become all the more important.
The pressures of swelling enrollments generate intense budget and program debates among school board members and parents on class sizes, additional schools and resources to be committed to minority achievement. Mr. Weast's political skills will be put to the test quickly. At least he enters this arena with a quality cited by many who have monitored his record: Word has it he cares about kids.