SELECTING a superintendent for Fairfax County was never going to be easy. One of the nation's premier school systems, with a demanding, diverse and swelling population, Fairfax has enjoyed six years of exceptional leadership under Daniel A. Domenech. In tapping Jack D. Dale, superintendent of the more rural, less diverse and much smaller Frederick County school system, the Fairfax School Board has invited some anxiety on the part of those who may have expected a higher-profile leader with extensive experience running a large system. But Mr. Dale comes highly respected not only by those familiar with his accomplishments in Frederick but also by education leaders who know well the challenges in Fairfax.

Mr. Domenech is among them. He and other superintendents in this region who have met and worked with Mr. Dale regularly over the years acknowledge that moving to a district more than four times as large is a significant leap, but they point to a solid grounding in educational approaches as well as a general openness to ideas, strong support of his top assistants, collaboration with other local government officials and regular contact with the public as important attributes.

As reported by The Post's S. Mitra Kalita and Fredrick Kunkle on Friday, Mr. Dale made many changes in Frederick during his eight years as superintendent: acquiring laptops and computer programs for teachers, giving principals more control over their schools, setting up Maryland's first charter school, reducing the size of certain classes with the greatest need, and raising the salaries of some teachers who agreed to be available for night, weekend and summer help for students falling behind. In 2000, Mr. Dale was named Maryland superintendent of the year by the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, one of many awards he has received.

Unlike the search that brought Mr. Domenech to Fairfax, in which finalists were announced and then interviewed publicly, the school board this time began by seeking public views on qualifications to be sought and weighed them against candidates' qualifications. Members said confidentiality has become necessary in shopping today's superintendent market. To some extent, perhaps; but leaving the public in the dark until the final decision can complicate acceptance of the choice.