In recent weeks, there has been a lot of news around school systems in Maryland—from unheated classrooms, to funding for new and renovated high schools, to even mold. In Baltimore County, the Board of Education has decided that it wants to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent, when we have a competent and caring leader in Verletta White.
I am always puzzled about why folks believe the best talent comes from outside their walls. Why do we believe that the best person for the position of BCPS superintendent is in California or Texas or Colorado or somewhere outside the county? In other words, why are we looking for something we already have?
Back in May, the board voted unanimously to appoint Ms. White interim superintendent, after the former superintendent left a year into the second term of his contract. Ms. White is vested in Maryland, in Baltimore County, and in BCPS. Most of you know that she was educated in the Baltimore County public school system all her life, graduating from Woodlawn High School, as well as Towson University and College of Notre Dame in Maryland. She has worked in the system for more than 25 years, first as a classroom teacher, then climbing the ranks to principal and administrator, and now to interim superintendent.
Who knows the system and the students better than she?
Because the former superintendent has been investigated and indicted for perjury since his departure, some are looking at her through cloudy lens. Ms. White did not disclose information about $3,000 in annual income from a company that paid administrators and superintendents to participate in focus groups and share feedback on some of the newest products coming down the education pipeline. In her mind, she said, she was completing the disclosure form properly and without ill intent. She admitted her mistake, apologized and immediately amended the form in question. Now, there is some second-guessing taking place.
If there is anyone out there who has not made a mistake, I’d like to meet you. Many people, probably including some of the fingerpointers, will refuse to admit mistakes or wrongdoing or to take responsibility for their actions.
Back to external candidates: Anytime you hire from the outside, the person has to learn how the system works. Then, the outsiders come in, start putting their stamp on things, try new things and make changes. What’s their connection to the community? What’s their connection to the county? Many times, these individuals are not vested. For some, the new position is just a stop on a career journey.
We understand candidates from out of state can bring new ideas. But what if the person hired makes a mistake? Do you push him or her aside, appoint an interim and start another national search for a new leader? What kind of stability does that provide for our students and teachers?
When you have people who have built their whole career on education, analyzing what works and what doesn’t for all these years, why would you dismiss their contributions? Everybody else has recognized Ms. White’s talents and abilities to move things forward.
Sen. Jim Brochin, chair of the Baltimore County delegation, held a meeting in January in Annapolis for Senators about the situation and has called for a broader audit—something Ms. White already initiated, proposed and agreed to do. (You can find the video on You Tube to listen to the comments and questions.) Governor Hogan is introducing legislation to establish an Office of the State Education Investigator General, which will be an independent unit within the Maryland State Department of Education. Are they playing to a certain audience? Are some elected officials using this situation to advance their political aspirations at the expense of our children and grandchildren’s education?
Verletta White has the respect of teachers—because she was one of them, principals––because she was one of them, and parents—because her children attend BCPS. Those are valuable assets for a leader.
There has been nothing in Ms. White’s career to suggest that she was unethical and lacked integrity. For those who want to make those innuendos based on the actions of the former superintendent, tell me, would it be fair for you to be judged based on your boss’s actions or intentions?
Generally, board members are hardworking volunteers who have the interests of the students at heart. I do question the motives of some school board members. We have some recently appointed board members who all of the sudden think they know more than our educators who have been in the trenches, on the battlefields and in the central office handling budgets, curriculum and construction. It has become apparent that certain members come to the meetings with political and personal agendas.
They question every detail of every decision, policy and budget item. They try to lay the blame for every incident at every school at Ms. White’s feet as if she is personally responsible and has personally allowed these incidences to happen. Yes, she’s the interim superintendent, but not every fight on a bus or in a school yard is her fault. Do we hold the governor of Maryland responsible for every misdeed of a state employee? Of course not.
We do not need political and personal agendas when our children’s education at stake. The question is: Does the superintendent have plans, processes and people in place to address issues of concern, to move the system forward and prepare our students for careers and higher levels of education? I believe she does. Are there opportunities to find more innovative ways to do things better? Of course. Can we trust her to do an effective job as superintendent? Absolutely.
BCPS is the 25th largest school system in the nation, and probably one of the top performing in the state.
Let’s move on. Stop hovering. Get out of the way of Ms. White and our administrators and let them do their jobs. White and her team should be focusing on the next school year and responding to and not defending activities from the past. Let’s make Verletta White our permanent superintendent now so she can go about the business that people really care about—our children’s education.