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Editorial - The new superintendent

October 15, 1997

Last week The Herald-Mail newspapers took a hard look at the recent past of Herman Bartlett Jr., the man hired to replace Wayne Gersen as superintendent of the Washington County school system.

The coverage, based on interviews with people Bartlett worked with in the Virginia school system, revealed an educator who's credited with improving test scores and introducing new technology to the classroom, but who also can come across as autocratic and inflexible.

Herald-Mail did those stories, not because our reporters and editors enjoy making anyone uncomfortable, but because this is not some visiting celebrity citizens are welcoming to the community. This is a man being paid with local tax dollars to lead this system and its students into the next century.

To his credit, Bartlett did not complain about our coverage, but asked only that he be judged on his accomplishments, rather than on someone's impressions of him. In past coverage in The Roanoke Times and in a two-hour session Friday with Herald-Mail editors, Bartlett admitted that when it comes to handling people, he's not perfect.

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Nor is he a politician, he said. Maybe he's not, if you define a politician as someone who figures out which way the political winds are blowing and then heads in that direction. But if you believe that a politician is someone who sells people on ideas, then that's what Bartlett must be.

He must sell citizens and elected officials on education's value, and get across the hard truth that the days of walking onto the factory floor and learning a trade on the job are over. He must sell the idea that competitive pay for teachers is not a frill, but a necessity.

And finally, he must convince everyone that too much time has been lost already, and that every student who leaves school knowing less than he or she should know is likely to be a burden on society at some time in the future. A tall order, to be sure. Welcome, Dr. Bartlett, and good luck in filling it.

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