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Reactions mixed after schools superintendent's first year

July 25, 1999

BartlettBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: MARLA BROSE / staff photographer




The Washington County Board of Education gave Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. a good performance review for his first official year on the job, but other reactions are mixed.

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Some community leaders give Bartlett credit for inheriting a system that wasn't working well and improving it. Others criticize his leadership style and say positive changes were already under way when he came aboard.

But both sides generally agree the school system has changed since a curriculum audit listed its failings and branded its organization "dysfunctional." That was a month before the superintendent's appointment in October 1997.

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"The superintendent walked in at a time that was difficult for the county," said School Board member Doris J. Nipps. "He really has moved the system forward. Right now, education is in some really good hands."

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Bartlett brought good ideas to the county. "He is making his own footprints instead of falling into someone else's," he said.

Bartlett has also stepped on a few toes. Some employees describe his leadership as uncompromising and claim it has lowered morale. One high-level education official who did not want to be named said the superintendent rules by intimidation.

Parent Beth Gluck said teachers are scared to publicly voice their opinions. "They're afraid of what the repercussions might be. They are fearful of their jobs for speaking up," she said.

Gluck, who has since moved away, was part of a group of parents who asked for a fifth grade to be returned to Salem Avenue Elementary School last year. Bartlett encouraged them and later vilified them, according to Gluck.

"He's been very responsive to me, but I also want a superintendent who is responsive to every stakeholder in Washington County," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs.

"I'm hearing he isn't responsive to other people. In this case, we definitely hired a politician," she said.

"I'm not exactly pleased with him," said another parent, Meredith Fouche. "I tend to believe he is a person who is not very receptive to opinions that are different than his."

Joseph Robison, a retired principal, said Bartlett treats employees like they are disposable. "I would like to see a more caring person," he said.

But Bartlett said care is the basis for all his actions. "You really try to be caring, supporting, nurturing, but in every case you can't be," he said last week.

The school system has 46 schools and an operating budget of more than $115 million. It's the superintendent's job to make hard decisions and someone's always going to disagree, Bartlett said. "There are some difficulties sometimes. That's not uncommon," he said.

The superintendent's four-year contract began July 1, 1998. "It's been one of the most fulfilling years I've spent in education," he said, calling it an exciting time of change and transition. "We're moving probably as fast as we can."

Bartlett said he reorganized the system's instruction. He brought added focus to student achievement, implementing a "scope and sequence" to the curriculum that dictates how, when and where concepts are taught.

He emphasized reading, which he calls the centerpiece or basic ingredient to education. The school system previously hired reading resource teachers for the elementary schools. This year, literacy teachers will be added to each middle school.

Bartlett brought several new people to his staff, including Human Resources Director Phil Ray and Curriculum Director Frank Finan.

New positions were created and filled under him, including Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley and Technology Director Elizabeth Klein.

Bartlett increased student access to computers and standardized data processing, computer maintenance and operations. For example, secretaries in one school cluster used to retype data as students passed from the elementary to middle to high school level.

The superintendent includes the shift toward block schedules as an accomplishment. Standard test scores are improving, he said. A new professional development center is planned.

But Bartlett's biggest challenge was overcoming a negative perception, he said. People didn't believe in the system's potential when he came, he said.

"We can be one of the best school divisions in Maryland if we want to. I think at this stage in time people are convinced we can do that. I'm positive we can," he said.

Bartlett brought change and that makes people uneasy, School Board President Edwin Hayes said. "The road hasn't been completely smooth, but we're pleased with his performance," he said.

The superintendent came in at a tough juncture with and immediately had a full plate, Hayes said. But he gave the system direction once he took its helm. "We've got our direction, now we just need to stay the course," he said.

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