For example, he said, if the system's staff members are asked how to best improve the system, each department will provide an answer based on its own perspective. The facilities people will call for better buildings while the curriculum staff will seek improvements in that area.
"All of these answers are right, but it's up the board to sift through them" and see what combination of ideas will work best, he said.
"We see the same thing on redistricting. If you ask the question 'How do we fill up a new school?' the staff answer will involve drawing boundaries," he said.
The School Board must take a broader view and look at how population will grow in the next few decades and how the system should meet that growth.
Doesn't the board have a responsibility to make the best use of available space by moving children from crowded schools to those that have room?
"Yes, they should be expected to relieve the crowding problems, but redrawing boundaries is not all that it takes," he said.
What about moving magnet programs, as was suggested, to get parents and students excited about going to a new school?
"I'm not saying the magnet program shouldn't be moved. It's not an either-or choice. But you don't populate a school just by drawing boundaries," he said.
Hartings said that his vision for the system involves giving children who will likely change jobs several times during their working careers to love learning and be very adaptable.
"Differential instruction is going to be very important," he said.
Asked to define that term, Hartings said that because every child is excited about learning in a different way, it's important to have a variety of programs so that love of learning is stimulated. Some students might want a concentration in math, while others will want an experience such as the Barbra Ingram School for the Arts, he said.
"I'd like to see more businesses involved. Business in Hagerstown could be a great resource for these kids," he said.
Hartings said that his training as a scientist and his business experience would be an asset on the board.
"I'm trained as a scientist and I read data every day. To really analyze the programs that are in place, you have to ask the right questions to get to the heart of the matter.
For example, Hartings said, he heard a presentation on the summer school program in which staff said that 70 percent of those who attended either improved their performance or maintained their previous performance level.
That's not enough to judge whether the program is worthwhile. To get at that information, the board would have to test a sample of children who didn't attend summer school.
"I know the staff might not like me by the time I'm done," he said.
Another thing Hartings said he feels is important is for the board to have credibility when it goes to the county commissioners or the county's General Assembly delegation for funding.
"Showing an ability to change and correct programs that aren't working will only give the board more credibility on budget issues," he said.
In that area, Hartings said his experience in running a biotechnology business is a plus.
"I know how to read a budget and every day I'm making a decision on how my money would be best spent," he said.
Building that credibility should also involve working more closely with the county commissioners, he said.
"We need more contact with the commissioners about growth and development issues," he said.
When the current housing slump is over and the demand for new homes increases here, Hartings said the two groups must work together.
"Having the Board of Education and the county commissioners agree on creating that capacity would help the commissioners deal with developers," he said.
Hartings admitted that his ideas are not always easy to explain, but that citizens need to understand them, for one important reason.
"Ninety-nine percent of the things the board will vote on will not fit on a campaign poster," he said.
In my view, this will be a tough sell to those parents who feel that they've done their duty when they pay the taxes that support the school. The others, the ones, who are willing to be educated, might find a lot to like in Hartings' platform.
Bob Maginnis is
editorial page editor of
The Herald-Mail newspapers.