School board scrambles to prevent leadership void -- Gazette.Net


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Prince George’s County school officials are scrambling to ensure there isn’t a dearth of leadership in the wake of the announcement by Prince George’s County schools superintendent William R. Hite that he is being considered for the top education position in Philadelphia.

Hite’s announcement comes on the heels of deputy superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter’s departure to take over as head of Ocean Springs School District in Mississippi, a job she starts July 1. Hite could find out by Friday whether he was selected for the Philadelphia post.

“There’s no natural successor,” said school board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs. “[Coleman-Potter’s] leaving puts us in a unique situation.”

In November, five of the nine school board seats are up for election, with at least one of those seats to be filled by newcomers. Rosalind Johnson (Dist. 1) did not run for re-election.

“We’re going to spend the summer working to ensure that the schools’ opening goes smoothly,” Jacobs said, adding that the board did not yet have a plan approved to find a replacement should Hite get the job in Philadelphia. “It’s a storm, but we’ll weather it.”

Jacobs, who has served on the school board since 2006, is facing a challenge for her seat from college student Raheela Ahmed.

Hite announced Friday that he was one of two finalists being considered by the school system to take the position. The other candidate to take the helm in Philadelphia is Pedro Martinez, the deputy superintendent of Clark County Schools in Nevada.

“We’ve been doing this work with Dr. Hite for six years, and we’re going to continue to move forward,” Jacobs said. “We’re not trying to go backwards.”

The school board met Tuesday in a closed session to discuss transition and succession planning, said Briant Coleman, county schools spokesman.

Jacobs added that a provision in Hite’s four-year contract — set to expire in June 2013 — requiring 120 days’ notice before leaving the position would provide a transitional period, though she said she did not know how soon the board could approve a successor.

The possibility of Hite’s departure highlights the turnover of the last two decades in the county’s 124,000-student school system. No superintendent has stayed longer than four years since 1991. Hite took over as interim superintendent in December 2008 when John E. Deasy left the school system after serving more than two years. Deasy’s predecessor, Andre J. Hornsby, also served only two years.

The rate of turnover isn’t far outside the norm, said Kitty Porterfield, spokeswoman for the American Association of School Administrators. On average, superintendents stay with a large school system for about three years, she said.

Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said he has seen nine superintendents since he started teaching in 1987.

“Each one has come in with an agenda, instituted programmatic changes and reshaped the system,” Haines wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Until Dr. Hite, we were simply adding new initiatives and never taking anything off the ‘teacher’s plate.’”

In a statement on the union’s website, Haines said the organization will “be saddened by the inevitable slowing of our reform agenda should he depart.”

For Susie Foushee, PTA president at Yorktown Elementary in Bowie and parent of a rising fourth-grader, the possibility of Hite’s departure comes as a personal blow.

“If William Hite leaves, it is going to be very hard to fill his shoes, and I will be personally very, very sad,” Foushee said. “He has always been extremely responsive to me and the school.”

hnunn@gazette.net