Prince George’s picks Californian to lead school system

Board says Deasy is its choice, but no one has signed on the dotted line

Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006

John Deasy, superintendent of a small Southern California school district, has all but signed a deal to become the next CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools.

The county school board announced Thursday that Deasy, who has led the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for five years, is its leading choice to direct its 133,000-student school system.

Deasy, 45, told The Gazette that he was contacted Thursday morning by school board Chairwoman Beatrice P. Tignor and Charlene M. Dukes, who heads the board’s search committee. They told him he could expect Prince George’s to be his new home.

‘‘I’m very honored, and I’m also humbled,” Deasy said. ‘‘I’m looking forward to working in my new community.”

Deasy’s selection follows three days of interviews in which three candidates were introduced to the Prince George’s education community, meeting parents, union leaders, lawmakers and educators. Deasy emerged as the clear favorite after the interviews ended Wednesday night.

School board members took the unusual step of issuing a news release saying Deasy was their first choice. But they remained somewhat cautious, saying that no firm offer had been made.

‘‘He’s just the leading candidate right now,” said Howard W. Stone Jr., the board’s vice chairman.

If Deasy is hired, he will become the county’s first white schools CEO in more than a decade. The Prince George’s system is more than 75 percent African American.

The other finalists for the schools CEO job are Marcia V. Lyles, superintendent of a large region in the New York City school system, and W.L. ‘‘Tony” Sawyer, superintendent of the Topeka, Kan., unified school district. Both are African American.

‘‘It was a brave move on the part of the board” to pick Deasy, said parent advocate Donna Hathaway Beck of Upper Marlboro. ‘‘I hope he will not be sidetracked by any racial comments, and I hope that the political structure will support him enthusiastically.”

Carol Kilby, president of the Prince George’s teachers union, pointed out that Deasy has good relations with labor leaders in California.

‘‘We were very impressed with him, and labor was unanimously behind him,” she said.

Deasy’s Santa Monica district is tiny compared to Prince George’s, where a $1.5 billion budget serves 133,000 students at 199 schools. In California, he oversees 16 schools with a little more than 12,500 students and a $103 million budget.

But under Deasy’s five-year tenure, Santa Monica has logged gains in test scores and academic achievement. When he joined the system, about 70 percent of high school students passed the state’s high school exit exam, which is similar to Maryland’s High School Assessment. Now, more than 90 percent of Santa Monica’s students are passing the test.

CEO search in The Gazette:

Communities left off school CEO search list (Oct. 18, 2005)

CEO search firm familiar with county (Sept. 20, 2005)

Stone: Schools chief search is on (Sept. 20, 2005)

Groups push to halt selection of schools' CEO (Aug. 23, 2005)

School board chairwoman hopes new programs and plans will outweigh past controversies (July 20, 2005)

School board deliberates, names buzzing for CEO job (June 22, 2005)

Deasy now earns a $153,000 annual salary; if his contract is approved by the Prince George’s school board, he would earn $250,000.

Deasy would manage a Prince George’s school system that has been beset by problems ranging from repeated turnover in the top job to poor student performance to violence in and near schools.

The school system is also set to go through another upheaval when the appointed school board, established by the General Assembly in 2002, is replaced by an elected school board this fall, virtually assuring changes in the board.

The new CEO will be charged with raising test scores, closing a persistent achievement gap and dealing with the strains on the county’s education facilities caused by the county’s growing school-age population and rapidly deteriorating school structures.

The county’s previous schools CEO was Andre J. Hornsby, who resigned in May after less than three years on the job as federal investigators probed how a large software contract was awarded. Hornsby said he had done nothing wrong, and no charges have been filed.