Deasy: Schools need at least eight years to improve

Deasy’s plan to remain county CEO that long is a change from past stints

Thursday, March 2, 2006

The finalist for county schools CEO says it will take a minimum of eight years to make system improvements ‘‘as deep as they need to be” for all 199 Prince George’s schools.

The school board is expected to formally offer John Deasy the job of schools CEO tonight at its regular meeting. He is expected to start work May 1.

John Deasy has headed the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District for the past five years, and was superintendent of the Coventry, R.I., schools for five years before that. He says now is the right time for him to concentrate his efforts here in Prince George’s.

‘‘I think it will take a minimum of eight to 10 years [to radically improve student achievement and turn around low performing schools]” Deasy said. ‘‘By that time I’ll be about 55, so I want to make my prime work in a place where it’s needed the most.

‘‘There’s a great deal of need, but there’s a great deal to build upon.”

Having a superintendent who stays longer than four years is a rarity in Prince George’s County. The last person to go longer was John Murphy, who served seven years, 1984-1991.

Ed Felegy, Jerome Clark, the first black superintendent, and Iris Metts all lasted about four years.

The most recent CEO, Andre Hornsby, served about 2 1⁄2 years before resigning when ethical questions were raised and a federal investigation initiated over his of federal money for a software contract.

If he is able to go through with his plan, Deasy would be the longest serving superintendent in the county in about 15 years.

The challenges he faces are considerable.

Lagging test scores continue to plague the system as does a chronic achievement gap between African-Americans and Hispanics and their white and Asian-American counterparts.

Teachers are continuing to leave the county at high rates and other employees are suffering from low morale.

Moreover, the school system has entered into its second year on the state’s improvement list since it hasn’t met achievement standards set by the ‘‘No Child Left Behind” law.

One more year on the list, according to state officials, and the system will be under more focused oversight to improve its student achievement.

School board member Judy Mickens-Murray of Upper Marlboro said it would be a mistake to frame Deasy’s tenure in a number of years. Rather, the system and county residents need to be focused on partnering with Deasy to help him achieve his goals.

However, Mickens-Murray said she wants Deasy to build trust and develop a ‘‘culture of nurturing” during his first year.

‘‘If he learns the talent in the system — and we do have a lot of talented people here — he’ll do well,” Mickens-Murray said. ‘‘They need leadership, vision and implementation. We need someone who values employees. People are tired of getting beaten up.”

According to a 2003 study by Council of the Great City Schools, a District-based education think tank, the average tenure of urban school district CEOs was only about 2 1⁄2-2 3⁄4 years.

Job stress, continual criticism by parents, officials and labor unions and expectations for rapid results all contributed to CEOs and superintendents cutting their tenures short, the study said.

With Metts and Hornsby, the two most recent superintendents, their terms were marked by conflict with either board members or parent groups and legislators.

Charlene Dukes, who along with School Board Chair Beatrice Tignor and finance committee chair Robert Duncan, toured Deasy’s district last week, found no fault with his operation.

‘‘We met with many stakeholder groups and we found ... that he’s a man of the highest integrity,” Dukes said. ‘‘His focus is truly on access and equity for all children.”

School Board Vice Chair Howard Stone says Deasy needs time to work.

‘‘All the board members would like him to stay as long as possible,” Stone said. ‘‘It’ll take him about two or three years to make real improvements.

‘‘I’m not expecting instant miracles. We need the public to be patient.”

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