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Jay's Take: Two Strong Choices to Lead Local Schools

I consider myself a school and classroom reporter, so I try to stay away from superintendents. It’s not that they aren’t good people. Most are caring and conscientious. But their lives are full of things I hate that don’t have much impact on raising student achievement, such as progress reports, budget memos and, worst of all for me, five-hour school board meetings.

I acknowledge, however, that the best superintendents, if allied with smart and unified school boards, can have a significant impact on how much kids learn. The Washington metropolitan area has been particularly lucky in the selection of the men and women who run its school systems. That has been proven once again with the selection yesterday of Fairfax County assistant superintendent Patrick K. Murphy as the new superintendent for Arlington County, and the expected confirmation tonight of interim Prince George’s County superintendent William R. Hite Jr. as that school system’s leader for the next four years.

Both Murphy and Hite are succeeding first-class educators, Robert G. Smith in Arlington and John E. Deasy in Prince George’s, who emphasized raising achievement for impoverished students. Hite and Murphy are clearly committed to that same effort, and have the skills and knowledge to make important contributions.

I have known Murphy for eight years, since he took the risk of letting me hang around the Fairfax County middle school where he was principal for a series on how first-year algebra was taught to that age group. I have only met Hite a couple of times, but he has many admirers whose judgment I trust. Both men have a quality I consider a key indicator of good leadership---they are not afraid of journalists. This region has a remarkable number of school leaders willing to exchange comments freely with reporters and columnists, even personally returning our emails. I expect good things from Murphy and Hite, in their first superintendencies.

And if they stumble, from what I know of both of them they will be grateful if we let them know about it, and tell them how to do better.

By Washington Post editors  | April 3, 2009; 11:49 AM ET
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I notice Mr. Mathews did not mention Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast in his roll call of the 'best' superintendents. Maybe he and the editors of the Post are finally realizing what we in Montgomery County have known for a long while: MCPS is run by bullies. The latest example is the whispering campaign against our newest Board of Education member, Ms. Laura Berthiaume. Why? Because Ms. Berthiaume asks questions and speaks truth to power.

In Montgomery County 'unified' school board is code for bullied into silence. The Board of Education here no longer does its job.

Posted by: freestategal | April 4, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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