June 12, 2001

Site-based decision making will be a key component of Bruce Harter's administration when he takes over as superintendent of the Brandywine School District in July. "I believe strongly in letting schools decide what it is they want to concentrate on," he said.

That concept has come in for a considerable amount of lip-service support in Delaware in recent years, but those who work in the system say that its actual application has been limited and hard to achieve. Coming from Florida, a much larger state where centralized control is less engrained, Harter has fewer ties to that management style. He said that autonomy extends down to the local level in the Lake County district, where he is wrapping up his tenure as chief executive.

He told Delaforum that he favors strengthening the role of school-level advisory committees by giving principals the authority to follow through on implementing recommendations that come from them. That, he said, extends to "the allocation

of staff resources." Hypothetically, a school could decide that it would prefer to give up a counselor position in favor of having an additional classroom teacher.

"You (the district) provide the resources in a single lump sum [and] let the people closest to the school decide what they want to do with it," he said.

Recognizing that, if implementation of the Neighborhood Schools Act plays out as it now appears likely, Brandywine schools will become considerably less homogeneous than they now are, Harter said he favors allocating district resources -- particularly financial resources -- in accordance with educational need. The teaching profession recognizes that educating children from lower socio-economic situations requires greater effort and commitment. The Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee devoted a large portion of its report to the specifics of what will be required to keep city schools on a par with suburban ones.

Harter said he has read that report but does not yet feel he has a sufficient grasp of the local situation to comment directly.

Photo from the Lee County (Fla.) School District Web site

Bruce Harter

He said, however, that emulating the success of the federal Title One program, which concentrates support in schools serving low-income students, is the sort of approach he favors.

"There is a difference between dividing things equally and dividing things equitably," he said.

In general, he said, he is not coming to Brandywine with any set agenda or with an assumption he has a mandate for extensive change. "I don't think I have nearly enough knowledge to put anything in the way of a detailed program together," he said. "I intend to spend a good bit of my time when I get here listening."

Gehrt to leave district

Victoria Gehrt announced that she will leave the Brandywine School District on Aug. 3.

She has been serving as interim superintendent since last October. Bruce Harter will succeed her as 'permanent' superintendent on July 1.

Gehrt said that she has not yet decided on future career plans or, specifically, whether she will return to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District, from which she has a leave of absence.

She promised to provide a smooth transition into Harter's administration.

"The bump will be so small, you will hardly even notice it," she said.

In broad terms, however, he said he gives priority to whatever will "improve performance of Brandywine students against [state] relative to state standards." Unlike Florida, where a turnaround was in order, he said that coming into his new position he has the advantage of "being able to build upon the strengths in the district."

He added that he is "very gratified" that effort evidently will have enthusiastic backing from parents and the general public.

Result of the May referendum --  in which voters overwhelmingly authorized a $38.4 million school construction bond issue, the largest-ever in Delaware -- "tells me that community support is very strong." Delaware Department of Education confirmed that the 76% margin of approval was the largest within the scope of available records when the vote involved a question which would lead to a tax increase.

Harter said he intends to keep the momentum going.

By August or early September, he expects to re-establish the practice of delivering an annual 'state of the district' message and publishing an annual report. That will be followed by arranging for "as many [public] appearances as I can." He intends to make a presence not only at school and Parent-Teacher Associations functions but also at gatherings of business, service and community organizations. "I will accept invitations to speak and in other cases where it is appropriate I will just show up to attend the meetings," he said. "Either way I intend to get out in the community as much as possible."

He already has begun to put down some roots. The Harters have arranged to purchase a house in Shipley Heights and have enrolled their daughter, Kyla, to attend seventh grade at Springer Middle School. His wife, Lee Anna Hedges, is a consultant specializing in adult-teenager relations. They have two adult children, Daniel, who lives in Alaska, and Susie, a student at the University of Michigan.

2001. All rights reserved.

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