hit all the marks of core competency [and] he has a grasp of the
important educational issues. One of the things I'm not sure
about is whether he puts [too much emphasis] on teaching to
[state educational] standards," said one of 22 parents who
gathered for a 'debriefing' by school board vice president
Janice Tunell after hearing a presentation by Harter and
listening to him field about a dozen fairly specific questions.
participant in the reaction event noted that Harter gave a
thorough and technologically astute talk and provided reasoned
spontaneous answers to the questions, which presumably had
pre-arranged. That person described Harter's demeanor as
serious and professional if a bit short on personality.
But, then, he added that the search for a superintendent
"should not be a personality contest."
cannot afford not to have a superintendent who is going
to take us to great heights," said yet another.
told the group that the process will involve further
interviews, a trip by a delegation of school board
members, teachers and others to Fort Myers, Fla., where
Harter is superintendent of the Lake County School
District. She said also that board members have divided
up the chore of telephoning the more than 100 references
that Harter provided. Those are about evenly split
between Floridians and residents of Corvallis, Ore.,
where he previously was superintendent.
also revealed that the Brandywine board has
Harter talks with Brandywine school board president
Nancy Doorey after his public presentation.
offer the new superintendent an initial three-year contract. She
did not specify a salary, but the board previously authorized
its executive search consultant to talk in the range of $125,000
the only active candidate at present and one of only two
applicants who met the criteria of having a successful
multiple-year superintendency on his or her resume. Board
president Nancy Doorey previously said that, if Harter is not
hired, the search process will be resumed "on an expedited
basis" with the expectation that a new superintendent still
could be on board by July 1, the official start of the new
fiscal and academic year.
also reportedly is one of two finalists in a search for a
superintendent for the Moline, Ill, district. He participated in
a similar meet-the-public session there on Feb. 19.
Minutes posted on the district's Web site, however, gave no
details about what was said. There was to have been a special
meeting of the Moline board on Mar. 2, reportedly to decide
between the candidates, but a notice on the Web site said that
Brian McCaulley, president of the Moline board, had cancelled
that session. No reason nor other elaboration was given.
said that Herter has strongly indicated that Brandywine is his
first choice because he feels he would have a much grater chance
to make an impact here.
the Brandywine public meeting came at the end of a long day of
private sessions with teachers, administrators, community
organization leaders, business people, politicians and the like,
Harter did not seem tired and handled the situation in a cool
calm manner. His presentation was delivered in a tone
reminiscent of a keynote address.
Lee Anna, accompanied Harter on what was his second Delaware. He
previously had appeared before a selection committee of
community and business residents which, Doorey said, gave him an
"unanimous and enthusiastic endorsement."
talk on how he things state and local academic standards should
be applied was built around a Power Point presentation he had
prepared. It included data extracted from the Brandywine
district Web site and even digital photographs he had taken
earlier during a tour of some Brandywine schools. He used the
projected computer material even though there were deficiencies
in its formatting -- an element that actually contributed to its
at the meeting were given a 48-page document produced by the
school board and labeled as "excerpts from [his]
up on the personality and ability-to-relate issue, a woman at
the 'debriefing' said that Harter probably would take a while to
establish rapport with the community. "You have a much
better chance to pass the referendum (sic) with the interim
superintendent than with him," she said. The district is
expected to seek voter authorization to sell bonds to finance
school renovation this spring -- before Harter would take office
on July 1 -- but may put off until the 2001-02 school year a
vote on increasing its tax rate for operations. Victoria Gehrt
is interim superintendent.
set as the basic ground rule for the session with parents that
remarks would not be recorded or publicly attributed by name.
There were similar sessions held after the general meeting for
teaches, students and residents who are not parents of students
in Brandywine schools.
annonymonity, questioners at the general meeting hit on most of
the key issues on the public mind.
did identify himself as Randy Bechler, a teacher at Talley
Middle School, drew applause when he asked Harter how he would
avoid what Bechler described as "anti-Brandywine"
media coverage, particularly by the News Journal newspaper.
Harter replied that his policy is to cooperate with the media
but not rely on it. "It's very important to build
relationships [with media representatives] ... [but] I don't
believe any district should rely on a newspaper for its public
that, during a controversy last year over fire alarms in the
district where he currently is superintendent, the Fort Myers
newspaper had a series of front-page accounts about the issue
and pointedly added that, like the News Journal, it is a -part
of the Gannett chain.
90% of what the community believes comes [from] our own speaking
-- by parents and teachers," he said. He also advocated the
use of internal newsletters "to spread the word about our
coincidently, Brandywine's media-relations efforts might have
been unveiled at the session, which was hosted by Nancy
Karibjanian, anchor woman on the 'Delaware Tonight' news program
broadcast television station WHYY. It is considered unusual in
the profession for a news person to take on such a role in
an event directly related to a major public issue and especially
one involving or potentially involving controversy.
introducing Harter, Karibjanian said his addressing the public
face-to-face -- albeit a minute portion of the Brandywine School
District population -- "takes my business out of the
process." She added that she is "happy to know this
(selection of a superintendent) is a decision that is coming
from within the district."
has the expertise we all know about; now he's going to tell us
how his experience can fit with the Brandywine School
District," she said.
also stepped briefly into media relations when he chastised
Monique Brunsberg, a News Journal photographer for repeatedly
taking electronic flash photographs during his presentation. She
complied immediately with his order to stop.
the parent reaction sessions, one participant said approvingly,
"That shows he's not going to take any guff."
points that Harter made during his talk and the
academic standards -- State standards "aren't specific
enough to show up in the classroom." It is necessary
not only to adopt local standards but also to see to it that
"they are visible in the classroom" and understood
by students and parents. "Teachers should teach to the
standards and other teachers should evaluate them."
testing -- "Once a year testing isn't sufficient. ...
People think that the state test is the only assessment [of
student performance]; teachers have to make assessments
local control -- "If schools are going to be held
accountable, we have to give them discretionary authority to
put their programs together and make them work."
expanding Brandywine's 'gifted'-student program -- "I
favor designing programs so that every student is
challenged; the last thing I want to hear is that any child
is unchallenged." Specifically, he would be
willing to consider a self-contained 'gifted' program for
middle- and high school students. "But I am reluctant
to say that is the only way."
reading -- "We should set a goal that every child is
reading [at grade level] by the end of the third grade and
do whatever is necessary to reach it."
class size -- "It really depends on students in the
class and the subject matter taught. We don't have enough
money or school space to have every class the size that
teachers would like."
parental involvement -- "We have to make a concerted
effort to make parents want to come in and to give them
[volunteer] work that is meaningful when they do." He
added that it is necessary to overcome reluctance to
participate by parents who had unpleasant or unsuccessful
experiences with school when they were young.
budget cuts -- "We have to work hard to make sure there
is an adequate level of funding." In the event cuts
have to be made, "schools should be empowered to give
maximum benefits to students with the resources they have [available
to them] and then [we should] support them in what they
decide." Specifically, if Brandywine should not secure
a higher ceiling on operating tax in the anticipated
referendum, cutbacks should be individualized by school.
"A bludgeon approach is one that never works."
'alternative' schools -- "'Alternative education'
programs are essential. ... They should be [staffed with]
teachers willing to work with them (students) around the
challenges they have in their lives rather than beat them
said that a major goal if he comes to Brandywine will be to
significantly close the 'achievement gap' between
African-American and Caucasian students. He said that his
initial analysis of Delaware state testing results indicates
that Brandywine has made progress in narrowing it at the
third-grade level but has much to accomplish, particularly at
the high school level.
noted that, in the early 1990s, much of the blame for the United
States's sagging economy vis-à-vis Japan and other nations was
placed on failure of teachers and the education system to keep
pace. Later in the decade, when the situation was reversed
"I didn't hear anyone come forward and blame the booming
economy on educators," he quipped.