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January 13, 2006

UPDATE (1-15-06): Bruce Harter apparently was eliminated by the Christina school board from consideration for the  superintendency. A district spokesperson did not respond to a Delaforum request for confirmation and comment.

 

Professional challenge rather than any dissatisfaction with the Brandywine School District motivated him to seek to be superintendent in the Christina district, Bruce Harter told a pair of meet-the-applicant sessions.

"I see it as an opportunity to take a school system that has done well and see that it is the leading district not only in Delaware but [also] in the region," he said.

"I see Christina as a unique challenge, a unique opportunity," he said. "I have a lot more years to work and I want to stay in Delaware." He is 57.

Harter is one of four finalists for the job which is expected to be filled when the Christina school board meets in special session before the end of January. The vacancy occurred when the former superintendent, Joseph Wise, left on short notice to take a position out of state.

Of the four, Harter is the only Delaware resident and the only one with experience as a superintendent. He has been superintendent in Brandywine since 2001. Before that, he held the top post in Lee County (Fla.) School District for four years and in Corvallis (Ore.) School District for five years.

The other finalists are: William Hite, area assistant superintendent in the Cobb County (Ga.) School District; Lillian Lowery, assistant superintendent of Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools; and Barbara McGann, assistant superintendent of human resources for Boston Public Schools.

"The [Brandywine] school board is interested in having me stay in Brandywine," Harter said in response to a question at one of the Christina meetings on Jan. 12.  On the other hand, he said, Brandywine "has a succession plan in place, a stable central office and a highly skilled assistant superintendent." Tammy Davis is the assistant superintendent.

Christina is the largest of the state's 19 public school districts. It has just shy of 20,000 students in 24 schools and a $241.9 million operating budget, compared to Brandywine's 10,600 students in 17 schools and  $115.8 million budget. Brandywine ranks third in size, behind Red Clay.

Harter said if he gets the job he would not come to Christina with a pre-set agenda nor does he "have any specific programs I want to bring here."

"What I don't bring is the arrogance to think I know it all -- that I know all what this district needs," he said.

Some of the questioning was unusually sharp for such meetings.

An attender at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School, for instance, noted that his resume listed 11 positions in his 35-year career and asked, "Are you going to move out of here quickly?" Harter responded, "I am intending to stay." He added that "there were personal and professional reasons for each of those moves."

Pressed at Bancroft Academy on his response to the so-called 'achievement gap', he replied: "The fundamental issue we have to address is race. ... We have not been willing to deal with that. ... Until we begin to acknowledge that is the case, we are not going to be able to solve the 'achievement gap'."

"We thought by giving [equal] opportunity, we were meeting a standard of equity. What's needed is equity of results," he said.

He said the fundamental challenge educators face "is all about the level of student learning."

"When I started teaching if some kids didn't get it, it was okay. We just moved them along," he said. Nowadays the effort is "high academic standards [and] high expectation for all kids."

Along with allocating the necessary resources and devoting sufficient time and effort to the task, the key is firm teacher commitment backed by professional development and supportive monitoring, he said. "We need teachers who not only have the skills but [also] the inclination."

He said an unacceptably large portion of local high school graduates enrolling at Delaware Technical & Community College require remedial work. "We have to prepare all kids for post-secondary education. They have to be able to get into post-secondary education and stay there," he said.

Acknowledging that schools serving high-poverty populations "are a tremendous challenge," he cited the accomplishments at Edison and East Side charter schools in Wilmington as examples of what can be done.

"With very few exceptions, kids are able to meet those levels," he said.

2006. All rights reserved.

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