Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Hard to believe that Prince George’s County schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts finds herself in the middle of such a mindless mess.
When the renowned educator was spirited away from Delaware nearly three years ago, she was greated with such warm wishes and high hopes from county officials and parents that the wild weekend she just weathered would have been unimaginable.
At that time, folks lined up just to get a glimpse of Mrs. Metts. Parents and children showered her with flowers and gifts. Businesses bestowed her with checks for the troubled school system, where the vast majority of its 133,000 students were performing so badly that their schools were threatened with a state takeover.
I vividly remember the lovefest held at the Collington Life Center in Mitchellville, where 400 people jammed into a humid room to gush over Mrs. Metts.
Major Riddick, chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said “there’s a lot of love, a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope” for the new superintendent, who “has her pulse on the future.”
Some future. Mrs. Metts’ days are numbered, judges and state legislators notwithstanding. It’s no longer a matter of if she goes, but when.
In the beginning, Mrs Metts said, “I’ve never taken a job where I had this kind of outpouring of support.” Now she is saying, “I’ve never been fired before.”
What to make of this mindless mess? Who could accomplish anything under such cantankerous conditions? Such shame.
At that same welcoming ceremony, it was sage county school board member Dorothy Bailey who said Mrs. Metts “needs to figure out how to use the help [and well wishes] right now, before she makes everybody mad.”
Well, maybe everybody isn’t mad, but everybody’s definitely in an uproar. Meanwhile, standardized test scores that showed a modest increase early in Mrs. Metts’ watch are declining again.
Last week, the school board fired Mrs. Metts, even though she offered to resign. She spent the weekend in court and church trying to keep her job. She was even threatened with being locked out of her office.
To say the relationship between Mrs. Metts and the county school board or more specifically, board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson is playing out like a bad marriage is an understatement. But who can resist addressing the more pertinent issue: What happens to the children?
It just ought not be this way. Can grown people get along and remember that the lives and futures of thousands of children hang on their care?
The only productive and prudent statement that has been uttered in the middle of this mess came from school board member Jo Ann Bell. Although she is not a Metts supporter, she said everybody needs to “take a deep breath, sit down, find out what the law is, find out what is best for the children and compromise.”
Bingo compromise.
While this particular school board leaves a lot to be desired, I would never advocate the takeover or dismantling of any elected body. As we learned from the D.C. school system and those in neighboring Virginia, the governance structure of this body is not the primary issue. Management is.
Too often disagreements between school boards and superintendents arise when personality conflicts overshadow the oath each has taken to provide the best public education possible for the children. Too often, school board members forget that they are elected to set policy, not micromanage.
Personality is clearly at fault here.
As state educators and lawmakers come together to sort out this mess, just remember that Maryland is unlike the District, where the school board was taken over by unelected members who are not accountable to voters.
Which brings me to the most important point: Regardless of whether Mrs. Metts stays or the school board goes, county parents are ultimately responsible for this mess.
You elected the board who hired the superintendent, and it’s up to you to fire them all if they continue to create such miserable messes that have more to do with your children’s future than that of a few feuding adults.
Adrienne T. Washington’s e-mail is atwashin@aol.com.

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