- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The final candidate for running Prince George’s County public schools said yesterday that he could provide the “intensive care” needed to improve learning at some of the system’s 199 schools and that he was eager to try.

“The attraction for me, quite frankly, is the challenge of the job,” said W.L. “Tony” Sawyer, superintendent of the Topeka Public Schools in Kansas for the past three years. “I tend to be a person who looks at challenges as something worth taking a stab at.”

Mr. Sawyer, 53, acknowledged that the Topeka school district has fewer than 14,000 students, but said his experience running Manhattan high schools in New York City was good preparation for working in the Prince George’s system, with 133,000 students.

“In terms of scope and size, I’ve served in a very large district,” he said. “But I’ve also had the advantage of working in small school settings.”

The Prince George’s school system is the second-largest in Maryland, behind Montgomery County’s, but second to last in test scores, outperforming only Baltimore City.

The county’s school board Monday presented John Deasy, 45, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California. The district has roughly 13,000 students in 19 schools.

The board Tuesday presented Marcia V. Lyles, 57, who has served almost 30 years in New York City public schools, including the past two as a regional superintendent. Her region serves 80,000 students and includes 150 schools, including some in Brooklyn, in which 80 percent of the students are minorities.

Howard Stone, the board’s vice chairman, said board members will select the school system’s new chief executive officer later this month.

The board is announcing candidates individually because of the sensitivity of the search for a replacement to Andre J. Hornsby. Mr. Hornsby resigned in May, halfway through his four-year contract and amid an FBI investigation into accusations that he inappropriately awarded a $1 million contract for classroom equipment to a company that employed his live-in female friend. Mr. Hornsby has not been charged with a crime, and the school system’s ethics panel cleared him of wrongdoing.

Mr. Sawyer, who makes $159,000 a year, said he turned down two performance bonuses in Topeka because the district was in financial trouble.

The Prince George’s County job pays $250,000 a year, said schools spokesman John White.

Mr. Sawyer said 52 percent of Topeka students are minorities and that he would welcome working in the culturally diverse Prince George’s system.

Mr. Sawyer graduated in 1974 from Queens College in New York. He earned a master’s degree in education administration at Hofstra University in New York and recently received his doctorate degree from Kansas State University.

He said his close relationships with parents in his district helped him win the 2002 United Parents Association Parent Empowerment Award and that he would continue such efforts in Prince George’s County.

“I have an open-door policy,” Mr. Sawyer said. “If you are patient enough, I will meet with everyone. You cannot make a decision without talking to everyone.”

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