- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This month marks one year on the job for new Prince George’s County Schools Superintendent John E. Deasy, whose work has created cautious optimism among teachers, parents and students of the troubled school system.

“There has been a resurrection of our school system,” said Warren Brown, president of the Prince George’s County Council of PTAs. “He just brings a hope that was not there before.”

In the past eight years, the 134,000-student system went through five superintendents or acting superintendents and has faced bickering among officials, the Maryland legislature disbanding its school board and test scores so low the state threatened to take over.

But since Mr. Deasy took the helm in May 2006, the high-energy superintendent has increased the number of highly qualified teachers, doubled the number of students taking algebra in eighth grade, put more books in school libraries and trained teachers to teach advanced-placement courses.

Mr. Deasy was previously superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California.

His plans for the next three years include establishing small-learning communities in schools, starting dozens of specialized schools, giving every high school a signature program and making sure every high school has at least eight advanced-placement courses by fall.

Mr. Deasy, 46, hopes the programs will help improve test scores, which last year were so bad Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick placed the school system, the second-largest in the state, on restriction. She could have mandated a state takeover, but decided otherwise after hearing Mr. Deasy’s improvement plan. At least 83 of the county’s 205 schools also failed to meet federal requirements last year and were placed in “school improvement” mode.

“I believe we can do it,” Mr. Deasy said. “I believe we have to do it.”

However, some school board members are concerned about the county not having the money to fund such ambitious programs over the long term, which would result in the instability that has plagued the school system.

Verjeana M. Jacobs, the school board’s vice chairwoman, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Deasy’s proposals would meet the diverse needs of county students and bring much-needed improvement and stability to county schools.

“If we are proactive and not afraid to take some leaps and bounds, we will see some improvement,” she said.

The school board, elected in November, is the first elected board since the General Assembly dissolved it in 2002 and appointed a new one in response to the board’s persistent bickering. During that time, the superintendent’s position was called chief executive officer.

Iris T. Metts served as superintendent, then chief executive officer, for four years until she resigned in 2003. Her relationship with the board was strained — they publicly squabbled, with board members often accusing her of hiding information.

She was succeeded by Andre J. Hornsby, who resigned in 2005 amid accusations he awarded a $1 million contract to the company that employed his live-in girlfriend. The FBI indicted Mr. Hornsby in a corruption case that charged he accepted kickbacks for the contract and a consulting contract he steered to an associate.

The lack of consistency in leadership has adversely affected students, said Carol Kilby, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association. She said it appeared Mr. Deasy was prepared to stop that trend and “stick around” for a while.

“Kids in the system now may have had three or four different styles imposed on them, and that of course has not been good,” she said. “Consistency is going to be very important — that children know what to expect.”

So far, she said, teachers have been pleased with the new superintendent. She said she believes in Mr. Deasy’s philosophy in general but could not comment on his specific initiatives because the union has yet to get them.

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