Monday, May 15, 2006

Why the superintendent has to have it his way

While corruption could be driving some of the apparently irrational MCPS school construction policies, a look at the record shows much of the problem could just be the superintendent's own personality.

Jerry Weast is certainly a hard-charging, effects-minded superintendent, but a 1999 Washington Post profile shows him also to be a vain, controlling technocrat who insisted that people call him "Dr."

"His loyal followers use words like focused, intense, hard-working, even brilliant to describe him. Controlling. Confident, with a touch of gall. A technophile. They echo the slogans Weast has come up with for the system and himself: 'Achievement Up. Costs Down.' 'Children First.' 'The superintendent is a teacher on special assignment.'

"But to his critics, Weast is a self-promoter who can't be trusted. An egotist who looks good on paper and tears around town, car phone in hand, in a big black Infiniti QX4 sport utility vehicle. A man so driven to weed out incompetent teachers that he spent nearly a half-million dollars one year on a law firm to document problems, then interrogate teachers for hours in the central office. Sixty-five later resigned or were fired.

"'I'm not saying he's incompetent,' said one elementary school teacher who asked not to be named. 'But he's slick, slick, slick, slick, slick.'

". . . Not a hair is out of place. His maroon penny loafers are polished. His cell phone and beeper chirp constantly. And his folksy, corn-pone style masks an iron resolve and a single-minded focus on numbers, spreadsheets and the unbending stories they tell. . . .

"'When we hired Jerry, we knew we were only a steppingstone for his career,' recalled Claudia Steen, then the school board chair. 'The moment you talk to Dr. Weast, you know that -- he has big plans.'

"And there, too, Weast did not fare well with teachers. 'He insisted that you call him '"Dr. Weast,"' . . ."