School & District Management

Into the Fray

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 20, 2006 2 min read
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Historic First

Position: Superintendent, Prince George’s County, Md., public schools, since May

Previous job: Superintendent, Santa Monica-Malibu, Calif., school district

Prince George’s County, MD: John E. Deasy has moved from Malibu, Calif., to the suburban Washington district, where more than one-third of the schools have been rated as needing improvement.
—Photos by Christopher Powers/Education Week

Prince George's County, MD: John E. Deasy has moved from Malibu, Calif., to the suburban Washington district, where more than one-third of the schools have been rated as needing improvement.

Broad Superintendents Academy, 2006

Four days before starting the biggest job of his career, John E. Deasy was remarkably at ease. He had moved from Southern California to suburban Washington, begun unpacking boxes in his new house, and now, he had just taken an Amtrak train to Philadelphia.

Mr. Deasy, the new chief executive officer of the Prince George’s County, Md., schools, was eager to hunker down for a four-day session of the Broad Academy last month in Philadelphia to study and debate different management strategies for urban school systems.

“It is a very powerful thing for me to be part of this as I transition into this new job,” he said during a meal break.

For one thing, Mr. Deasy said, his Broad contacts were providing priceless advice. Arlene Ackerman, his executive coach and a former superintendent in San Francisco and the District of Columbia, was within arm’s reach all weekend.

Although he’s an experienced schools chief, Mr. Deasy, 46, has taken over a district more than 10 times bigger than the 12,500-student Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where he was the superintendent for the past five years.

Mr. Deasy, who is white, is also mindful that three-quarters of Prince George’s 133,000 students are African-American, and that a rapidly growing number are Latino. “I am determined to make this district a place where student achievement is at the highest levels, regardless of race and economic levels,” he said.

That sort of talk won over Prince George’s County school board members, who unanimously selected Mr. Deasy over two African-American finalists with more experience in urban districts—including Marcia V. Lyles, a regional superintendent of schools in New York City and one of Mr. Deasy’s Broad classmates.

Mr. Deasy must move forward with plans to boost test scores, lift graduation rates, and expand Advanced Placement courses in high schools without knowing who will be on the school board next year. (After four years of an all-appointed board, voters in the suburban county, just outside Washington, will elect the panel this coming November.)

A top priority: raising test scores at the more than 70 of the district’s 199 schools that have been rated in need of academic improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Into the Fray

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