Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On Hearing Today of Jerry Weast’s Retirement Plans…

By Steve Simon.

As my former boss, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast, announces his retirement today, I will say… there are all kinds of leaders. Most people recognize that he has been anything but “lukewarm” in his leadership style and sometimes, as a result, he comes off as brash and uncompromising. And sometimes he is. Yes, the threat of “suing the county” to secure the school system’s funding this year was one example!

But – is he a visionary and a passionate educator? Absolutely. Has he been innovative and effective in successfully leading a school district through a massive sea change in student demographics? You bet. Does he work hard? Every day. Does he care about the kids? Most definitely, he does.

One of my most pleasing moments during a short career at MCPS was to see the Wall Street Journal showcase the school system, on page A1, as a system that used a “data-driven” approach to improve academic outcomes for students and close the achievement gap.

Does Dr. Weast deserve credit for leading that successful approach, for more than a decade? Once again, the answer is “yes.” All the credit? Of course not, and he recognizes that, always reminding “the troops” that success in the classroom starts with a great teacher, but depends on a great administrative team, support staff, the building maintenance team, and on and on.

As one who had a chance to witness his leadership style up close, I will say this: some of us may only occasionally get a front-row seat to observe a high-octane, high-performing, and yet, at times, hard-nosed CEO of a $2 billion-plus, 142,000-student, 22,000-employee operation in action. I did, in the case of Dr. Weast, and I feel fortunate for having had the experience.

A lot will be said about the guy between now and next June, but, from my vantage point, all of the things I have noted are true. Much more will be said and should be said about what brand of leader will be needed at a new point in Montgomery County history, from that when Jerry Weast entered the scene in what was still the 20th century! All of a sudden, the upcoming Board of Education elections seem more important than ever, don’t they?

But for today, at this time, I hope even his most persistent detractors – and bloggers – might pause at least briefly and recognize that it’s time to simply say: “Thank you, Dr. Weast. Good luck and enjoy what life has in store for you next.”

-- Steve Simon, owner of Simon Public Relations, LLC, is the former public information director for Montgomery County Public Schools.