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Local: Education

Fairfax seeks Montgomery County's help in superintendent search

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Local,Maryland,Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner

Both are among the nation's best for graduation rates, SAT scores and college-level coursework -- and both have more students than Alexandria has citizens.

So it's not uncommon for Fairfax County's and Montgomery County's public school systems to be deemed rivals, as businesses looking to move to the Washington area factor the schools into their decision making.

But the districts are also resources for each other. On Monday, the Montgomery County school board is slated to visit with Fairfax County's board to advise it on the selection of Fairfax's next superintendent.

Superintendent Jack Dale, appointed in 2004, announced this fall that the 2013-2014 school year will be his last.

"My board has eight members [of 12] who have not done this before, and they have a lot of questions," said Jane Strauss, chairwoman of the Fairfax County School Board, noting that six members were elected in the fall. "Hiring a superintendent is probably the most important thing a school board does, so I figured I would call Pat."

Montgomery school board member Pat O'Neill was president when her team started the search that resulted in Superintendent Joshua Starr; she also served on the 1999 board that chose Starr's predecessor, Jerry Weast.

O'Neill told The Washington Examiner that she will stress the importance of keeping mum.

"One bit of advice is that as much as you can keep the process confidential, it ensures a greater pool of candidates," she said. "In all likelihood, someone applying for the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendency is a sitting superintendent, and they don't want their legs cut out from them in their current job."

But O'Neill -- with the board president, vice president and chief of staff -- also plans to tell Fairfax to study Virginia's transparency statutes.

In July, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that Montgomery's superintendent search violated open-meetings laws, saying the board should have met in public when it created a citizens committee to interview candidates.

"I'm not up in what's required in state of Virginia, but they need to dot every 'i' and cross every 't,' " O'Neill said.

Megan McLaughlin, Fairfax's newly elected Braddock District representative, said she's leaning toward a superintendent with experience leading a very large district, and wants to learn more about Montgomery's selection of Starr, who previously oversaw a system one-tenth of Montgomery's size.

"I'm an identical twin, and I constantly refer to Montgomery County as Fairfax County's twin," McLaughlin said. "We can learn so much from each other."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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