Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston discussed his 12-year tenure on Friday and hinted that unnamed critics of his administration may have been driven partially by racism.
"It's not about Joe Hairston," the superintendent said, referring to himself in the third person. "You have a superintendent who happens to be Joe Hairston who had enough insight and vision to understand what was needed here for our children. I'll take the hits and the sacrifice if our children are going to be successful.
"Anyone who wants to personalize that, they're the ones with issues and I think you need to address with them," he added. "I didn't create enemies, I mean I didn't declare enemies out there. I don't write newspaper articles. I don't attack people. I simply do my job."
The outgoing superintendent made his comments during a nearly one-hour news conference in which he discussed his decision to not seek a fourth four-year contract. Hairston publicly confirmed his intentions at a board of education meeting Tuesday, confirming a story first reported by Patch a week earlier.
Hairston has spent 43 years in education including 23 in the role of superintendent at various school systems including Baltimore County and Clayton County, GA, before that—a county he referred to as "segregationist community."
During his news conference at school headquarters Friday, Hairston said the public should not have been surprised about his decision because he discussed leaving in a 2010 Baltimore Sun article.
"This decision to move on and to retire didn't just happen based on an announcement recently," Hairston said Friday. "You'll see in your board packet, in an article last year, that I publicly stated that I did not intend to seek another term. I didn't ask for another term—that's a four-year term. There's no such thing as a renewal or extension of a contract. The board would be in an illegal status to try and give me a partial contract or a two year contract."
The article, dated March 24, 2010, contains only a paraphrase of Hairston saying "he's unlikely to seek another term when his contract is up in two years."
In the end, he said, the announcement had been in the works since last year. He chose Tuesday because it was the same day as a scheduled board meeting.
He said it came down to asking himself one question.
"I have to ask myself, what else is left in your life that you need to do," Hairston said. "There's not an awful lot of time left in life and there are no guarantees in life."
Those plans may not include a full retirement for Hairston, who will be 65 when his contract is up on June 30. He hinted at the possibility of entering some form of education consulting.
"I have some personal advisers, career advisers who take a personal interest in Joe Hairston that goes back to my days at Virginia Tech," he said. "Actually, they advised me to leave six years ago. They know there are opportunities for experienced superintendents. We know the face of education, the entire business of schooling in America is changing. There are as many alternatives to traditional education now than ever before ... There will be a need for someone to train and prepare for the next wave of leadership in education. Opportunities are out there."
Hairston spoke about unnamed critics who he said have complained about his policies and work over the last decade.
"Those people who were knocking everything, you need to go to them and hold them accountable and ask them for evidence," Hairston said. "I have evidence of everything I am saying and can be supported. What they are talking about is how they feel. They’re two different things.
"I'm pretty much a down to earth guy. I work hard. I think that tends to rub people the wrong way. It's not that I ignore them but I am focused on what I have to accomplish on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore County and that's with children not adults with their own attitudes and personalities."
Legislators have complained that Hairston is difficult to work with and some times unresponsive to their concerns. Teachers and education activists have criticized Hairston over the controversial grade and achievement-tracking program commonly known as AIM. Others have raised concerns about the appropriateness of increasing the number of administrative staff, including a new deputy superintendent who is paid $214,000 while 200 teaching positions were being eliminated.
When asked if there was any specific criticism that he felt was unfair, he replied:
"Just about everything you see in print," Hairston said, adding later that there were no criticisms he ever thought had merit or changed his way of doing anything.
The audience, made up mostly of school board members, school system employees and supporters of Hairston laughed.
Hairston said the personal attacks "aren't that unusual for me."
"Some times you try to take the high road and not react to it and then you hope it will go away and the next thing you know they hit you again and they just keep coming and coming," Hairston said, adding that he had a similar experience as superintendent in Georgia.
"I went through something very similar there because they spend more energy trying to discredit my presence and the purpose for me being there as much as acknowledging the fact that we were trying to get something done for children," Hairston said.
He added that the board that hired him to run the county school system "told me you're going to be dealing with the same kind of thing when you come to Baltimore County. Because we're dealing with change, we're dealing with cultural attitudes. The only difference is Baltimore County is much more sophisticated. Certainly more diverse."
When asked if he thought there was racism in Baltimore County he held up a copy of Antero Pieteila's book Not in My Neighborhood and exclaimed: "Chapters 14, 15 and 16. Read it. Are you reading this?"
Hairston said he leaves with his head high because of a long list of accomplishments. Listed among those are the highest graduation rate for African American males in school systems with at least 100,000 students; over 50 percent of county high schools are in the top seven percent in the country; and a technology partnership with Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
"Our students do not look at themselves as different," Hairston said. "They are all Baltimore County students and that is why we have been able to close the achievement gap."
Hairston said his core values enabled students and educators in the county to succeed.
"I model the human condition," Hairston said. "I have no enemies that I make. People want to make me their enemy because I am uncompromising in integrity. I am uncompromising in my core values. I am uncompromising in my personal commitment to serve the citizens of Baltimore County on behalf of the children."
When asked about recent reported dips in graduation and SAT rates along with a slight increase in the dropout rate, Hairston attributed those statistics to changes in reporting.
"Changing calculation, plain and simple," he said. "Nothing unique about that at all. The way it was calculated, the way we report it, the formula has changed."
He brushed off a reporter's attempts to challenge his assertion.
"You go to where you need to go to deal with that," he said, answering the last question of the news conference. "I'm not here to debate the issue."