- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Superintendent Jack Smith will be resigning from office effective in August, the Calvert County Board of Education announced Wednesday.
An interim superintendent will be named, and the board will begin a search for a permanent replacement for Smith, who has served in the role for seven years.
Smith will be leaving just after the last year of his second four-year contract as superintendent begins. Last year, Smith spoke with the board about the possibility of beginning a third four-year contract. But after telling the school board he probably would not be interested in a third term, Smith said, he and the board agreed to add a clause to his contract stating he could be released at this time.
Smith said this week this is a decision he has thought about for many months and decided to wait until after the school year and graduations were finished to make the announcement. He said this gives him flexibility to pursue other opportunities and gives the board time to find a new superintendent.
The resignation announcement comes during a time where the school system has been under public scrutiny. Earlier this year, Northern High School came under fire when a teacher’s contract was not renewed for next year. Funding for the athletics department and the administration of former Northern High School principal, Sylvia Lawson, were questioned. Parents and students raised the issues during board of education meetings.
Lawson has since taken a position with Charles County Public Schools in the administrative office as the assistant superintendent of school administration.
At the end of May, the school system garnered national attention after a Dowell Elementary School kindergartner was initially suspended for 10 days for bringing a toy cap gun on his school bus. The suspension was later reduced to three days.
In addition, the fiscal 2014 budget includes $2.8 million less than last year, and new teacher observations and evaluations will take effect this coming school year.
However, Smith said these events did not impact his decision to announce his resignation.
“There are always favorable and unfavorable events when you have 16,400 students, 2,200 employees and 90,000 residents in the county,” said Smith during an interview Wednesday. “To connect any particular issue or set of issues at this moment, for my choice to pursue other interests, would be inaccurate.”
Debbie Russ, president of the Calvert Education Association, the union representing Calvert’s public school teachers, said she was surprised by Smith’s announcement to resign.
“My concern is for the teachers … that the interim superintendent is someone who is familiar with the local model we’ve worked on together for the new observations and evaluations that’s taking place this school year,” Russ said.
“Dr. Smith has taken a lead role in the development of the teacher evaluation system, which is tied to student performance and is a large component of the national educational reform movement known as ‘Race to the Top,’” Eugene Karol, president of the school board, said in a statement announcing the resignation.
Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said she was also surprised at the timing of the resignation, but commended his work in the county.
“I can say that I think he’s been an excellent superintendent of schools,” Shaw said. “He has taken the school system to the next level. He’s been very responsive to community needs and issues and things going on in the community.”
“It will be difficult to find someone to replace him in these difficult times,” school board member Joe Chenelly said. “We have a daunting challenge ahead of us.”
Smith said his greatest accomplishment during his span as superintendent was not achieved alone. He said he is proud the Calvert County public school system, as a whole, has continued to raise achievement levels and increased the graduation rate to more than 90 percent. Smith said the most important role of the school system is to make sure all students are well prepared for college, the workforce and life.
“I’m grateful for the dedication he’s shown our children and schools,” Chenelly said.
Smith also said he is proud of the physical condition and construction progress of the schools. Calvert Middle and Calvert High have both been replaced and Northern High School is on the drawing board. Smith said clean, safe and orderly schools are essential. He said he is also proud of the board’s positive relationship with county government.
“From the perspective of being a county commissioner, he’s been very good to work with,” Shaw said. She said Smith “understood budgetary concerns the county has had to deal with.”
The biggest challenges he has faced as superintendent include the fiscal situation and school safety, Smith said.
“Columbine changed the direction of everything,” he said, referring to the 1999 school shooting in Colorado.
After the more recent Newtown, Conn., and Boston Marathon tragedies, a new state law mandates that school systems evaluate their school crisis plans and submit that evaluation to the Maryland State Department of Education, said Kim Roof, executive director of administration, at the June 13 board of education meeting.
The state is mandating six new safety drills in addition to the 10 fire drills already required of each school annually, Roof said.
“The most important thing we do is make sure [the students] learn and grow and develop, and keep them safe,” Smith said Wednesday.
“The fiscal situation has been a big challenge since 2009,” Smith said of the other major issue with which he’s struggled as superintendent. “That’s been a challenge for everyone.”
The $2.8 million extra that was in the budget last year was transferred from the previous year, due to factors such as fewer snow days, according to Chenelly.
Smith spent the first 20 years of his career in Washington State and Tokyo, according to the statement announcing his resignation. After moving to Calvert County, he served as a curriculum director and principal until being appointed deputy superintendent in 2003. He held that position until becoming superintendent in 2006.
In a letter to staff, Smith said he will be sad to leave a great organization and called for improvements to continue.
“One of my favorite expressions is, ‘You don’t need to be sick to get better,’” Smith said. “Calvert County is not broken. It’s a very good school system. But you don’t have to be sick to get better.”
Smith said it’s reasonable to say, given that Maryland is often ranked No. 1 in education, and Calvert County has among the highest academic metrics in many areas within the state, Calvert’s public school system is high up on the list for one of the best school systems in the country.
He said Wednesday he plans to take advantage of other opportunities when he resigns, and spend more time with his family.
Staff writer Amanda Scott contributed to this report.