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The Calvert County Board of Education unanimously voted to appoint Daniel Curry, 61, the new superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools at its meeting Thursday. Curry will begin his new position July 1.

At the meeting, Curry detailed a recent trip he took to Calvert County, and in an effort to “find out what was really going on,” he got his hair cut. When his hair dresser told him she and her husband moved their family to Calvert County for the school system, he knew he found a good place.

Curry was formerly the superintendent of Lake Forest School District in Felton, Del., since 2003. Originally from West Virginia, Curry served a total of 29 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent in that state before moving to Delaware. Curry was named Delaware Superintendent of the Year for 2011. He is past president of the Delaware Chief School Officers and presently serves on the Executive Committee of the American Association of School Administrators representing Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This is his 40th year in education.

The announcement comes after a more than six-month-long process searching nationwide for a permanent superintendent to replace Jack Smith, the county’s former superintendent who resigned from the school system last summer.

Nancy V. Highsmith, former principal of Patuxent High School, was hired as the school system’s interim superintendent and has been consistently praised for her leadership.

“The Calvert County Board of Education wishes to express its deepest appreciation and respect for Mrs. Highsmith and her outstanding work in leading the county’s crown jewel through incredibly difficult challenges in the past year,” the board expressed through a press release last month. “The county will forever be indebted to Mrs. Highsmith.”

Highsmith originally said she intended to be in the running for the full-time superintendent position and was strongly advocated for by some members of the board and community. In addition to verbal accolades made by Commissioner Pat Nutter (R), president of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, and Sheriff Mike Evans (R), an online petition was started last month and received 375 supporters to date.

Under Maryland law, a superintendent must hold a “superintendent’s certificate,” and the requirements for that certificate will not be waived by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery, who has the final say in approving any appointment of a Maryland school superintendent, before the July 1 start date, according to the release.

Though Highsmith will not continue as superintendent, she will stay on as acting director of Title IX compliance, a position that was somewhat created for her.

“We are thrilled because she has such a wonderful track record working on diversity issues at Patuxent High School, and that’s one of our model schools as far as engagement and trying to engage kids that are in the minority,” Dawn Balinski, board member, said. “We are hopeful that she can set us on the path toward closing the achievement gap and close the [minority] gap in our teaching force.”

Highsmith will also assist Curry to ensure a smooth transition by traveling to different schools with him and introducing him to teachers and staff, Balinski said.

At the meeting, Highsmith said she is “very excited about the new superintendent” and believes Calvert County Public Schools will “be in great shape” under his leadership.

Last year, the school board contracted the help of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to conduct the search. In January, MABE hosted two community forums to educate the public on the selection process and gather input to share with potential candidates. More than a dozen applications were reviewed, and last month, the candidate selection was narrowed down to three individuals: Diane Workman, the current assistant superintendent of operations; Deborah Munk, a consulting principal with Montgomery County Public Schools; and Curry. All three met with focus groups made up of local stakeholders, teachers, members from the Calvert Education Association (the union representing the county’s public school teachers), parents and students.

“My concerns were bringing someone from the outside into our county,” school board member Joe Chenelly said. “We have a very unique county with our small-town mindset countywide. … [Curry has] lived in and worked in communities like that.”

Chenelly saidt Curry has a “tremendous success” in closing achievement gaps of various types, “and that’s clearly a key goal for our entire school system.”

The board decided to raise the superintendent’s base salary — from $169,000 to $180,000 — and lessen the amount of “perks” that contribute to the total compensation package. After Smith’s contract was questioned by Chenelly and board vice president Kelly McConkey, Chenelly said the board wanted to be as transparent with the contract as possible and calculated that the maximum amount received from the contract could be $226,000.

Chenelly said Curry’s contract will be available on the CCPS website by July 1.

In addition to touting Curry as the most qualified candidate, in his opinion, Chenelly said he found Curry to also be “very down-to-earth” and believes he will fit in well in Calvert County.

“I am a West Virginia boy. However, my experience in rural Delaware tells me that you don’t have to have hills to have hillbillies … and I suspect there may be a few here,” Curry laughed as he addressed attendees at the board’s meeting. “… I’m really excited about the opportunities here in Calvert County.”

Curry said he is looking forward to working with teachers and principals to address the school system’s upcoming challenges, many of which are what Delaware also is facing, including Common Core State Standards, the new teacher evaluation model and new computer-based testing.

With a son in Washington, D.C., and a daughter in Raleigh, N.C., Curry said he is looking forward to living closer to his family. He is currently looking for a home in the county for himself and his Rottweiler shelter puppy, Lucy.

snewman@somdnews.com