County school officials are surprised and puzzled by the departure of state School Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling -- the man who spearheaded school reforms they now must implement.
While there was nothing but praise for the state leader, described as a good administrator who is well-respected by state legislators, county officials questioned Shilling's timing.
After rushing to implement the Maryland School Performance Program -- a state plan to revise school curriculums, make test scores and school information public through annual report cards, and more comprehensive testing programs -- Shilling's decision to return as school superintendent in his native Queen Anne's County may harm the alreadynarrowly supported plan, county officials said.
"The threat is there for setbacks, there is no question," School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton said. "There's nothing we can do. We'll have to wait and see who comes on board and get a handle on that person's views and style."
County teachers and administrators have been critical of the new state tests given last week. Complaints about the test includean exam style that does not correlate with curriculum, no makeups for absent students and directions that teachers were not able to see until administering the exam.
"The biggest problem is the speed of the reforms, which does not allow the local school systems to build the foundation before they put up the house," Lorton said. "We're forced tobuild the foundation and the house at the same time. Testing is being done before the adjustments are made."
Anne Arundel's school system fared poorly on the first state report card, issued in November. The county exceeded state standards in only two of eight areas -- elementary attendance and promotion rates for grades one through six.
The county did not meet standards on math, citizenship and writing exams given to ninth-graders, attendance for grades seven through 12 or the yearly dropout rate for grades nine through 12.
As part of the five-year reform plan, individual school information will be released for the first time, including test scores, attendance and demographic reviews. But despite the turmoil, Lorton says the reform plan isnot dependant upon Shilling.
"Those things transcend who the state superintendent is," he said. "The biggest challenge is to keep members of the state board of education on keel. To help them make decisions in the best interest of students and teachers."
But the president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County calls the movea signal that Shilling's heart was not in the plan.
"After the meeting I had with Joe Shilling in April, it was obvious he had concerns," Thomas Paolino said. "I think his resigning and willingness to take a $9,000 cut in pay shows he values his principles. My interpretation is that the state board of education refused to listen to his suggestions and, as an educational leader, he wasn't going to stay.
"He recommended that the testing be phased in over three years, and the state board and governor said they want it done in one year."
Paolino is among those hoping that the shake-up will force the state toslow implementation of the state performance program.
Many teachers and administrators wondered who would replace Shilling and questioned why he left one of the state's top-ranking jobs to head Queen Anne's school system -- one of the state's smallest, with only 5,400 students.
"My guess is the combination of professional demands and family obligation helped with his decision," Lorton said. "The job is very demanding. Possibly it took its toll and he felt compelled to make a career change."