Grasmick poised to lead reform Well-liked: At a time when state school chiefs are coming and going, Maryland's superintendent enjoys loyalty.

Education Beat

October 01, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

NANCY S. GRASMICK is riding so high these days that educators and journalists from other states are calling friends in Maryland and asking, "How'd she do it?"

Indeed, the state school superintendent has performed a difficult political maneuver. Half of the nation's state school chiefs have left office in the past year, but Dr. Grasmick has made a successful leap from the excellent graces of Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the good graces of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. She has won a four-year extension of her contract -- and has made peace with former enemies such as the Maryland State Teachers Association.

So almost nobody doesn't like Nancy Grasmick, and this bodes well for the school reform plan launched even before her first term began more than three years ago. When state school chiefs are kicked out or voted out, their plans usually go with them. That won't happen in Maryland, and if Mr. Glendening wins a second term, his school superintendent should have 12 years to prove the worth of the Maryland School Performance Program. That's a wonderful luxury, one that should please those who complain that careful school reform and accurate assessment of the results require many more years than most politicians want to give it.

Dr. Grasmick, 56, routinely works 12-hour days. She was interviewed early one morning last week.

What is your reaction to the city's filing of a suit challenging the constitutionality of the state school finance formula?

It's ill-timed. It's insensitive to the feelings of citizens and members of the General Assembly. It's my clear reading from the General Assembly particularly that there won't be additional [state] contributions without strong accountability on the part of the city. I don't understand the move politically. The backlash from the filing of the suit is escalating.

How are things going with the special education suit in Baltimore City?

You know, as state superintendent I'm a defendant in three suits now: this one, the city school finance suit and the American Civil Liberties Union [school finance] suit. But in the special education suit, I sit on a management oversight team.

We haven't tinkered around the edges. We've been digging into the system. We're making some progress, and we're finding that it's hard to segregate special education from regular education. I don't see a conclusion to this case in the next several months. Perhaps in a year or so.

Maryland is the only state that makes community service a requirement for graduation. How is the program working?

It took time to get it going. There was a lot of opposition initially. But if you go out to Allegany County, for example, you'll see that the opposition has turned around. We call it service learning, and at a time when many families don't model giving back to the community what you've taken out, I think Maryland is on to something. Some kids are making career choices based on the experience. They're saying, "I never knew anything about working with the elderly until I had this experience. Now I know what I want to do with my life."

Where are the best public schools in Maryland?

I won't name a specific school. I'll name an area. You want to visit a Frederick County, a Carroll County or a Harford County. In Harford, expenditures are low, and they're getting a lot of bang for the buck.

Isn't classroom crowding becoming a major problem in Maryland again?

Yes, it is. I was at a school in New Market this week that is 500 to 600 over capacity, and that's not uncommon in Frederick and the other fast-growing counties. But I have to tell you that when there's a dedication to learning, the crowding doesn't seem to matter that much. I saw schools in Taiwan that were so crowded that students had to play instruments in their laps, but they were serious about learning. They were motivated.

What's next in Maryland school reform? Now that you're riding high for another term, will there be an initiative we don't know about?

You know about it. It's high school assessment [a new effort to require students to pass high school exit examinations in the major subjects before they can graduate]. It's a huge program, very significant, very sensitive because we're now going to judge students, not schools. In Maryland, a high school diploma is a property right. We have to be very careful here because we're dealing with something that ultimately might keep students from graduating. We need to have good professional development to make sure all teachers are prepared, and we need to track students carefully so we can intervene if they're bTC not doing well.

UM School of Education honors 75 graduates

Seventy-five graduates of the University of Maryland College of Education received awards Friday at the school's 75th anniversary celebration in College Park. Many are still in education; some retired from principalships and superintendencies. Three are retired college presidents.

But a few are no longer directly associated with education: Rep. William Goodling of Pennsylvania; Peter Bay, an orchestra conductor; Morris Tischler, who invented the heart pacemaker; and Alma Lee Gildenhorn, a prominent Washingtonian and chair

of the board of the Kennedy Center.

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