Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione is expected to announce today that he will retire at the end of the coming academic year as head of the nation's 25th largest school system.
The retirement of the 67-year-old veteran educator would set off a nationwide search for a replacement that could take months. Several of the county's top education administrators could compete with outside candidates for the $128,750-a-year job.
School officials and others expect an announcement to come today at an annual meeting of district administrators, ending months of speculation about Marchione, who rose from a Baltimore County math teacher to top administrator.
"It was clear to the board that Tony would retire even though he made no programmatic recommendations which seemed to anticipate his departure," said Robert F. Dashiell, a former school board member whose term ended this month.
Marchione's four-year term as head of the 106,000-student system expires in June. School board members, acting on the assumption that he wouldn't seek a second term, recently sent out query letters to headhunter firms.
During an interview with The Sun this week, Marchione declined to comment specifically about his plans. But he said, "Legally, I don't have to say anything until June 30, but I want to be helpful."
School system officials say he is likely to use his state-of-the-schools address at Loch Raven High School to announce his retirement, which could have wide-ranging impact on thousands of teachers, principals and students.
"It is my chance to set the stage for the new year," Marchione said this week about the address.
Marchione's decision to retire could set off an exodus of senior administrators and experienced teachers who might chose early retirement rather than risk a rocky transition under the next superintendent, school officials said.
Another concern is that Marchione's wife, Mary Jacqe Marchione, who is in charge of the school system's professional development department, which trains new teachers, could leave with him, creating another key vacancy.
"There's a lot of anxiety out there," said a senior administrator who asked to remain anonymous. "It's going to be an interesting time."
Marchione has been at the helm of the school system since August 1995, when he took over as interim superintendent after former Superintendent Stuart Berger was fired by county officials and offered a $300,000 buyout.
In March 1996, school board members appointed Marchione superintendent, despite charges from black community groups and the county NAACP that he was part of a system that didn't care about minority student achievement. The board's only two black members voted against his appointment.
From day one, he grappled with tough issues, ranging from air quality problems at Deer Park Elementary School to the much-criticized expulsion of an honor student for carrying pepper spray for protection.
Later in his tenure as superintendent, top county officials criticized Marchione for failing to replace key personnel in the facilities department, which is in charge of school repair and construction. An audit by the county spotlighted contract violations by that department.
But Marchione, whom supporters call a quiet diplomat, had his share of successes as well.
Shortly after his appointment, he established a teacher mentor program to encourage experienced teachers to work at elementary schools staffed with rookie teachers, who often end up teaching in communities with high poverty and a high proportion of black students.
He also shifted the county schools to a phonics-based reading program, which has helped produce an upswing in reading scores. Test results released by the county Wednesday showed a upward trend in reading scores by first- and second-graders since 1997.
Those test results also showed that the gap between the reading scores of black and white students has been cut in half since 1997.
During an interview this week, Marchione talked enthusiastically about his goals for the system's 161 schools, including improved scores from black students in reading and math, a continued focus on special education and better pay for teachers.
"What I am not about is keeping things calm," he said, taking a swipe at critics who say he has tried too hard to maintain the status quo. "What I am about is student achievement and having a results-oriented system."
Marchione has worked in the school system for about 40 years. His career includes stints as a math teacher, middle and high school principal, director of staff and community relations and deputy superintendent.