Sondheim to resign post as president of state school board

Respected civic leader, 91, will remain on panel

January 25, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Walter Sondheim, a guiding force of Maryland education reform, will step down today as president of the state school board.

The 91-year-old Sondheim said he will remain on the board but believes that today's meeting is the proper occasion on which to turn over leadership -- most likely to the board's vice president, Edward Andrews.

"The time has come for me to do it," said Sondheim, who reluctantly accepted election to the board presidency in 1998 and was re-elected to the one-year post last summer.

In a letter to the 11 board members, the self-effacing civic leader wrote that he fears his leadership skills are slipping.

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she "completely and vehemently" disagrees with Sondheim's assessment of his skills. "I think that his leadership will be really missed because he is a remarkable and talented man, extraordinary in every sense of the word," Grasmick said. "I am excited that he will remain on the board."

Other board members said Sondheim is as sharp as ever while leading the monthly, 1 1/2-day state board meetings and attending a variety of educational events statewide. "He's an amazing guy, and we treat him as if he's 60," Andrews said.

Sondheim's school board experience dates more than half a century to his tenure on the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. After the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, he led the way toward integration of the city school system.

He also is a father of today's state education reform. In 1989, he was chairman of the Governor's Commission on School Performance, the group that produced what has come to be known as the Sondheim Report -- the blueprint for today's state testing program and efforts to improve learning and instruction.

Outside education circles, Sondheim is well-known as a civic leader in Baltimore, at the forefront of bringing business and government together. In the late 1960s, he was a key figure in the development of Charles Center.

Sondheim's expected replacement, Andrews, is a professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park and former superintendent of Montgomery County schools.

It's not clear who will be elected vice president of the board today -- a position likely to lead to the presidency of the board this summer, when Andrews finishes his second term and must step down.

In Sondheim's letter to board members, he recommends that they elect Raymond V. "Buzz" Bartlett, director of corporate affairs for Lockheed Martin Corp.

At least one other board member -- Philip S. Benzil, a retired dentist from Westminster and former Carroll County school board member -- has expressed interest in the vice president's position.

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