Statham has passion for schools

Chief of curriculum, instruction has deep roots in education

September 25, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When she graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in business, Kimberly Statham wasn't excited about the future. Instead, she was reflecting on her past.

Her mother, Beverly Harmon, had been a teacher and school administrator - in Kansas and Montgomery County - as long as Statham could remember. Both her parents had always stressed education as imperative. From early childhood to graduate work, learning was the passion in her house.

"Business just really didn't grab me," Statham, 42, said from her office at Howard County school system headquarters, where she is the new associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

So, after graduation, she chucked the idea of an immediate and lucrative career in business, and went back to school - this time to get her master's degree from Howard University in early childhood education and earn her teaching certificate at the same time.

From there, she leapt straight into doctoral work at Howard, earning her doctorate in educational psychology, where she specialized in learning styles.

"I was in school half my life," Statham said.

And she has been involved in schools ever since.

"The day they graduated from college," said Harmon about Statham and her twin sister, "they said, `Mom, we wish we'd listened to you.' Because that was what they really wanted to do."

Statham's twin, Karla Webber, also pursued a career in education, and is a teacher in Montgomery County.

Statham was hired in July to fill the vacancy in the Howard school system's most important position - curriculum and instruction. In that post, she hopes to bring a lot of her training and a little of her upbringing to Howard County, where she lives and her two children go to school.

Statham grew up in Topeka, Kan., and Potomac. She, her husband and children moved to Ellicott City in 1989.

"One of the things I was prepared for because of my mother was that it was hard work" being an educator, Statham said. "A lot of people are not aware of just how comprehensive it is, what it takes to be an effective leader, for your students and staff and the entire community."

As a new leader in the county, Statham sees an area where she can be most effective: helping Howard teachers recognize individual students' learning styles.

"The biggest thing now is the need for school systems to adjust the way that they develop curriculum and instruction programs so that they really meet the needs of an ever-changing population," Statham said. "I think sometimes we weren't always as responsive to those different needs as we should have been. That's evidenced now in achievement gaps."

For example, if a child has limited vocabulary, she said, schools ought to be more flexible about how they structure the child's day.

"We need to give them an extra block [of instruction], not just more time, as opposed to sticking strictly with a 30-minute reading group," Statham said. "I think we have to do that pre-K through 12."

She left a high-ranking post in Montgomery County schools after 20 years to take the Howard position, partially because of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's vision for the already successful school system.

"I was impressed with Mr. O'Rourke's focus on each student and their learning needs and our response to their learning needs," she said. "Now I want to put the meat on the bones."

Colleagues from Montgomery County say Statham is the person for the job.

"She has very high expectations for herself," said Don Kress, a Montgomery County community superintendent, who worked with Statham for 10 years. "She's got a very strong understanding of instruction and curriculum. And she's also a person who works in a very collaborative-type fashion. She's not a unilateral-type dictator. She leads by example."

O'Rourke said Statham has a "youthful enthusiasm and passion for instruction."

"It's had a kind of contagious quality even in the short time she's been here," he said.

After a few weeks in Howard, Statham said she is convinced that "we can address a lot of the knotty issues here. Good work can happen here."

She has not developed a plan, but she is working on it.

"I just want to provide good leadership on the academic side of the house," Statham said. "And to be able to engage the community in the development of that plan."

In the meantime, Statham plans to spend more time with her children, Ariana, a ninth-grader at Centennial High, and Michael Jr., a sixth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle.

Because she is closer to work than she has been in 20 years - cutting her commute from an hour and 10 minutes to 10 minutes - Statham wants to be able to see her daughter's volleyball games and her son's basketball games more often and be a bigger presence, now that adolescence has hit the home. Her husband, Michael Statham, is an attorney in Prince George's County.

"We have both tried to make sure that, although we work hard, they are the center of our world," she said.

She also wants to spend time redecorating their Ellicott City home and maybe make plans to travel. "I also have to get back into cooking again," Statham said with a laugh. "I don't know how I feel about that."

But ultimately, Statham wants to find time to do what is in her blood.

"Eventually, maybe I'll go back and do some post-doctoral work, way down the line," she said. "It just keeps you energized."

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