Interim chief takes over Arundel schools

Contract talks, decisions on new curriculum loom

January 03, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Ken Lawson wanted to be in Miami yesterday. He wanted to lounge in the Florida sun and then cheer on his beloved Terrapins in the Orange Bowl.

But Lawson, University of Maryland Class of 1969, had something more important to do yesterday: He took the helm of the Anne Arundel County school system.

He did, however, wear a black Maryland sweater over a red-checked shirt.

"I'd love to be there," Lawson said, "but duty calls."

For the next six months, he will serve as interim superintendent while the school board searches for a replacement for Carol S. Parham, who left last month to take a professorship at UM.

Kenneth P. Lawson, 54, hasn't decided whether he'll apply to take on the job permanently, though plenty of people have encouraged him to do so.

After 32 years in Anne Arundel schools as a teacher, principal and, for the past eight, as an associate superintendent, Lawson is hugely popular - a good thing given the challenges that await him.

The next six months are pivotal for the county school system. Not only will the school board choose a new superintendent, but it will also decide on a new middle school curriculum and consider lengthening the school day by 30 minutes for all students.

Lawson will also be negotiating new contracts with unions representing the county's teachers, secretaries and administrators at a time of limited resources.

He says he's ready. In a way, he's been preparing for this job his whole life.

His father was a county schoolteacher and his mother was a county librarian. He attended Anne Arundel public schools and returned to teach just months after graduating from college.

"I've devoted my professional career to Anne Arundel public schools, and to have the opportunity to lead through a period of transition is a real treat for me," Lawson said.

The task that is likely to attract the most attention, and stir the most debate, is to craft a new middle school curriculum. By state order, the county must find a way to get all sixth- through eighth-graders into fine arts, health and physical education classes every year.

He'd like to add 30 minutes to the school day but doesn't think there will be enough money for that.

"I think there would be some real advantages to having youngsters spend more time in school under the direct supervision of a teacher," he said.

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