Lawson tries to calm backers

Interim superintendent concerned about public support for his candidacy

Unity `vital,' acting chief says

His apparent absence from list of finalists for job outrages some allies

April 12, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

As the Anne Arundel County school board nears the end of a search for a new superintendent, the interim schools chief said yesterday that he was "concerned" about the outpouring of public support for his candidacy.

Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson applied to keep his job permanently several months ago. A 33-year veteran of the school system, Lawson is popular with parents, teachers and county leaders.

But he did not make a list of five or six finalists, which was assembled for the school board by a private search firm, and he has not been interviewed by the board, sources with knowledge of the search said.

That apparent snub has outraged some of Lawson's allies, including two former school board members, who say Lawson has proved his value and loyalty to the system during his long career.

"I just think that 33 years plus of loyalty and responsibility and general support of the system - it's a matter of common courtesy ... that he ought to be interviewed," said former board member Thomas Florestano.

Lawson issued a one-page statement yesterday that attempted to quiet those who have been critical of the board for the secrecy of its search and its failure to interview him.

"The Board needs to be able to finish the process it has begun without further undue public pressure," Lawson said.

"Prolonged public controversy serves no one's interest. And it only detracts from the community-wide unity that is vital for our schools to best serve our students."

Lawson did not withdraw his name from the search, and he remains a candidate, board members said. They also said they did not feel particularly influenced by the vocal support for Lawson.

"I don't feel any pressure," said school board President Carlesa Finney. "We have a process, and we are working our process, and it's not unusual to get pressure for any issue before a school board.

"To be beat up by the public and the media doesn't feel great, but because this is a personnel case, we're being as respectful to the candidates as we possibly can."

The board plans to narrow the field to one or two finalists by the end of the month to replace Carol S. Parham, who left in December to become a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. The board is interviewing five or six candidates, Finney said.

The search firm has contacted dozens of school administrators across the country as part of an effort to find a new leader for the Anne Arundel system. One of them is Jane Hammond, superintendent of the 88,000-student Jefferson County, Colo., system. She was praised for her leadership after the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

Hammond, 53, has ties to Maryland. She worked for the Maryland Department of Education for eight years in the 1980s and was a teacher in Allegany County. Her parents live in Montgomery County.

Hammond was approached by Anne Arundel's search firm, but she has not met with the board, her spokesman said yesterday.

"She has not had any formal interviews with them, and she has not made a decision about whether she's a candidate," said Rick Kaufman, the spokesman.

Anne Arundel board members would not say whether Hammond is one of the five or six finalists they are evaluating. The search firm's contact with her was first reported yesterday in The Denver Post.

"The number of candidates could grow or get smaller," said Anne Arundel board member Joseph Foster, who is leading the search. "As we look at the candidates, we may decide that some don't fit and we expand the pool rather than continuing to contract it.

"We're working feverishly to get there."

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