Board poised to pick chief

Charlotte, N.C., educator among candidates eyed by school officials

Announcement likely this week

Finalist to meet teachers, parents, community before contract is signed

Anne Arundel

April 24, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The superintendent of the school district that includes Charlotte, N.C., has met with Anne Arundel County school board members twice in recent months as they have narrowed the list of candidates for schools chief, the Charlotte schools spokeswoman said last night.

Eric J. Smith, 53, has won praise during his six years as Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District superintendent for improving students' academic achievement, closing the racial gap in test scores and skillfully handling the end of 30 years of forced busing for school integration.

In 2000, Smith was named the nation's top urban educator by the Council of Great City Schools. He has a national reputation as a superintendent who gets results - exactly the sort of person Anne Arundel board members have said they're looking for.

"They've expressed an interest in him and he's reciprocated," said Smith's spokeswoman, Nora Carr.

Anne Arundel board members would not say yesterday whether Smith is among the five finalists they have been interviewing and evaluating for two months. The board is expected to announce its choice for superintendent this week, perhaps as soon as today.

County parents, teachers and officials will be able to meet with the board's choice and evaluate the candidate's qualifications before a contract is signed, the board member leading the search said yesterday.

Board member Joseph H. Foster said that the board's choice will spend up to two days meeting with various community groups and leaders before being officially appointed.

"The purpose is to introduce the people to the candidate, to give them an opportunity to see the type of qualifications the candidate brings to the system and why we think this is the best candidate for the system," Foster said.

But he added that if people express reservations about the candidate, that probably wouldn't sway the board.

"This is not a popularity contest," he said. "We've done our homework. Unless there is something we've totally missed, at this point this is our chosen candidate."

Charlotte's Smith leads a 109,000-student school system with 6,800 teachers and a $760 million budget - somewhat bigger than Anne Arundel's system. His salary is $196,000 - about $55,000 more than what Anne Arundel County's last superintendent, Carol S. Parham, made.

Smith previously served as superintendent in Newport News, Va., and Danville, Va. He received his undergraduate degree from Colorado State University, his master's from the University of Central Florida and his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Florida.

He is so popular in Charlotte that he often receives standing ovations when he is introduced at schools and community events, his spokeswoman said.

"He's willing to tackle the tough issues that so often people don't want to talk about in education," Carr said.

Smith was one of four finalists for the superintendent's job in Portland, Ore., according to news accounts, but he withdrew from the race less than two weeks ago.

Anne Arundel County leaders and parents, as well as the school system's staff, have complained that they have had little say in selecting the new superintendent. Last fall, as the search began, the board held several community forums at which people were asked what they wanted in a schools chief. The results were tallied by the board's search firm.

Once the search began in earnest, it was closed to the public. The search is being conducted by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates of Glenview, Ill. The firm is being paid $35,000 plus expenses for its work.

It provided the school board with a list of five finalists in late February, and since then, the board has interviewed the five and narrowed the list, Foster said. Board members have kept the list secret.

Even County Executive Janet S. Owens is among many being kept out of the loop.

"She hasn't been involved at all," said her spokesman, Matt Diehl. "I think the county executive feels that since the superintendent and county executive work very closely together, you'd expect at least some involvement."

The community forums are a step toward that, he said, albeit a small one.

The forums also appear designed to avoid the kind of controversy that surrounded the appointment of Superintendent Joe A. Hairston in Baltimore County two years ago.

After that school board selected Hairston using a closed search process, details of his career history surfaced - including feuds with past school boards and teachers. Baltimore County officials then asked the board to delay the appointment so that parents, teachers and county leaders could meet with Hairston.

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