Schools official plans to stay

Interim chief Lawson says he won't leave district

Sought superintendent job

His backers unhappy he was overlooked by board

April 30, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

He was passed over when the school board offered the superintendent's post to an out-of-towner, but Kenneth P. Lawson says he wants to continue working in the Anne Arundel County school system - just as he has for 33 years.

"I'm certainly not announcing any kind of retirement or resignation," Lawson, 55, said after the board offered the superintendent's job to a North Carolina educator. "I'm devoted to the school system, and I hope to serve it for a number of years."

Interim superintendent since January, Lawson applied to take on the job permanently. But he did not make a list of five finalists for the job, and he was not interviewed by the school board.

The snub outraged Lawson's supporters in the school system and the county, and they loudly complained that the board was treating one of its most dedicated employees with disrespect.

"That's a nice message to send to the troops: `This is what you get for loyalty,'" said Thomas Florestano, an ex-school board member and former president of Anne Arundel Community College.

Lawson had sought to quiet criticism of the search process that led to the selection of Eric J. Smith, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, as Anne Arundel's next schools chief. Smith and the school board are expected to sign a contract next month.

"I'm just looking forward to the matter finally being resolved," Lawson said, "and the staff is looking forward to doing a good job and supporting our superintendent."

Role unclear

It's unclear what role Lawson would play in Smith's administration. Before taking the interim chief's job in January, Lawson had been associate superintendent for instruction for eight years. He had previously worked as a principal and teacher in the system.

Smith said yesterday that he has no immediate plans for staff changes in Anne Arundel, should he take the job.

`A lot of talent'

"From what I've heard, there's a lot of talent in Anne Arundel and a lot of confidence in the people there, and I'd like to build on that," Smith said. "My approach would be to first meet with the individuals that are part of the leadership team and get to know them quickly, and assess the organization and determine whether or not changes needed to be made."

When Smith arrived in Charlotte in 1996, he hired two new associate superintendents within a few months to fill vacancies, but he did not move anyone out. Both of the new hires came from Virginia, where Smith had been a superintendent for six years.

Lawson's straightforward manner and work in the school system have earned him praise from the system headquarters staff in Annapolis. Many there were pulling for him to get the job.

"A lot of folks here would have liked to see him considered," said one employee, who asked not to be named. "But everyone has the attitude that we're here to run a school system, and we're going to do our best, whomever the superintendent is."

Eager to meet Smith

Employees said they're eager to meet Smith when he comes to town next week for a series of meetings, and that he appears to be highly qualified. They say they're glad the school board found a nationally acclaimed educator for its new leader, but they also think an ideal candidate was already in-house.

"[Lawson] worked his way through the system, and you don't see that very often," the employee said. "He has chosen this as his home. People respect that here."

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