New Anne Arundel County schools chief Eric Smith has decorated his corner office with the usual stuff - photos and diplomas and mementos. But there's also a tough-looking poster with a picture of Smith and this admonition: "Think of him as Rambo with a lesson plan."
It was a gift from staff members at Smith's old job in Charlotte, N.C., and he's not exactly sure what to do with it. He doesn't want to intimidate anybody, but he doesn't mind the message it sends.
"We're ready to roll," he said Wednesday. "We're starting with a very solid foundation. You'll see us refine our focus and direct the energy and power of the Anne Arundel County public schools on some very specific outcomes."
Smith, who started Monday as head of the 75,000-student school system, spent his first week figuring out what those outcomes will be. He said he is faced with several immediate challenges including establishing clear measures of student and teacher performance before the school year starts and trimming the system's $600 million budget.
Though the fiscal year began this week, the system already is predicting cost overruns of $5 million. Smith said he will find ways to reduce costs without affecting what goes on in the classroom.
He's looking into the spiraling costs of school construction. With the price tags on new elementary schools reaching $20 million, County Executive Janet S. Owens has formed a blue ribbon commission to investigate.
On Tuesday, Smith met members of the commission at the new Davidsonville Elementary.
"They questioned the need for a lighthouse in the library and curved block glass in the media center," Smith said, "and I tend to agree with them. Schools need to be functional and durable and they do need to be places the community is proud of. But they need to be short of grandeur."
Smith also spent time this week meeting with school system staff and school board members. He'll tour more schools next week and meet principals, teachers, parents and union leaders.
"It's a good team," Smith said of the staff. "They're a very, very professional group, and they're not reluctant to get into some big issues."
Smith's arrival is only one of several changes in the leadership of the Anne Arundel school system. Four of the eight members of the school board are new this summer - the biggest turnover in recent memory.
Two of the new members are businessmen more familiar with boardrooms than classrooms, and they are expected to bring a financial discipline to the board that some say has been lacking.
The new members are:
Edward Carey, 40, of Brooklyn Park. He is chief of the Maryland Aviation Administration and has served as president of the Brooklyn Park Elementary School PTA.
Eugene Peterson, 55, of Laurel. A supervisor at the Department of Transportation, he is the former head of the county's council of PTAs.
Konrad M. Wayson, 41, of Harwood. He is the president of Childs Landscaping of Arnold. He has two sons in county schools.
Ashley Nathanson, 17, a senior at Arundel High School in Gambrills. She was vice president of her student council last year and is a member of the National Honor Society and the Maryland Youth Action Corps, a volunteer service group. Several of the new members said they were eager to get started and do what was needed to support the superintendent.
"The board needs to sit down and figure out where we are and how we can support the superintendent," Peterson said Wednesday after he was sworn in on the board.
"I look at Dr. Smith and see a man who's a proven educational leader with a solid track record in the areas we need help in - closing the [minority] achievement gap and raising the standards for everybody."