Community concerned school official might leave

No. 2 in county attends elite education program

Howard County

October 19, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Kimberly L. Statham - the No. 2 person in Howard County education - will graduate next month from an elite superintendents school, which has some in the community concerned she might leave her deputy post to take a top position elsewhere.

"I have great respect for Dr. Statham, and I was alarmed at the prospect of her leaving," said former school board candidate Barry Tevelow, who was researching online when he came across the Broad Center for Superintendents Web site. He saw Statham listed as a member of the Urban Superintendents Academy.

Participants in the fellowship - which teaches management, leadership, data analysis and community relations skills to prospective superintendents - are expected to become school-system supervisors 18 to 30 months after completing the 10-month program.

"There's no question we would have a very significant loss if she left," said Howard Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. "But it's not because of the Broad [Center] that she's in a position to be considered for the superintendency. It's because of her personal and professional qualities."

Statham, 45, was promoted from chief academic officer to deputy superintendent in July, two years after leaving Montgomery County to work in Howard, where she has lived for 14 years. She is often credited with implementing O'Rourke's vision: accelerating the performance of all children and bringing struggling youngsters up to state standards.

She created the county's school improvement unit, which focuses attention and resources on lagging schools, and has developed substantial means of measuring and reporting achievement, such as the State of the Schools Report. It details schools' performances and the criteria for gauging their progress.

"What we're doing here in Howard County really is state of the art," said Statham, who gave a presentation on Howard's methods to Baltimore City education officials last week.

Statham would be a "superb" superintendent, said Sandra H. French, the school board chairman, "She really cares about students' improving and achieving, and everything that she does is focused on that. She can very clearly see her goals."

One of her main goals, Statham said, is providing equal education opportunities for all children.

"I really believe that the civil rights movement of the 21st century is education," Statham said.

Leaning against a wall in her office as a reminder is a poster commemorating the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which ended segregation in schools, starting with Topeka, Kan., where Statham grew up.

Her family moved to Potomac when she was 15 so that her father could take a position at the Pentagon. And though her mother was a teacher and principal, Statham earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Maryland.

But after graduation, she had second thoughts and took her mother's advice, going back to school at Howard University to earn a master's in teaching and curriculum development, and a doctorate in educational psychology.

"My mother never said, `I told you so,' " Statham said, grinning.

She worked for 20 years in Montgomery County - which is neck in neck with Howard for the title of best Maryland school system - as a teacher, principal, administration director and community superintendent before going to Howard County.

"She's a strong academic leader," said University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who worked with Statham in Montgomery County. "I see her as an excellent example of a future superintendent."

Hrabowski nominated Statham for the Broad fellowship, which accepted 20 of about 175 applicants this year.

"She's at the top of our class," said Tim Quinn, the Broad Center's managing director. "She's one of the very best."

Participants spend seven long weekends in various parts of the United States learning and interacting with the best from various fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

"I have never had a professional development experience nearly as enriching as these seven weekends. It's just been phenomenal," said Joseph J. Wise, who was an associate superintendent in Anne Arundel County this year.

Wise, who estimates that the Los Angeles-based Broad Center has spent almost $50,000 per participant in program and travel expenses, has obtained a new position. In July, he became superintendent of Delaware's largest school district, which is eligible for millions of dollars in grant money from Broad's foundation because it meets the "urban" criteria, which include having a minimum of 40 percent of its population in poverty and 40 percent of its students be children of color.

Those are the districts with the most need and the focus of the center's attention, Quinn said, adding that Howard County does not fit the criteria.

Still, Tevelow would like to see Statham become Howard's next superintendent, though to do that she would have to oust her boss, O'Rourke, whose contract expires next year.

"She understands the importance of accountability and working with the public," Tevelow said. "I think she would be an excellent candidate."

Statham said she will honor her commitment to Broad to seek a position in an urban district but would love to continue her efforts in Howard.

"I feel like there's still plenty of work to be done here," Statham said. "We've got a good start, but we need to make sure the results are lasting."

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