The long-serving principal of Oakland Mills High School, who acknowledged last week that he is appealing punishment in a grade-changing scandal, has been transferred to the Homewood School as principal of the alternative learning center, Howard County school officials announced yesterday.
Marshall Peterson, who presided over the Columbia school for nine years, asked for the move last week, and school officials determined that the reassignment was in the principal's and the school system's best interest, said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.
Frank Eastham, principal of Homewood, will assume the top administrative position at Oakland Mills, where he was assistant principal from 1996 to 1999. Eastham lives in Oakland Mills.
Both reassignments are effective Monday.
In a statement to the Oakland Mills High School community via its Internet listserv last night, Peterson said it was time for everyone to "move forward and refocus all of our energies on educating and nurturing the young people of our community.
"I sincerely believe that a fresh start from the top will help bring that about," said Peterson, who did not return phone calls yesterday. "I look forward to seeing each of you as our paths cross, and if you are ever in the neighborhood of the Homewood School, stop in and say hello."
Peterson's request for a transfer was based on several things, Cousin said, including his long tenure at Oakland Mills and an opportunity for a new challenge.
A 32-year veteran of the Howard County school system, Peterson served as principal of the former Gateway School, an alternative education facility, from 1989 to 1991.
Homewood provides an alternative setting for middle and high school students who have difficulty in traditional classrooms because of legal infractions, behavior challenges or emotional disabilities.
"It takes a special leader to be principal of a school like Homewood because of the unique nature of the school and the composition of the school," said Cousin, who has sole authority to make personnel moves.
At the same time, Cousin acknowledged that the moves are "associated in a way to the tumultuous things that had been happening in the community over the last several months. It can't be disconnected."
Yesterday's personnel moves came a week after Peterson said he was appealing the disciplinary action imposed by former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke to the Howard County Board of Education.
Peterson declined to comment on the specifics of his punishment. But O'Rourke had recommended that Peterson be suspended without pay for 30 days, according to a source familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Peterson's reassignment and his appeal, which is continuing, are not connected, Cousin said.
Last week, the school board overturned a penalty imposed on Ken Hovet, the former athletic director and football coach implicated in the scandal. In November, the school system announced that a football player's grades were changed to make him eligible.
The board described a systemic failure that involved multiple levels, including the former superintendent's office, the school system's athletic department and the administration at Oakland Mills, but it did not implicate a specific employee.
In an e-mail to the Oakland Mills High School Internet listserv in February, Peterson said he "did not seek nor did I ask anyone else to seek the eligibility of any student."
John McKitterick, president of the Oakland Mills PTSA, thanked Peterson for his service and commitment to the school.
"With his single-minded focus on education for all the students at our wonderfully diverse school, he has driven OM to academic achievement at all levels," McKitterick said in a statement. "Such devotion to academic achievement is the most important aspect of any principal's job, and I thank him for it."
Maria Cole, an Oakland Mills parent of two rising juniors, was not surprised by the news.
"It does make sense that he move on," she said. "The kids can get a fresh start."