Official resigns schools post

Statham says her reasons are personal, professional

`It's just time for me to go'

Administrator was cleared in grades controversy

Howard County

August 20, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes and Larry Carson | Gus G. Sentementes and Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A top Howard County school administrator who drew the ire of parents and teachers in a grade-tampering controversy at Centennial High School and endured a hate-crime incident last month at her Ellicott City home has resigned from her position for "personal and professional reasons."

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said yesterday that Kimberly A. Statham, the county's chief academic officer, handed him a resignation letter Wednesday. The letter said Statham was "leaving for both personal and professional reasons, and she didn't go into much more detail than that," Cousin said.

Statham's resignation will take effect Aug. 27, but Cousin said she will be retained by the school system in a consulting position to "allow for a smooth transition." Sandra Erickson, who serves as chief of administration and school instruction, will serve as acting chief academic officer.

In an interview yesterday, Statham, 45, characterized her choice to resign as an inevitable move that had long been anticipated by many in the county. She and Cousin said she was not forced out.

"There was going to be a point in time where I would be moving on anyway, so this is not brand new," Statham said. "No big mystery, it's just time for me to go."

But she also said she and her family felt "violated and uncomfortable" after someone used a chemical or weed killer to destroy grass in the shape of a cross on the front lawn of her Ellicott City home last month. Police taught her how to inspect her car for bombs, said Statham, who is African-American.

"It's awful," Statham said of the incident. "And of course, with my heritage, I used to hear stories about what my relatives went through with hate crimes, and I never dreamed in this day and age I'd have to go through something similar."

Statham said she would "never run away" because of such an incident, though she and her family will never be the same. "I think people have just been horrified of the notion of somebody doing anything like that," she said.

Rev. John Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford and a leader in the Howard County African-American community, said of the resignation, "I'm really shocked and deeply concerned to hear this."

Wright said Statham must be under a lot of pressure, and it has been "very difficult and painful for her and her family."

Statham joined the school system in August 2001, and she was credited with boosting test scores, including average SAT scores and Maryland State Assessment results, Cousin said.

Statham also created the county's "school improvement unit," which focuses attention and resources on lagging schools, and other reporting and measuring systems for gauging schools' performance.

"She made valuable contributions to the school system, in developing a comprehensive plan for accelerating student achievement," Cousin said.

As late as last fall, Statham -- who had risen to become deputy superintendent under then-Superintendent John R. O'Rourke -- was highly regarded in the Howard County education community. School officials and others openly worried that Statham would leave for another school system.

"Kim Statham made significant contributions to the school system," said Courtney Watson, school board chairman. "We always knew that at some point she would be moving on. ... She was a rising star in the education field. Her decision to leave now is a personal one."

But Statham's career in Howard took a troubled turn in December after allegations surfaced that she abused her power by intimidating school staff members to obtain preferential treatment for her daughter, who was a student at Centennial High School. From the beginning, Statham denied any impropriety.

O'Rourke conducted an inquiry and demoted Statham to a teaching position in February. But soon after, O'Rourke was forced to resign, and the school board conducted an investigation. The school board unanimously exonerated Statham and Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett, who was also demoted by O'Rourke as part of the alleged grade tampering, in late May.

Statham was not reinstated to deputy superintendent, but she was moved back into her earlier position of chief academic officer -- over the loud and angry protests of many teachers and parents in the Centennial High School community.

Sandra H. French, a school board member, said she understands Statham's reasons for leaving. "I am very much a supporter of her, and I regret her leaving," said French.

Cousin said he needs to decide whether he will hire a permanent chief academic officer.

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