Arundel schools chief to leave post in Nov.

Smith's resignation comes after months of disputes

September 07, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

After months of open disagreements with the school board and teachers union, Anne Arundel County schools chief Eric J. Smith announced yesterday that he is resigning to take a university job.

"While my focus has been on the success of the children of Anne Arundel County, recent public disputes have resulted in considerable public distraction from the important work that I was brought here to do and that I love doing," Smith wrote in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

Smith, who entered the fourth and final year of his contract in July, has been credited with improving achievement among the suburban district's more than 74,000 students since he started in 2002.

Teachers union leaders had scheduled a meeting tonight to consider calling for a vote of no confidence in Smith - but the superintendent denied in an interview last night that his announcement had anything to do with union sentiment.

"I don't work for the teachers union," he said, instead pointing his finger at disagreements with the school board.

"I have informed the Board of Education that I will be leaving the school system to take a position at Harvard University. I will be leaving Anne Arundel County Public Schools on November 23," Smith write in his announcement.

He sent the same message to the school system's more than 10,000 employees just before 5 p.m. yesterday, said Robert C. Leib, the district's chief of staff.

Achievement gap

The nationally known schools chief arrived in 2002, charged with raising student performance and eliminating the achievement gap between white and minority children, and few deny the school system has made progress. All elementary schools met state targets on standardized tests this year, including one that shed its "underperforming" label for the first time in a decade. The scores of black high school students in Anne Arundel ranked among the top 10 among Maryland's 24 jurisdictions.

Smith was a finalist last year for the job of schools superintendent of Miami-Dade County, Fla., but had declared his intent to stay as recently as last week.

"There's just huge work to be done," he said Friday.

Aug. 23 meeting

But Smith told The Sun last night that he had told county school board President Konrad M. Wayson and the school board's attorney, P. Tyson Bennett, at a meeting on Aug. 23 of his intent to resign.

"I'm not going to comment on that topic," Bennett said last night.

Smith's contract with the school system, at an annual salary of nearly $203,000, stipulates he would have to pay a penalty for offering less than three months' notice.

School board members said last night that they learned of his decision yesterday.

"Up until this point he had told us he had not been offered another job," said student board member Pallas Snider, a senior at Severna Park High School. "That letter was a surprise to all of us."

"The board made it clear to the superintendent that we wanted him to stay through the end of his contract," said board member Edward P. Carey of Brooklyn Park. "We also let him know we had made no decision whether or not to renew his contract" when it is up for consideration next spring.

Parents, community leaders and school board members expressed disappointment last night that the relationship had soured enough for Smith to leave.

Smith had received recognition for innovative approaches as superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school district, and in Volusia County, Fla., and Newport News and Danville, Va. During his tenure in Anne Arundel, he has held such high-profile posts as chairman of the board of trustees of the national College Board.

Instructional changes

Many attribute his accomplishments to highly visible instructional changes he made right away, such as establishing uniform curricula, textbooks and schedules countywide. He has emphasized phonics and basic math skills and boosted participation by high school students, particularly minorities, in college-level Advanced Placement courses.

"Unfortunately, in order to make those accommodations, he was a little clumsy in carrying out those directives," said County Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. "You can see that in the responses from the school board and the teachers' union."

Rocky relationships

His relationships grew especially rocky this summer.

Nine out of 10 respondents to a teachers union survey said they didn't think Smith valued their input, though Smith has gotten significantly higher marks in systemwide employee polls.

Teachers have complained to school board members about increasing workload stemming from additional paperwork, meetings and students. And they have criticized Smith for not implementing recommendations of a committee that was set up to address those issues.

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