Mr. Smith goes to Harvard

September 08, 2005

EVER SINCE Eric J. Smith arrived in Anne Arundel County to become school superintendent in July 2002, he's had his ups and downs. The former schools chief in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., and Newport News, Va., among other places, Mr. Smith can boast of some good results during his Maryland tenure, as well as some controversy.

From the start, he instituted changes that standardized curriculums, textbooks and schedules throughout the county. While some teachers appreciated the uniformity, others complained that the new rules stifled creativity. Mr. Smith pushed basic math skills and phonics in the lower grades. All of the county's elementary schools passed the grade on the latest annual state tests, including one that had been on a list of "underperforming" schools for a decade.

He also made sure that more high school students, including minorities, took advanced, college-level courses. And this week, the school system signed a significant agreement to settle a federal civil rights complaint filed by community groups trying to improve the academic achievement of African-American students.

For all these gains, however, Mr. Smith has not gotten rave reviews from many teachers who felt that he often instituted policies resulting in greater workloads without adequate consultation. Before his announced resignation, he faced a possible vote of no confidence by the teachers union. And he had recently been criticized by school board members about missing human resources records and inconsistent pay policies after an internal audit.

Mr. Smith, who acknowledged that "recent public disputes" have been a distraction to his agenda, will work at Harvard's Graduate School of Education sometime after late November. He will leave behind a solid record of accomplishment, but a job unfinished.

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