Stability is focus of Mann's term

Interim Arundel schools chief vows to reach out to teachers, principals and community

Baltimore & Region


The Anne Arundel County school board, reeling from Superintendent Eric J. Smith's recent decision to step down amid strained relations with the board and teachers union, turned to a 35-year veteran of the school system to restore stability until a new chief is picked next year.

Nancy M. Mann, a former assistant superintendent who retired last June, will return to the 74,000-student district as interim superintendent Nov. 24. Smith is leaving to take an unpaid position with Harvard University.

Mann, 58, received sustained applause when she was introduced by school board members yesterday morning. School system employees lined up to offer hugs and congratulations, with many saying, "Welcome back."

"This was our best choice and the school system's best choice," said board President Konrad M. Wayson.

Mann pledged yesterday to reach out to teachers, principals and community groups - something Smith was sometimes criticized for not doing often enough.

"Communication is very important for me," Mann said.

She made clear yesterday that she is not interested in the permanent position and that she plans to return to retirement when her interim obligation ends.

"I am honored to offer my assistance in guiding this school system for the next eight months," she said, later referring to her term as 219 days.

Mann, who was the assistant superintendent for instructional services before her retirement, is widely seen as someone who can bring a measure of stability during rocky times.

Smith announced in August that he was stepping down after three years to take a position with Harvard's Urban Superintendents Academy, and possibly to consult. He said in a statement that "recent public disputes," such as with school board members over a highly critical audit of human resources practices, had distracted from his work.

Even as the board was preparing for Smith's exit, the teachers union was going ahead with a no-confidence vote in the superintendent scheduled for last night.

Mann said her first order of business will be to visit with educators and parents and that she welcomes the input of all. She said she also wants to have a dialogue with school employee unions.

She emphasized that she will not be making any major changes in the school system.

"I am here for continuity and stability," Mann said.

She will however, be immediately jumping into the budget process and ongoing negotiations between the board and the teachers union.

Board Vice President Tricia Johnson said that she and her colleagues are confident Mann will be up to the challenge.

"She is familiar with the system, and that familiarity is necessary," Johnson said.

Mann's tenure with the school system began in 1970 as a third-grade teacher at Harman Elementary School in Hanover. She later served as an assistant principal and principal before being named director of elementary schools in 1985. In 1993, she was appointed assistant superintendent for instruction. A native of West Virginia, Mann graduated from Fairmont State College in West Virginia with a degree in elementary education. She also received a master's degree in administration and supervision from the Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Severn with her husband.

The vote yesterday to appoint Mann was unanimous.

Mann will be paid $15,000 a month through the end of June. By law, the board is required to have a permanent replacement for Smith by July 1. Yesterday, the board unanimously voted to enter into a contract with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to conduct a search for a permanent superintendent, which should be completed by May.

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