Three finalists chosen for Arundel schools superintendent

Former interim head of Baltimore schools among those up for job

candidates to be interviewed in county next week


The three finalists for Anne Arundel County schools superintendent, announced yesterday, include a former interim CEO of Baltimore schools whose last two leadership posts ended in controversy; the chief of a 5,500-student school district in Pennsylvania; and a midlevel Montgomery County administrator.

From a field of 20 applicants, the school board selected Robert E. Schiller, retired state schools superintendent of Illinois; Dana Bedden, superintendent of William Penn District, Pa.; and Kevin Maxwell, community superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools. Each will spend a day in the county next week, meeting with selected parents and community members and interviewing with the board.

"I'm excited to have them coming in town and going through the public forums," said Konrad Wayson, president of the board of education.

The board hired the Maryland Association of Boards of Education for $27,000 to conduct a search to replace Eric J. Smith, who abruptly departed in November. Nancy M. Mann is serving as interim superintendent of the 74,000-student system until her contract ends in July.

Wayson said the fact that only one candidate has experience leading a large school district is not an issue.

"The president was never president before he was elected," Wayson said.

The candidate with the longest resume is Schiller, 59. During a state takeover, he was brought in as interim chief executive of Baltimore schools from 1997 to 1998 to stabilize and reorganize them.

Before then, Schiller was a deputy superintendent in Delaware and the state superintendent in Michigan. More recently, he has been a superintendent in New Jersey and Louisiana and, most recently, was state superintendent in Illinois before resigning in 2004. That year, he was among the finalists for the top job in Washington, D.C.

According to news reports, Schiller left his Illinois post amid a state board shake-up orchestrated by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Wayson said the situation did not concern him, because it was political.

Schiller came to Illinois from the Caddo Parish School System in 2002. According to reports by the Associated Press, a 2003 Louisiana legislative audit found that Schiller orchestrated a land deal during his tenure that cost $130,000 more than it was worth, and he was awarded nearly $30,000 in "improper" payments when he resigned.

But the attorney for the school board in Caddo said yesterday that the school board never agreed with the findings of the audit.

Schiller could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Bedden has been superintendent in Lansdowne, Pa., since 2004. Twenty-one percent of the school system's students are in special education, and 60 percent are classified as low income, according to its Web site. William Penn District has one high school, two junior high schools and eight elementary schools.

Bedden, 39, points to his experience as a principal in Washington, D.C., and Fairfax, Va., and as an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia as preparation to take over Anne Arundel's system.

"I think it's big enough to have some significant impact in the lives of children but not behemoth so you can't get your hands around it," Bedden said.

Bedden said that if hired, he would work to maintain the performance of schools and students who are succeeding and to close the gap between them and students who are not doing as well.

The third finalist, Maxwell, 54, received his doctorate from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is a community superintendent in Montgomery County, overseeing 39 schools and about 27,000 students.

Before that, Maxwell was a principal in Montgomery County and a chief educational administrator and a principal in Prince George's County.

"I believe it's a wonderful opportunity, and I've been well-prepared for that position," he said of the Anne Arundel job.

Though he has never held the top job in a school system, he said that he has been in leadership roles for most of his 28-year career, and that the cluster of schools he oversees in Montgomery County is larger than many school systems.

Two of his daughters are graduates of Arundel High School, adding to his familiarity with Anne Arundel.

"The challenges are a lot similar to what most school systems face," Maxwell said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done with closing the achievement gap."

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