Arundel schools chief chosen

Board picks official from Montgomery Co. to head system


Impressed by his local ties, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education named a Montgomery County administrator yesterday to lead the 74,000-student school system.

Kevin Maxwell, 54, lives in nearby Bowie, and his twin daughters graduated from Arundel High School, points that gave him an edge over the two out-of-state finalists.

"The fact that he was very familiar with the way Maryland works was a plus," said Tricia Johnson, vice president of the board. "The budget process and the issues we deal with are different than other states."

After the board negotiates a contract with Maxwell, it will officially vote to hire him.

Maxwell would start July 1, replacing Eric J. Smith, who resigned in November.

Nancy M. Mann has held the job since Smith's resignation.

"I feel very honored to have this opportunity to serve as superintendent of schools in Anne Arundel County," Maxwell said. "I'm looking forward to working with the community, the schools, staff and the kids."

Maxwell received a call from the board late Monday night alerting him of his selection.

The board announced that it had picked Maxwell, now a community superintendent in Montgomery County, two days after convening to discuss the three finalists.

Over three days last week, the board interviewed Maxwell, Robert E. Schiller, retired state schools superintendent of Illinois, and Dana Bedden, superintendent of William Penn District in Pennsylvania. Schiller was interim chief executive of Baltimore schools in 1997 and 1998.

While making their choice, board members weighed the opinions from community members, educators, students and parents who also met with the three men last week. They also read e-mail from those who watched portions of the candidates' interviews on television.

The selection of Maxwell "validated what we heard from community input," said board member Enrique Melendez.

"We had a really exhaustive process," Johnson said. "We discussed anything that was on anybody's mind."

Eric Sullivan, the recently elected chairman of the county Citizens Advisory Council and father of two West Annapolis Elementary School pupils, said he was pleased with the board's choice. Sullivan met with all three candidates.

"He did impress me with very thorough answers that clearly reflected a deep knowledge of the issues important to this county," Sullivan said. "I don't think it's a bad thing he's got some local knowledge."

The fact that Maxwell's daughters attended school in the county also was a plus, he said.

"He got some real-world experience in the school system," Sullivan added.

Maxwell spent 22 years as a teacher, principal and administrator in Prince George's County before becoming principal at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

In 2004, he began his current job as one of six community superintendents in Montgomery County, where he oversees about 27,000 students in 39 schools.

His background makes him well-prepared to take over Anne Arundel County schools, he said last week.

Maxwell also said that he has no qualms about stepping into the job abruptly vacated by Smith before the end of his contract. Smith had mentioned public disputes with the school board and the county teachers union as reasons for leaving.

"I'm a different person," Maxwell said.

Johnson said that she and other board members believe Maxwell will be someone with whom everyone can work.

"He seems to be a very strong leader, yet at the same time a consensus-builder," Johnson said.

Board members said that all three candidates were strong but that Maxwell is closest to what they were looking for: someone who is not looking to make major changes and who could build on the school system's successes.

But Maxwell will face some major issues at the start of his tenure.

A committee is studying changes to the high school's block schedules and will deliver a list of alternatives this summer.

A report on the school system's facilities is being completed, and it could serve as a blueprint for major redistricting.

And there is the achievement gap. The system must find ways to comply with a mediated civil rights agreement that says it must eliminate disparities between black and white students, among other goals, by next year.

"I know that there are a number of issues on the table," Maxwell said. "I don't see any of them as insurmountable."

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