Arundel's Mr. Maxwell

May 07, 2006

When the Anne Arundel County school board hired Eric J. Smith as school superintendent in 2002, his whopping $300,000 salary and benefits package got as much attention as his record in North Carolina. The secretive selection process was criticized, though the board said it produced a proven educator who was not "on the way up." Luckily, for Anne Arundel Countians, the school board learned a thing or two about what not to do in choosing a replacement for the long-gone Mr. Smith.

His successor, Kevin M. Maxwell, is a veteran educator who successfully managed top-flight (and some struggling) schools. He reportedly has earned high marks from teachers - Mr. Smith's greatest critics - and had viewed the system as a parent of former Arundel students. The open selection process, which included televised interviews, should reassure the Arundel schools community that what it saw is what it's getting: an accomplished, reasoned, affable superintendent.

After the tumult of the Smith years, Mr. Maxwell, 54, appears to be the right choice. Teachers issued a no-confidence vote in Mr. Smith as he was heading out the door. Mr. Maxwell's collegial style, while preferable, matters only as it helps him drive the improvements needed in the school system.

A 24-year veteran of the Prince George's and Montgomery county systems, Mr. Maxwell is well equipped to assess the challenges for Arundel schools, whose achievement test scores fall between the two other counties. In a county that has weekly sales of million-dollar-plus houses and a stubborn knot of poverty in its scenic capital, sought-after and high-performing schools should be the norm districtwide.

In hiring Mr. Maxwell last week, the board said it wants him to build on the 75,000-student school system's successes - without instituting a major shake-up. That sounds like a reasonable but modest agenda. He will have to ensure compliance with a civil rights agreement that sets achievement goals for minorities. A review of school facilities under way could lead to redistricting changes. A proposal to establish a math and science magnet program at Meade High School deserves Mr. Maxwell's attention; it would complement the expected boon in new federal workers.

But once Mr. Maxwell gets acquainted and settles in, neither he nor parents should be afraid to shake things up - a bit. Change is good.

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