Q&A: Maryland State Chief, With Two Hats, Aims at Collaboration

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Nancy S. Grasmick, who this month was named Maryland's Superintendent of Schools, is the only state school chief to simultaneously hold another cabinet-level position: special secretary of the Office for Children, Youth, and Families.

She takes office at a time when a growing number of policymakers have recognized the interconnections between schooling and family problems and have stressed the need to coordinate education and social services in order to better serve children at risk of school failure.

A former associate superintendent in the Baltimore County School District, Ms. Grasmick gave up her most recent post of secretary for juvenile services to take over the helm of the state department of education.

Staff Writer Jonathan Weisman spoke with Ms. Grasmick last week, on her second week on the job.

Q. You are as far as you know the only state school chief wearing two hats right now?

A. As far as I know, yes, but I have not done exhaustive research on that point.

Q. How will this manifest itself in the policies and direction that you advocate?

A. As you may know, Maryland has established a plan called Schools for Success, which has 10 major goals attached to it actually embracing the national [education] goals and four additional goals. Part of the development of those 10 goals are statements that support the idea that education cannot help children in isolation, and that in order to ensure that we look at all the needs of children, and particularly as we prepare them to enter school, it's imperative to have inter-agency collaboration, especially with the human services.

So I would envision that by way of my work with the social services, health and mental hygiene, juvenile services, and certainly education, we're going to be able to forge those partnerships between agencies that will be supportive of the success of our students within the school system.

Q. So far, inter-agency collaboration has been primarily in the pre-K department. How would you like to see that extend into the higher grades?

A. Let me just say this. For two years, Maryland has had a sub-cabinet for children, youth, and families, and I have had the opportunity to serve as special secretary. We have addressed issues that concern family stability and family self-sufficiency. Those issues have to do with more than just the preparation of children for school. They have to do with ensuring children of a stable living environment through grade 12.

In addition to that, we are working on and have developed a mental health plan that would be pervasive to the needs of all young people, pre-K through grade 12, to give focus and attention to those mental health needs and see how those efforts can be integrated with the school system.

Obviously, we're hopeful that will make a difference in terms of, one, the referral to special education; two, young people dropping out of school; and three, ensuring better learners. We've also been working in the whole arena of family preservation, and that has to do with the tremendously accelerating number of children who are going into foster care and how we can begin to reverse that trend.

Q. How would you like to see the various experiments in Maryland spread to other states?

A. I think Maryland is one of the leading states in terms of having a mechanism, the sub-cabinet of children, youth, and families, for doing that kind of collaboration.

We developed an inter-agency children's budget that reflects all the initiatives around the children within our state. We embrace priorities that will be common to all agencies, priorities that have to do with prevention and early intervention, with the notion that all programs need to be inter-agency, that services are built along a continuum, and that we are trying to reconfigure the use of our monies.

We have developed specific legislative language to reconfigure the use of identified money across agencies that will enable us to begin some innovative programs. And we realize that we cannot expect new money to be able to promote those new initiatives, but rather we must take existing money and make an impact by way of our inter-agency efforts. That has been attractive and interesting to most of the state budget officers across the country.

We are one of two states receiving the Annie E. Casey [Foundation] money to look at family preservation, and I think our efforts are more advanced than any state in the United States at this point in that whole arena.

Q. What would you say your legislative priorities are right now?

A. My legislative priorities will have to do with full implementation of the Maryland school-performance program, the accountability dimension of it, and the ability to attract money which can go to local schools where they need the support of new monies to be able to improve their performance, and also to attract the money to replicate promising practices that have come from successful schools.

Secondly, I will be looking at building relationships with local school systems that are stronger in terms of the state-local relationship, and building relationships with the private sector community so that we can forge community support surrounding individual schools.

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Pages 6-7

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as Q&A: Maryland State Chief, With Two Hats, Aims at Collaboration
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