After a 20-year tenure, Maryland state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, the nation’s longest-serving appointed state schools chief, is retiring effective June 30, with one year remaining on her contract.
Ms. Grasmick, 72, said in an interview a day after her March 30 announcement that she would be taking a much-needed break and would look for work that would offer “slightly more flexibility” than she currently has.
“I want to do something that advocates for children,” Ms. Grasmick said. She said nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and advocacy organizations already have started contacting her about her availability.
Ms. Grasmick began her education career teaching deaf children in Baltimore and worked as a school principal and an assistant and associate superintendent in the 104,000-student Baltimore County school system. She was the state’s special secretary for children, youth, and families in 1991 when she was appointed to her current position.
Her long tenure in the high-turnover world of state school chiefs is especially rare, and she has worked under four different governors. There have been tensions between her and current Gov. Martin O’Malley, who at one point demanded that she step down so that he could work with his own superintendent. (“Governors Face Political Hurdles in Seeking Power to Appoint Chiefs,” Jan. 23, 2008.)
Ms. Grasmick said other states should look to Maryland’s current system of selecting state education superintendents rather than having them elected.
“When it’s in a political process, it’s very difficult because there are term limits,” Ms. Grasmick said.
Christopher T. Cross, who served as president of the Maryland State Board of Education from 1994 to 1997, said Ms. Grasmick’s tenure has been marked by stable leadership, vision, and persistence. Mr. Cross, who first met the superintendent in 1993, said she had a clear understanding of what was needed in the state.
“The board never had to push her on anything. She was extremely effective,” said Mr. Cross, a partner in the education-policy consulting firm of Cross & Joftus, based in Bethesda, Md.
In looking back on her tenure, Ms. Grasmick cited her efforts to consolidate all the early-childhood programs and the state’s early-learning assessment initiative, Maryland Model for School Readiness, among her greatest achievements.
The school-readiness program was launched during the 2001-02 academic year. It assesses how well prepared children are as they enter kindergarten by looking at seven key areas, including social and personal development, language and literacy, and scientific thinking.
Ms. Grasmick said that when the program started 10 years ago, only 49 percent of children were prepared, but today, that number has increased to 81 percent.
“You think of the money you save in remediation—the long-term benefits—and the lack of struggle a child faces as they matriculate through grades,” Ms. Grasmick said.
The superintendent also cited her work to get all schools to offer “high-end” advanced courses for students as another big accomplishment.
The College Board this year cited Maryland for its students’ improved mastery of Advanced Placement courses, while Education Week named the state as the No. 1 school system in the nation for the third consecutive year in its annual Quality Counts assessment. For seven consecutive years, the state has seen students’ math and reading scores increase.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Maryland $250 million in the federal Race to the Top grant competition, which Ms. Grasmick said will be partly used for boosting science instruction.
James DeGraffenreidt, the president of the state school board, told the Baltimore Sun that the board will begin a “structured” and “methodical” national search to replace Grasmick.
Ms. Grasmick says that the state’s biggest challenges include continuing to close the achievement gap and obtaining financial resources in a tight economy.
A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2011 edition of Education Week as Maryland Schools Chief Announces Retirement After 20-Year Tenure