At a special meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 4, the Montgomery County Board of Education named their selection as the new superintendent of schools for Montgomery County Public Schools — Dr. Jack R. Smith. He is currently the interim state superintendent of Maryland schools and former superintendent of schools in Calvert County Public Schools in Prince Frederick, Md.
The Board of Education met at the Carver Educational Services Center and unanimously approved the conditional appointment of Dr. Jack R. Smith.
“I am excited and nervous, humbled and very much looking forward to this opportunity and effort to work on behalf of children,” said Smith as he addressed the media after the Board approved his conditional hiring. “I have had the rare opportunity to work, since I was 22-years-old, on behalf of children and adolescents.”
The Board and search consultants Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, reviewed applications and credentials of more than 70 candidates who applied or were recruited from all over the United States and conducted interviews with candidates with diverse backgrounds and experience, serving mid-sized to large districts.
“We have selected Dr. Smith after interviewing 11 candidates from eight different states, including six candidates of color, three females, eight males, seven superintendents, and four representing other roles,” said Board of Education President Michael Durso. “We are excited about today’s action, however; it is a prelude to a series of public meetings to be scheduled for the community to meet Dr. Smith prior to his assuming the position of Superintendent of Schools in July 2016.” The meetings will allow parent, business, education, civic and community leaders and the community at large to meet with Smith.
“My immediate goal is to get to know the community,” said Smith, “and I don’t mean for months or years, but right now in the coming weeks,” Smith said he did not want to enter this new post and begin taking everything apart. “I think you look, you talk, and you listen, but you also look for short term successes. I will spend a lot of time speaking with the staff because they know what those successes might be. It is my job, as we build a collaborative shared-vision about that to work with the staff and implement and operationalize those changes. I think it is premature to say I will do this or that.”
“One of my responsibilities, in collaboration with this Board of Education, is to work on behalf of every single child, to make sure that every single student has equitable opportunities, and the chance fulfill their dreams and goals as they walk off the stage with that diploma, no matter their circumstance or their economic level,” said Smith. “I am a true believer that public education can make a profound difference in the life of a child, no matter what his or her circumstance.”
“I will not wait months or years to start talking about what needs to happen on behalf of children and students,” he said. “I will work very closely with the staff, the Board, the leaders of the community, and the citizen of the community to think about what is needed on behalf of every student in the system.”
Smith said that one of his concerns right off the bat was the “significant range and distribution of graduation rates across 25 high schools,” He said that the 78 percent to 98 percent graduation rate range was something that MCPS can start talking about right away.
“Graduation has to happen for every student. Beyond graduation, we want really good opportunities for them to reach the highest levels of rigor in whatever they are interested in. If students can get to the ninth grade with a strong foundational learning in reading, writing, mathematics, and the other disciplines then they can walk through the high school experience really digging deeply into whether they want to be a plumber, a British literature professor, a mathematician, an engineer, or join the family business, run their own business, or manage the local grocery store. We have to give them choices.”
Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski, who represents District 2 – which includes the southern portion of Germantown, said Smith will be a leader who brings continued stability to MCPS while moving the school system forward.
“One of the things that was almost immediately obvious after meeting Dr. Smith was his ease and comfort in discussing topics that were challenging and uncomfortable,” said Smondrowski. “He is a very frank person, but easy to get along with and incredibly knowledgeable. I appreciate both his personal and the professional experience that he brings to MCPS.”
She credited interim superintendent Larry Bowers with making “critical and crucial organizational changes” which has put MCPS on a strong foundation. “I think the difference in the Smith era will be that we will have a leader at the helm who is not looking to necessarily turn things all around, but is ready and willing to get in and do the work that we, as a Board, feel is so urgent. He is someone who is going to bring continued stability and forward progress,” said Smondrowski.
District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice, the chairman of the County Council’s Education Committee, was on the search committee which selected Dr. Smith. Rice supports the selection and looks forward to working with the new superintendent to find ways to close the achievement gap in Montgomery County.
“I had a chance to talk to Dr. Smith, and I feel that his answers to some of the challenges that we face here in Montgomery County when it comes to the achievement gap were spot on,” said Rice. “We need to start relooking at our expectations of students. We need to start holding our teachers accountable and making sure that they understand that all of our kids can achieve, and the expectation should be that they all do achieve.”
Rice said that Smith is also open to making some structural changes within the school system. “I think that is important as well,” said Rice, “utilizing technology and really relying on 21st Century methodologies in approaching education that do not solely focus on just information, but also methods on how we teach and analyze information, is the next step for us. That is going to be a promise for our high performing students as well, because that is what our parents are asking for, to keep us on the cutting edge.”
Photos by Germantown Pulse.