With less than a year left in his contract, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith says he will notify the school board by January if he wants to continue at the helm of the state’s largest district.
In a statement Thursday evening, Smith said he is “quite happy” in his post at MCPS, but stopped short of taking a position on a contract renewal.
Smith, hired for a four-year term that ends June 30, 2020, replaced interim superintendent Larry Bowers.
“I wake up each morning with a renewed commitment to ensuring that all MCPS students have the access, opportunity and resources to unlock their full potential,” Smith wrote in his statement. “… When I have come to a decision about … requesting another contract, I will let the Board of Education know first, as I serve at their pleasure.”
Smith’s statement came in response to a question Bethesda Beat asked on Wednesday about whether Smith would seek a new contract.
MCPS spokesman Derek Turner responded in an email that it was an “easy” question to answer.
“Yes he plans to continue as MCPS Superintendent of Schools,” Turner wrote.
On Thursday, though, Turner said he had not consulted Smith and was not authorized to comment on his personal decisions.
When reached for comment on Wednesday, four school board members said they want Smith to continue and build on progress he has made and they would support authorizing a new four-year contract.
They made their comments, however, based on Turner’s initial statement that Smith was committed to seeking another contract.
“I’m very pleased to hear he’s interested in remaining in MCPS because I believe the work he’s started doing can yield results, and I don’t think those results will come by the end of next year,” board member Brenda Wolff said. “It will take longer to get a grasp on things, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Board Vice President Pat O’Neill, who has been a board member for 20 years, agreed with Wolff and said that despite “many, many challenges in this system,” Smith has made positive progress.
Specifically, O’Neill lauded Smith’s efforts to gather data about student achievement and his willingness to present that data, “exposing all the warts and blemishes” and “trying to address those.”
If the superintendent’s contract is renewed, O’Neill said, she hopes he focuses on reducing class sizes, addresses aging infrastructure and crowding problems, and increases support services for students who are English language learners.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski and student board member Nate Tinbite also offered support for renewing Smith’s contract. Smondrowksi said Smith has made “significant advancement” to benefit students and staff.
Board members Jeanette Dixon and Karla Silvestre declined to comment until Smith formally notifies the board of his desire to renew his contract.
President Shebra Evans and board member Judy Docca could not be reached for comment.
Prior to MCPS, Smith served as interim state superintendent and the State Department of Education’s chief academic officer. He spent eight years as superintendent of Calvert County Schools and spent six years teaching in Japan.
Smith, 61, has pushed for more career readiness pathways for students who may not want to attend college after high school graduation.
Under Smith’s advisement, the school system recently announced a plan to expand access to regional international baccalaureate programs and opened the new Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Wheaton, lauded as the state’s premier vocational high school.
He has also worked to create functional, publicly accessible databases with information about students’ performance on state tests and internal measures, as well as budget breakdowns and staffing allocations.
During his tenure as superintendent, MCPS has also faced several challenges.
Smith has been chastised by community members over his handling of alleged rapes at Damascus High School last fall. Many community members have said Smith has not been transparent or forthcoming enough with information about the investigation into the case, in which four junior varsity football players are accused of using a broomstick to rape some teammates.
Smith has also faced challenges in the classroom. The graduation rate in MCPS has declined each of the past three years and the dropout rate has steadily increased. In a presentation to the school board this week, MCPS staff members said that in the past 2 ½ years, 2,010 students have dropped out of county high schools, “the number of students in a medium-sized high school.”
MCPS declined to make Smith available for an interview Thursday.
“My focus now is preparing our schools for the new year,” he wrote in his statement on Thursday evening.
Smith currently makes a $290,000 annual salary and receives 25 days of leave each year, as well as 20 days of sick leave, according to his contract.
Smith also has a vehicle provided by the school system he can use for business and personal use, with all associated expenses paid by MCPS.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org