All eight members of the Montgomery County Board of Education say they support renewing Superintendent Jack Smith’s contract.
In December, Smith sent a message to some MCPS staff members saying he intends to ask the school board for another four-year contract leading the state’s largest school district when his current contract expires in June.
When asked by Bethesda Beat in August, Smith, 62, said he had not yet decided whether to pursue another contract, but that he is “quite happy” and wakes up “each morning with a renewed commitment to ensuring that all MCPS students have the access, opportunity and resources to unlock their full potential.”
At the time, four school board members pledged their support for Smith, while two could not be reached for comment. At-large board members Jeanette Dixon and Karla Silvestre declined to comment until Smith’s official announcement.
In interviews with Bethesda Beat this week, Dixon, Silvestre and the other six members of the board said they support renewing Smith’s contract. They cited his commitment to ensuring all students succeed and progress in expanding early childhood education and dual language programs.
As of Friday, Smith had not sent an official letter to board members with his request, as required by state law if he wants to continue in the position. He is required to send the letter by Feb. 1, and the board must take final action on his contract renewal by March 1.
The appointment of the superintendent is subject to the written approval of the state superintendent of schools.
Judy Docca, a 14-year member of the school board who worked for MCPS for 38 years, said she has collaborated with nine MCPS superintendents, all good leaders.
Smith earned praise from Docca for his work focusing MCPS’ attention on helping minority and low-income students “reach their full potential.”
“He’s been the only (superintendent) I’ve worked with who has had the guts to come out and say, ‘We have to do something about African American and Latino students to make sure all students are getting a good education,” Docca said. “He’s saying that, but not to the exclusion of kids who are already doing really well. He’s saying that we have to do something to provide for those students who haven’t done as well in the past, too.”
Board member Pat O’Neill, who was first elected in 1998, has overseen the hiring of three superintendents, an often contentious process.
Change at the top “creates some instability and anxiety,” O’Neill said, so retaining an “effective leader” is important.
“With any superintendent, there’s going to be some people who love them and some people who hate them,” O’Neill said. “I think with Dr. Smith … few people understand the scope and responsibility and 24/7 demands on him.”
Board President Shebra Evans praised Smith’s leadership in launching a pilot program for a longer school year at two elementary schools and opening two new early childhood education centers in two years.
“Each year, I want us to build on the progress of the last year, and I want him to be able to help us carry out the work and investments we’ve made,” Evans said.
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 currently has a $290,000 annual base 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