Andy Zuckerman, Maria Navarro and Nicola Diamond Credit: via MCPS

As Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith nears the end of his first four-year contract, at least three of the school district’s top officials have announced they plan to leave to pursue other jobs.

In December, MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Zuckerman and Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro both announced they will leave their posts at the end of the school year to “pursue other leadership opportunities.” Neither has announced publicly what they plan to do next.

This month, MCPS Chief Financial Officer Nicola Diamond also resigned. On Thursday, the Urban Alliance, a national youth development nonprofit, announced that Diamond will be its new chief operating officer.

Urban Alliance in 2018 started a high school internship program in Montgomery County to provide paid internships and mentoring to “economically disadvantaged high school seniors.”

Then-MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr appointed Zuckerman and Navarro to their posts in 2014. Each earned a salary of $228,500 during the 2018-19 school year, according to an MCPS salary list Bethesda Beat obtained through a public records request.

Diamond worked for MCPS for 30 years and was appointed as the school’s top financial officer in 2016, under Smith’s leadership. Her salary in the 2018-19 school year was $184,500.

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All three positions are considered top administrative jobs in MCPS, the country’s 14th largest school district.

The trio is a staple at school board meetings, often fielding questions and explaining MCPS happenings or complicated budget initiatives.

It was not immediately clear when Navarro’s, Diamond’s and Zuckerman’s successors would be hired, but Smith wrote in a message in December that he would share his “vision for the future of the MCPS leadership team” in 2020.

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School board Vice President Brenda Wolff said Friday afternoon that all three departing administrators made a significant impact on MCPS and take with them valuable institutional knowledge.

“They will all be missed, but, you know what? People move on — people have to move on sometimes,” Wolff said. “People, after so many years, start to look for new opportunities.”

Diamond was an all-knowing budget ace and Navarro and Zuckerman are involved in so many aspects of MCPS administration that they will be difficult to replace, Wolff said.

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But Wolff said she doesn’t anticipate any major changes to major MCPS initiatives — like the expansion of regional magnet and international baccalaureate programs or implementation of more dual immersion programs.

“I think Dr. Smith recognizes these programs have expanded opportunities for our students,” Wolff said. “I don’t think there are any fears people should have about these programs differing.”

At the same time, the school district announced Navarro’s and Zuckerman’s resignations, Smith wrote in a message to MCPS staff that he wants to renew his contract for an additional four years.

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Smith was required to notify the school board by Feb. 1 whether he wanted to continue on as superintendent.

When asked by Bethesda Beat in January, all eight members of the school board said they support renewing his contract for an additional four years, demystifying, at least slightly, negotiations that will begin in February behind closed doors. Smith, though, did not make his intentions known then.

The board must take final action on his contract renewal by March 1.
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.

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School board members have lauded his 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. They also praised his efforts to gather and disaggregate more data about student achievement.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com