May-June 2016 | Featured Article

Has the MCPS Board Learned Its Lesson?

New superintendent Jack R. Smith looks to be "the rock" of the MCPS Board of Education following the controversial firing of his predecessor, Joshua Starr.

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From left, Montgomery County Board of Education members Michael Durso, Christopher Barclay, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Phil Kauffman. Photos by Lisa Helfert

Meeting privately in early February with a panel of community leaders who were vetting his possible appointment as Montgomery County’s next superintendent of schools, Jack R. Smith pointedly declared that his role was to be “the rock, but not the rock star.”

Given the controversy and criticism that had enveloped the school system and the Montgomery County Board of Education in the months before the meeting, Smith’s words were soothing to several of those who were listening.

“I [was] very clear about who I am and how I approach the job,” Smith, most recently Maryland’s interim state superintendent of schools, recalls. “The job of the superintendent is to be a calming, steady, stable administrator of the system while building a real urgency around meeting the needs of all students, every student.”

New superintendent Jack Smith will take office July 1. Photo by Lisa Helfert

To be sure, the stakeholders in the school system who overwhelmingly recommended that the Montgomery County Board of Education hire the 58-year-old Smith—whose experience includes stints as a teacher and principal, as well as a school superintendent in Calvert County—have since praised his ability to move quickly to address key challenges facing the nation’s 17th largest school district. “Even though Dr. Smith is not necessarily a young gun, he does have some innovative ideas and does want to shake things up,” says county

Councilmember Craig Rice, who heads the council’s education committee.
It is also clear that Smith’s view of the superintendent’s role resonated with those vetting him. “I do agree that Dr. Smith was a safe choice,” Rice says, echoing a comment made both publicly and privately by some others. “But I think that’s smart, based on the challenges that [the board of education] had before. I think for right now, what the system does need is stability.”

The members of the board and some of its key stakeholders appear to be betting that Smith’s 35 years of experience, combined with a style that’s seen as both low-key and self-effacing, will improve the school board’s internal dynamics and public messaging.

Smith’s hiring in early February came almost 12 months to the day after the school board announced the departure of his predecessor, Joshua Starr, a move that the school board was unwilling—and perhaps unable—to explain to the community at large. It triggered puzzlement, concern and criticism from interested parties both inside and outside the county, sentiments that only intensified with a largely bungled effort to hire a successor to Starr in May 2015.

Indeed, in the view of a number of key players who have observed or been involved with the Montgomery County school system, the board of education has been divided—and at times dysfunctional—for much of the past decade as it has struggled to speak with a collective voice. While some say Smith’s hiring was a sign of progress toward a more unified and assertive board, they caution that a remediation of the longtime status quo is among the major challenges facing Smith after he takes office on July 1.

“They’ve hired a very good superintendent,” says a person involved in the selection process. “That superintendent and the board now have to develop a relationship, and they have to come to an agreement and understand how to work with each other to make the school system successful.”

Based on recent history, this source adds, “The jury’s still out on that one.”

Former Montgomery County Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill says she still doesn’t “totally know” why a majority of board members decided last year to oust former Superintendent Joshua Starr, whom she supported. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Dysfunction is not new to the school board. Patricia O’Neill, the second-longest-serving member in the nearly 200-year history of the Montgomery County Board of Education, vividly remembers the rocky political landscape that greeted her after she first won election 17 years ago.

In the wake of a bitter battle over teacher pensions, two board members were refusing to talk to outgoing board President Nancy King (now chair of the county’s state Senate delegation). Meanwhile, Stephen Abrams, known for a sharp mind and tongue, had just won a second stint on the board. He insisted that he be seated across the board table from Mona Signer, who had ousted him two years earlier, “so that he could glare her down,” according to O’Neill.

Things didn’t get any better at a board retreat in Annapolis. “I couldn’t believe I was sitting there with adults,” O’Neill says. “At one point, I thought we needed a body fluid cleanup kit, it was so bad.”

O’Neill says the current board is different. “Everybody on the board is collegial,” she says. “There is not the dynamic of people who don’t speak to each other.”

But in the view of many who deal regularly with the board, the events of late 2014 and the first half of 2015 served to define the difference between speaking and communicating. Matt Gandal, a longtime county resident and an education policy expert, says he observed “a kind of a deterioration of the clarity of leadership, the stability of leadership, the transparency of leadership [of the board], all of which make a huge difference in the quality of the system and public confidence in the system.”

Gandal heads a consulting firm that advises states and localities across the country on education policy. Referring to Starr’s ouster, he says, “I don’t know what the rationale was for making a leadership change. I don’t know because it wasn’t communicated. I don’t know because when people ran for election months earlier, none of them made it part of their platform. That is why so many people were so frustrated when the change was made. Whether you agreed with it or not, nobody understood why—or what it meant for any potential new direction that the county was going to go in.”

The Montgomery County Board of Education controls the 17th largest school district in the country, overseeing 156,000 students and a budget that is approaching $2.4 billion annually. Photo by Lisa Helfert

A detailed protocol was put in place when Starr was hired as schools chief in 2011, including annual evaluations and frequent conversations between the superintendent and both board officers and subgroups of board members. In early 2015, Starr was informed that the votes were not there to renew his contract. “What happened to me came as a surprise, because we had put in all these checks and balances,” says Starr, who remains a Bethesda resident and is CEO of Arlington-based PDK International, a professional association for educators.

In fact, Starr’s ouster came on the heels of a late 2014 personnel evaluation by the board that several sources said was generally positive. And it came barely a month after a private retreat involving Starr and board members where, by all accounts, there was no effort to bring the issue of his future to a head. Shortly after the retreat, Michael Durso, the board’s vice president at the time, reportedly called the board’s then-president, O’Neill, who supported retaining Starr, and said the votes to renew Starr’s contract were not there. Starr says he was simply informed: “You don’t have the votes.”

Even with the recent hiring of a new superintendent, the reasons for Starr’s ouster remain unclear. “I think board members were very fixed in their positions,” O’Neill says of the members who wanted Starr out. “I could not be clear as to what their reasons were. I can speculate, but there was never a time when the whole board said in a review: ‘These are the issues.’ ”

“To this day, I don’t totally know,” O’Neill acknowledges.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski was said to have had a difficult relationship with Starr and felt he was dismissive of her concerns about the school district. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Durso, known to be at the core of the opposition to Starr, declines to discuss the matter publicly. “I don’t see a need to go down that road,” Durso replies politely but firmly when asked if Starr was offered an explanation of why Durso and three other board members—Judith Docca, Jill Ortman-Fouse and Rebecca Smondrowski—did not, according to sources, support renewal of the superintendent’s contract. “I think people feel a need to know, and the resignation did not allay any of those questions or concerns. Some linger, and may continue to linger,” says Durso, who succeeded O’Neill as board president at the end of last year. “Everybody either feels like they know the scoop or want to know the scoop, and that’s really tricky in personnel matters.”  

But some board members admit to second thoughts about how Starr’s departure was handled. “I would have loved to have said something because I think people wanted to understand, but I think we erred on the side of not saying anything because we weren’t sure what we could say,” says Ortman-Fouse, who has a background in communications. “I think we could have talked about what we wanted going forward. I think it was unfortunate that we didn’t talk about that.”

Smondrowski agrees: “I believe we should have crafted a message in terms of how we were planning on moving forward.”

Absent such a statement, the Feb. 3, 2015, press conference at which Starr’s departure was announced was a chaotic scene. Board members dodged shouted questions from reporters and ultimately scattered, leaving Starr to field the queries. “To be frank, over the past decade, they never really had to speak as a board,” says Chris Lloyd, president of the 12,000-member Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). Of the decision not to retain Starr, he adds, “Many of them were operating as individuals with individual reasons to get to that single decision. And if they tried to articulate that, I think it would have been even more divisive within the community because people would have seen it as a very challenged board in a lot of ways.”

The first members of the Montgomery County Board of Education were appointed in 1817, but it did not become a body subject to popular election until the early 1950s. Today, the school board oversees an operating budget that is approaching $2.4 billion annually—nearly half of the Montgomery County government’s total budget—with a student population of about 156,000, and growing rapidly.

While the seven adult school board members say that overseeing a school system as large as Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) requires a full-time commitment, they are paid just $25,000 a year—compared with a salary of more than $120,000 for council members. (There is also an unpaid student member, elected annually by middle and high school students and allowed to vote on some decisions, including the appointment of a superintendent.)

“It’s slave labor,” Christopher Barclay says of the current salary, with only half a smile. In addition, the level of professional and support staff accorded to the board of education is a small fraction of what’s allotted to the county council, an imbalance that several members of both panels feel needs to be addressed in view of the mushrooming size of the school system.  

“I think it’s probably the toughest elected position there is,” says Starr, who has spent nearly two decades as a school administrator. “It’s the only elected position I know of where you’re not supposed to do constituent services, yet you campaign on constituent issues and are voted in by people who think you are going to solve their problems. And then you get there and you realize, ‘Wait a second, that’s actually not what I’m supposed to do.’ So there’s a real conflict for board members.”

This conflict may help to explain some of the recent divisions within the board. While the notion is generally dismissed by current board members, some stakeholders see a new member/old member dynamic at work regarding the board’s role—and the extent to which it should involve itself in the day-to-day management of the system.

“When I first got on the board, I got involved in a special education matter, where I was asking a lot of questions,” recalls Phil Kauffman, first elected in 2008 and running for a third term this year. “I realize now that probably wasn’t something that I should have been as involved in as I was…I think I’ve gotten more respectful of the system.”

He says of the board: “We’re not eight superintendents running the system. We set the policy and direction for the school system, [and] we hire the superintendent to run the place.”
But the two most recent arrivals, Ortman-Fouse and Smondrowski, are seen as more open to playing the role of system ombudsmen, tackling constituent complaints. Ortman-Fouse, 53, and Smondrowski, 47, are the youngest of the seven adults on the board, and, with children still in school, are more likely to hear parent complaints than older board members whose children are no longer in the system. “To me, that is the confusing part of being a board member,” says Smondrowski, a former Maryland General Assembly staffer who is seeking election to a second term this year. “On the one hand, traditionally, the role is strictly oversight. On the other hand, people elect me to represent them, and I personally have a hard time saying to anybody, ‘That’s not my job.’ ”

In fact, some on the outside are pushing the board to take a more aggressive role in the operation of the system. In an interview before Smith’s appointment, Rice said, “It seems as though the superintendent, once appointed, does their own thing, and then asks for forgiveness if they’ve done something that’s wrong, but never asks for permission from the school board, nor is it the school board driving what happens with the superintendent.”  
Rice expresses a more optimistic view now. “I think with the selection of Dr. Smith, the board will feel more comfortable in terms of making some…changes,” Rice says. “I don’t think that could have happened under a Dr. Starr or a Dr. Weast, but could certainly happen under a Dr. Smith—just based on his tenor and his demeanor, and where the board is right now in starting to assert itself.”

Rice’s observations are in large part a reaction to the 12-year tenure of former Superintendent Jerry Weast, Starr’s predecessor. And to some extent the school board’s struggles to achieve equilibrium in its relationship with a superintendent—while also articulating a coherent vision to the community at large—appear to be rooted in that era as well.

Weast took office in Montgomery County in 1999, hired away from North Carolina’s Guilford County school system. By the time he left in 2011, Weast, who remains in the county and works nationally as an education consultant, had served four times the three-year national average for a superintendent in a large school district.

Weast was hired as a change agent at a time when MCPS was facing major challenges, and is widely credited with making significant improvements in the system, including smaller elementary school class sizes, with the aid of a flush economy. His aggressive management style was often effective, but it also stirred controversy on and off the board.

“Jerry Weast was a very strong figure,” says County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who was a member of the school board for five years during Weast’s tenure. “He really acted like an elected official. You had to constantly say, ‘OK, Jerry, you work for us.’ ” At the same time, Navarro adds, Weast “did a really incredible job connecting with all the members of the community, and its different sectors and organizations. Even though he was heavy-handed in many ways, he could explain to you why, and he could articulate to you what the plan was. He would own it.”

Although technically a school board employee, Weast worked hard to manage his bosses. His efforts tended to obscure from public view some of the divisions on the board that have been more evident lately. But several board members chafed under such a regime.

“While it produced a great deal of public unanimity, I think some members of the board felt it was too much—that Dr. Weast really did not keep them as well informed as they felt he should have,” says Lloyd, the president of the MCEA, who was a MCEA board member while both Weast and Starr were in power. “They felt that when the time came, they needed a new superintendent who would work better with them, not tell them what was going to occur.”

Recounting his hiring, Starr says board members made it clear that they “wanted to change the culture and leadership style.” He characterizes the board’s message at the time as “we want to be very collaborative, we want to be part of the team.”

Starr’s contract, signed in May 2011, included at least four meetings per year to discuss the progress toward goals set in those evaluations. Starr also met weekly with board officers, and later instituted meetings every six weeks with three members of the board on a rotating basis. “Over the course of almost four years, given the shared governance work that we had put in place, and with the clear expectations that the board had for me, there was nothing that I was doing that the board wasn’t aware of, involved with and had an opportunity to shape,” Starr says.

But if Starr was hired because he wasn’t Weast, some believe that he ultimately lost the job, at least in part, for the same reason. Starr was widely seen as lacking Weast’s political savvy, as well as his ability to articulate goals and a path for accomplishing them. “If you looked at the policies Josh talked about, and you looked at the things Jerry talked about, there was not a lot of difference,” says Rice. “It was all in style, and how you sold those. And that’s where I think, unfortunately, that Josh didn’t do himself justice.”

At the outset of his tenure, Starr went on a widely praised listening tour to familiarize himself with the school system and its constituencies. Many lauded his emphasis on “social emotional” learning of life skills at a time of increasing criticism of “teach to the test” curricula, and welcomed his talk of social justice amid continued concern about the so-called achievement gap, an issue that predated Weast’s tenure.

But a restiveness then set in, as people both on and off the board awaited a series of specific goals from the new superintendent, to understand better where he wanted to take the system. “After about a year, people, rightly or wrongly, started to expect a turn,” Lloyd says. “For some on the board and some in the community, that turn never came.”

Montgomery County Education Association President Chris Lloyd. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Some outside the board saw the situation as a silver lining of sorts, an opportunity for the board to assert itself. “[There were] many conversations with some of the board members about, ‘Look, you have to exert leadership. This is your moment,’ because people were wondering what’s happening, and Josh wasn’t providing that or guiding that,” says one county official who deals frequently with the board. “So it was kind of like a special moment for the board, and, instead, it went [south].”

Earlier, in 2007, there had been significant division within the board on whether to retain Weast for a third four-year term. But, sources say there were a series of straightforward conversations with Weast and he stayed, amid board members’ concerns about what a turnover in the top job could mean for the stability of the system.
Such an accommodation turned out to be a bridge too far in 2015. Durso was said to be the first member to decide that Starr needed to go. First appointed to the board in 2009 to fill a vacancy, Durso was a school principal for more than three decades, including 13 years at Silver Spring’s Springbrook High School. Sources say Durso’s primary concern was that Starr, despite ambitious ideas, was unable to deliver on them.

According to sources, he was joined in his opposition by Smondrowski, who harbored some of the same issues, aggravated by a difficult relationship with Starr. She regarded him as dismissive of some of her concerns, and he was said to occasionally roll his eyes as she spoke. The third vote not to renew the Starr contract came from Ortman-Fouse, elected to the board for the first time in 2014 after campaigning as an advocate of change.

School board member Judith Docca became the pivotal fourth vote against Starr after questioning his ability to close the schools’ achievement gap. Photo by Lisa Helfert

The crucial fourth vote, denying Starr the board majority he needed for renewal, came at the 11th hour from Docca, who had initially been prepared to support him. But Docca had become increasingly doubtful of Starr’s ability to deal with the achievement gap, sources say.

Some insiders say the outcome might have been different if the board had the ability to offer Starr a shorter-term contract in conjunction with outlining detailed goals for key areas. But such an option is not possible under Maryland law, which requires that a superintendent be given a four-year contract—or none at all.

Daniel Domenech, executive director of Alexandria-based AASA, a national association of school superintendents, says most states have maximum contract lengths for a school superintendent, but then allow a local board to offer a shorter-term deal if they choose. “I am not aware of any other state that has Maryland’s ‘it must be four years,’ ” says Domenech, a former Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent. “I think it makes it difficult for [school districts] in Maryland because very often a board might want to extend the contract, but not necessarily for four years.”

When Starr was told he lacked the votes to remain in the job, he mounted a counteroffensive, with Rice, County Executive Ike Leggett and state Sen. Richard Madaleno lobbying board members. It didn’t change any minds—and may have backfired. Barclay, who had originally opposed a renewal of Starr’s contract, only later to be convinced to retain the superintendent, once again wavered in the face of the lobbying blitz. A formal vote on whether to renew Starr’s contract was never taken, although some sources suggest, had there been one, it would have ended up 5-3 opposed—with O’Neill, Kauffman and Dahlia Huh, the board’s student member at the time, in Starr’s camp. Huh, highly regarded by her adult peers, left the room in tears during a particularly intense closed session of the board where Starr backers made a last-ditch effort to save his job.

The divisions and hard feelings were clearly on display not long afterward, as Bonnie Fogel, founder of Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, hosted a gathering for Starr. The guest list, submitted by the ousted superintendent, included only three of the eight school board members: O’Neill, Kauffman and Huh.

While board members remained on speaking—and perhaps even collegial—terms in the wake of Starr’s departure, significant internal strains were apparent. At the early February press conference when Starr’s departure was announced, O’Neill angered other board members when she acknowledged that she would have voted to keep Starr. She later briefly contemplated quitting the board.

It was hardly a conducive atmosphere for launching a search to find a successor to Starr—especially one that had to be completed in only five months. In hindsight, one board member says publicly it was a mistake to try to move so quickly, and several others agree privately.

“We needed a rest period,” says Barclay, a two-time board president who is leaving at the end of 2016 after a 10-year tenure. “It was kind of like getting scraped along the pavement, and then you have to go in and put on a tux and present yourself in the best light. And that’s pretty damn hard to do when you’ve been through a really hard decision.”

Once again, state law may have constrained the board’s options. “There were some legal interpretations we got that said we were obligated to do a search,” Barclay says. Upon Starr’s departure in mid-February, Larry Bowers, the district’s longtime chief operating officer, was named interim superintendent until a permanent successor could be hired by July 1, the administrative start of the 2015-2016 school year.

Maryland law does not directly address the length of time that an interim superintendent may serve. But a reading of the state statute by the board’s attorneys appeared to foreclose the option, at least at that point, of asking Bowers to remain in the job past July 1 in order to provide the board with more time for a search.

Legal interpretations aside, the board was emotionally ill-equipped to undertake a search. “They were not together as a group, they were acting as individuals rather than as a collective,” says one source involved in the selection process. “They did not have a consensus on the criteria [for a new superintendent]. Even though they published one, they did not have agreement internally. They hadn’t really worked through that issue carefully, and they started very, very late in the process.”

The upshot, this source adds, was that the board “wound up with one candidate that I’m not sure every one of them would have agreed was the best candidate. That caused difficulty.”
After interviewing seven candidates, the board submitted just one in May 2015 to a panel composed of representatives from about 15 local groups and organizations, ranging from the MCEA to the Montgomery County Council of PTAs to the county branch of the NAACP. He was Andrew Houlihan, the 36-year-old chief academic officer of the Houston Independent School District who lacked experience as a superintendent. (A second likely finalist had withdrawn from consideration in order to head a Florida school system.)

The board members were hardly united in their recommendation of Houlihan: His name is said to have been forwarded to the community panel by an informal 5-3 vote of the board. For their part, members of the community panel were upset at being asked to meet with only one candidate. Four years earlier, before Starr was appointed, a similar group had been given three candidates to consider.

After meeting with Houlihan, the community panel reported back to the board on the same day. Almost unanimously, the panel felt Houlihan was not ready to be superintendent of MCPS. The panel was further angered when, just as the three-hour session with Houlihan was wrapping up, one of its members noticed an email message: a public announcement by the board that Houlihan was its “preferred” candidate. “That didn’t leave a good taste in the mouths of some of the panel members,” says one participant. “Of what value is our reaction when the school board had already indicated they had a candidate?”

Says Domenech: “They did something I’ve never seen before when they made an announcement of who their favorite candidate was. It was a process that was very unusual, to say the least.”

The day after his meeting with the community panel, Houlihan met with the board’s search consultant, who told him about the community panel’s negative reaction. Two days later, Houlihan officially withdrew from consideration. Bowers agreed to postpone retirement and remain as interim superintendent through the 2015-2016 school year, while the search was restarted.

The flawed search for Starr’s successor last year served as a wake-up call to the beleaguered board. It was quickly followed by a board decision to go on a retreat, where facilitators tried to open up the lines of communication among board members. One of the facilitators was former panel member Reginald Felton, who served from 1994-2004 and is now a consultant to local school boards.

Says Lloyd: “They clearly had some conversations at the retreat that helped them to deal with the decision around Starr and how they got there. There’s still division there involving the different styles of the board members. But I think now at least they’ve started to understand the styles of each [other] and to some extent even respect that.”

Responding to the sharp criticism over its handling of the first attempt to replace Starr, the board also moved to expand the school community’s role in the search process. What had been one large panel of stakeholders in the system was broken into three groups, each of which met with the final candidates for the job this past February. The format was revamped to allow for more give and take among the finalists and the community panels, and each panel then gave its thoughts directly to the board, rather than filtering them through the board’s consultants, as was the practice in the past. The changes were praised by many of the participants who had grumbled about how the process had been handled the previous May.

The board had begun the search for a new superintendent in early fall, ultimately reviewing about 70 résumés and interviewing 11 candidates. Both finalists—Jack Smith and Marty Smith, the chief of staff at Fairfax County Public Schools—were forwarded to the community panels by unanimous votes of the board, a contrast to the informal 5-3 Houlihan vote nine months earlier.

It was just around the time that the search was getting underway that Jack Smith learned that his boss at the Maryland Department of Education, state Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery, was resigning. Recruited by Lowery in 2013 to serve as the department’s chief academic officer, he was “distressed” by Lowery’s departure and not interested in succeeding her. Smith decided to apply for the vacancy in Montgomery County and was offered an interview. By the end of a follow-up interview, “I was pretty interested in the job,” he says.

Though Domenech says he heard anecdotal evidence of “top-notch candidates” reluctant to pursue the Montgomery County job in the wake of the events of 2014-2015, Smith says he “didn’t give that a lot of thought, actually.” Sources say Smith never asked questions about the circumstances surrounding Starr’s departure and the accompanying turmoil in meetings with the board. “The more I met with [the board], the more positive I felt about the opportunity and the circumstance of working with them,” Smith says.
If the hiring of Starr was in part a reaction to Weast’s tenure, the hiring of Smith may have been influenced by the failed relationship with his predecessor: While Starr was criticized in some quarters as aloof, Smith is described as approachable. “Jack is a very different kind of individual from Josh,” says one source who was involved in the hiring process.

The board, according to sources, decided to hire Smith following clear feedback from all three panels of stakeholders that he was the preferred choice—but not without some debate.

The other finalist, Marty Smith, would have been only the second African-American (the late Paul Vance, who served from 1991-1999, was the first) to head what is now a system where 70 percent of the current students are members of minority groups. Until about two weeks before the community panels were convened in early February, there was a third likely finalist—potentially Montgomery County’s first female superintendent. Board sources declined to identify her, but say she is currently the superintendent of a school system outside of Maryland, and that she withdrew her application due to responsibilities connected to the care of her elderly parents.

Ortman-Fouse, the school board’s newest member, acknowledges the initial grumbling within segments of the school community over the choice of “another white male” to head the system. “I didn’t get on the board to hire another white male,” she says, “because I really do believe that leadership needs to reflect the diversity of the populations that they’re serving. But at the end of the day, you want to go with the person who is strongest and, apart from their gender or race, is going to do the job for the most vulnerable kids in our county.” Of Jack Smith she adds, “With his understanding of teaching and learning, and his passion about meeting every child’s needs, from the most vulnerable to those who are highly gifted, I think we could really move the needle. And that is the big thing.”

Ortman-Fouse and her board colleagues seem to be hoping for a storybook ending—literally. A book that was recently making the rounds among Montgomery County Board of Education members—The Essential School Board Book—was hardly a best-seller when published in 2009 by Harvard Education Press. But Montgomery board members focused their attention on a section in the book about the Calvert County school board, in which a former president of that panel declares: “We are recognized in the state as being unique. We are five people without any personal agendas. …Everything in the school system is focused on student achievement. That’s our mantra.” According to the book, then-Calvert County school board President Frank Parish gives the “lion’s share” of the credit to Calvert’s superintendent of schools, Jack Smith, then midway through his 2006-2013 tenure in that southern Maryland jurisdiction.

The next four years will tell if Smith can pull off a repeat performance in Rockville and put an end to years of dysfunction and disunity. Says Lloyd: “The board now is really looking for someone who listens, who can build coalitions, and who is inclusive. And I think the faith of the board is that this is the guy to do that.” n

Louis Peck ( has covered politics extensively at the local, state and national levels for four decades.