The Washington Post

Why I will miss Nancy Grasmick

I don’t think state school superintendents, as a rule, do much good. They are too far from the classroom. I try to stay away from them and focus on teachers. But I have to confess that Nancy S. Grasmick, about to retire after 20 years as Maryland state school chief, has proven me wrong, at least in her case.

The latest Maryland School Assessment results show the state with few equals nationally in moving kids up to grade level. It is also at or near the top in Advanced Placement participation and success, and has become a mecca for teachers and principals who want to make a difference, particularly with disadvantaged children.

Grasmick has an unusual advantage in that few state school chiefs want to, or are allowed to, keep their jobs that long. But the former school teacher proved to have not only good ideas on how to improve Maryland schools, but an iron will when it came to dealing with state politicians--including governors--who wanted her gone.

She knew what worked: high standards, smart principals, well-trained teachers and lots of room for educator creativity. Like all states, many Maryland schools still have problems, but almost all are moving steadily toward solutions, with Grasmick and the state school board backing them up.

The only strike against her, in my view, is that she never settled her inexplicable feud with one of the state’s other great educators, Montgomery County school superintendent Jerry D. Weast. I have listened to each of them say unkind things about the other, yet they were among the greatest forces for positive change in the region.

Now both are going off to new adventures. Good luck to them. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison didn’t get along either, but their creative tension gave us our constitutional system. If there were more school administrators like Grasmick who were as creative as that, I might listen to them more. Hopefully there will be others who will surprise me.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.


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