The school board chose Crawley last month to lead Maryland’s second-largest school system after William R. Hite Jr. announced plans to resign as superintendent to become the Philadelphia schools chief.
“We know he has a hard road ahead of him for the next 10 months,” board Chairwoman Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) told parents, teachers and principals at a forum in Hyattsville last week. The board is finding a long-term replacement for Hite.
Crawley has been tasked with addressing the operations of the 123,000-student system, including human resources, supporting services, information systems and finance, according to his contract. The board also may ask him to review family engagement in education.
Crawley, 54, a resident of the District, will be paid $215,000 through the end of June. During that time, he is expected to make recommendations on improving operations.
Crawley, who has never served as a superintendent, emerged as the top choice after the school board whittled a list of 15 candidates to three.
Jacobs said A. Duane Arbogast, the acting deputy superintendent of academics, was the only internal candidate interviewed for the interim position. Arbogast will work alongside Crawley, board officials said.
“Prince George’s is a desirable district for me,” Crawley said. “I’ve had other offers to be a superintendent, but this felt like the right match for me.”
Crawley said that during the next year he will assess his candidacy for the permanent position.
Jacobs said Crawley’s familiarity with the Prince George’s school system and his experience, which includes top administrative positions in Boston and Chicago, impressed the board. She said that if Crawley is interested in the permanent position, he will have to apply and go through the search firm the board has hired.
“His experience really stood out for us,” Jacobs said. “He came across to us as ready.”
Several in the county education community, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to alienate Crawley, said the interim superintendent is an unknown quantity in Prince George’s.
Crawley, who received a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University with a specialty in communication disorders and education, told a group of students and parents gathered recently during the forum at Northwestern High School that he was the first in his family to go to college.
“I was very fortunate my guidance counselor put me on a bus” to visit Hampton, he said. “Somebody did that for me. Our young people need that support, and they need it early. Kids need to set their feet on a college campus.”
After Hampton, Crawley received a master’s degree in speech and language pathology from Northeastern University, and a doctorate in education with a focus on instructional leadership and administration from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
A spokeswoman for the Chicago school system said Crawley was hired as an administrator in August 1991 and left the system in 1995.
Crawley spent 16 years in Arlington as director of special education and then was assistant superintendent of student services. This year, he served six months as the deputy chief of programming in the office of special education of the D.C. public school system.
Crawley said he left Arlington because he wanted to focus more on achievement gaps and working with disabilities.
“I was interested in what was happening in the District . . . and as a District resident, I saw it as a way to give back,” he said. “I [went to the District] not knowing that the Prince George’s County opportunity would come up. It just seemed to come together, my wanting to make a larger difference and affecting student achievement and special education.”
Former Arlington superintendent Robert Smith said he has been encouraging Crawley for the past eight or nine years “to go for a superintendency because I thought he was ready for it.”
Smith, an associate professor of education at George Mason University, described Crawley as inspiring and charismatic, but “not an overly charismatic figure. It is a quiet charisma.”
Crawley is the father of a 16-year-old son and is a trumpet player. He seemed at ease talking to a small group of parents, students and faculty members at the forum, discussing retention and recruitment of quality staff, addressing the system’s fiscal challenges, continuing to improve student achievement and building relationships with the community.
Crawley said many have asked him what his vision is for the school system.
“My vision has not changed” since becoming an educator, he said. “It is that every student leave with the skills and knowledge to make their postsecondary choices real.”