Anne Arundel Schools Chief Resigns

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Eric J. Smith, the nationally renowned educator who took command of the Anne Arundel school system in 2002 and brought three years of academic prosperity and political tumult, announced yesterday that he will resign to take a job at Harvard University.

He announced his exit less than two months after the release of an audit that found deep faults in the school system's human resources department, including allegations of unorthodox hiring bonuses and undeserved pay raises. While the report seemed far removed from the core of Smith's academic mission, it set off a round of public acrimony between Smith and members of the school board. The rift, in Smith's mind, proved irreparable.

The disputes "have resulted in considerable distraction from the important work that I was brought here to do and that I love doing," Smith said in a statement released at the end of the workday.

Smith said he accepted a position in "leadership development" at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A spokeswoman for Harvard said she had no information on Smith's hire.

Smith, who had nine months remaining on his four-year contract, said he informed school board President Konrad M. Wayson of his intentions Aug. 23 and "they had an opportunity to come back and respond to me." Smith said no response came. But board member Eugene Peterson said the group did reply, through an attorney, that it expected Smith to complete his contract.

Wayson said he learned of Smith's decision to leave, effective the day before Thanksgiving, in a 5 o'clock telephone call -- not from Smith but from the county executive, Janet S. Owens. "I knew we were working through issues, but, yeah, I was surprised," Wayson said.

Smith will leave the 75,000-student Anne Arundel school system in better shape academically than when he arrived. Participation in college-level Advanced Placement courses has more than doubled in Anne Arundel over the past three years, under Smith's philosophy of expanding access to demanding coursework. Students improved across the board on the 2005 Maryland School Assessment test. Smith has introduced the prestigious International Baccalaureate program to Anne Arundel high schools and overhauled class schedules so students could take a greater variety of courses.

"A lot of [my] classes didn't exist when I was a freshman," said Pallas Snider, a senior at Severna Park High School and the student member of the school board. "I have benefited from a lot of changes to come into the school system, personally."

Just this month, leaders of both the county PTA and an influential community advisory group had publicly endorsed Smith and had urged the school board to renew his contract next summer.

"He's doing what we asked him to do," said Debbie Ritchie, the countywide PTA president, who cited particular satisfaction with Smith's having placed a scattershot school system on a common plan of lessons and books. "He brought it all together and he made it more a continuum," Ritchie said.

But neither she nor others in the school system's inner circle expressed much surprise at Smith's announcement. Questions of fidelity had loomed since spring 2004, when Smith emerged and then faded as a candidate to lead the much-larger Miami-Dade school system in Florida.

Smith, 55, came to Anne Arundel in summer 2002 from Charlotte, where he had earned and cultivated a national reputation for narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students. Anne Arundel was his fourth superintendent's post.

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