Schools Chief Infusing Some Of His Own Pep Into St. Mary's

St. Mary's Superintendent Michael Martirano, with his collection of more than a hundred school buses, is in his office by 7:15 each morning and often stays after dark.
St. Mary's Superintendent Michael Martirano, with his collection of more than a hundred school buses, is in his office by 7:15 each morning and often stays after dark. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

Michael Martirano's colleagues tease him about his abundant use of what he calls his "e-words."

"There's just so much energy and enthusiasm here," he said while walking through an elementary school hallway recently, shaking his hands back and forth to amplify his point. "Education here is just so exciting. It's electrifying!"

Rarely has "electrifying" been a word people associate with St. Mary's County. Rural and sleepy, maybe. But with rising test scores and ambitious new programs in the public school system he oversees, Martirano says he plans to use a lot more "e-words" to describe St. Mary's. By the time he's done, he says, the fast-growing county surrounded by the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay will have the best public schools in Maryland.

Such talk is usually reserved for Montgomery County, which is known for its academic rigor and is one of the largest school systems in the state. Or perhaps Howard County, which for years has boasted the highest overall scores on the Maryland School Assessment.

Martirano has worked in both places, teaching in Montgomery and overseeing 39 schools as an assistant superintendent in Howard. Factor in his experience as a teacher in Anne Arundel County and a principal in Prince George's County, and he's made stops in four of the six largest school systems in the state.

So how did an ambitious 48-year-old educator end up in an area known for being far away and self-contained?

More than a few eyebrows were raised two years ago when Martirano announced he would leave his position as the director of school administration in Howard to become St. Mary's superintendent, but the Frostburg native said he is convinced his new district will soon be seen as a destination.

"We're a good school system on the precipice of being a great one," Martirano says frequently.

From some, it might seem boastful, but supporters -- and there are legions of them -- say the first superintendent to come from outside St. Mary's in many years has the right combination of big-city experience and small-town charm to get the job done.

Parents love his easy interaction with their children and his commitment to improving test scores. Teachers compliment his nurturing attention that they say never feels stifling. Board of Education members say his lofty goals are infectious. Former superintendent Patricia M. Richardson retired a popular figure, but she never generated anywhere near Martirano's buzz.

Martirano's co-workers and friends speak first about his seemingly endless energy. He talks quickly, moves quickly and demands quick results from his staff. He is in his office by 7:15 each morning and often stays through evening meetings or events that end after dark.

"He is extremely driven and extremely focused," said Daniel Michaels, a close friend and co-worker from the Howard schools. "And because he's so people-oriented as well, he is able to accomplish so much."


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