Jerome Clark, who, as of midnight next Wednesday will be the former Prince George's County superintendent of schools, is about to have a homecoming of sorts at Bowie State University.
Instead of heading to the golf course or to Florida on the first day of his retirement from the public school system, Clark, 56, is starting a whole new career in the very place that he says helped him rise through the administrative ranks.
When he assumes his new position as Bowie State's chief of staff and vice president for advancement, as part of a career that already has spanned more than 30 years in education, Clark will have come full circle.
"It's very satisfying to be able to come back to the institution that gave me so much opportunity," he said.
In 1974, Clark received a master's degree from Bowie State in early childhood education. He also holds a doctorate in education administration and inservice/staff development from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Clark began teaching grade school in Prince George's County in 1971. He rose to superintendent in 1995.
That position passes now to Iris T. Metts, Delaware's education secretary. Clark made the decision to retire months ago, amid mounting pressure from state legislators and school board members who wanted to move the public school system in a new direction.
In his new role, Clark will be a major public advocate for the university, which traces its roots to Baltimore in 1865 and was established in Bowie in 1908 as Normal School No. 3 to educate black teachers.
In Clark's mind, the conjunction of the school's history as a teachers college with the county's current teacher crisis provides Bowie State with a unique opportunity to help fill in the gaps. Prince George's has the state's highest proportion of provisionally certified teachers and the second-lowest average standardized test scores, behind Baltimore.
Clark believes Bowie State can make a difference. On Monday, at a news conference to announce his new job, he grinned and said, "I'm raring to go!"
His first mission will be to examine student and faculty concerns and work on generating ideas for the refinement of existing programs and the creation of new ones.
He also will be in charge of the university's fund-raising efforts--the source of last year's controversy, which ended in the resignation of the university's former president, Nathanael Pollard Jr. During Pollard's final months, there were disclosures of deficits in the budget of the foundation that handles Bowie's fund-raising, resulting from the purchase of Washington Redskin tickets, among other expenditures. The college also ran a small operating deficit.
Clark, who lives in Mitchellville, said he is happy with the position's small perks. He was delighted to get his own parking space. Impressed by the view from his office--impressed that he has an office.
But how will he deal with not being number one?
"I haven't always been number one. I know how to be many numbers," Clark said, laughing. "I feel comfortable that there are many ways for me to express my creativity here."
Bowie State Interim President Wendell M. Holloway, who appointed Clark last Monday, said he was impressed with Clark's energy and dedication to students. They met less than three weeks ago, but Holloway said that Clark's reputation preceded him.
At their first meeting, Clark said, "The chemistry was just right."
Two-and-a-half weeks later, Clark has a six-month contract that, if extended to a full year, gives him an annual salary of $98,000.
"I want him to work with me as a partner," Holloway said. "And if it doesn't work out, feel free to do your own thing. But I think this could be big fun, and I think we can build something to live on beyond us."
Details of the grand plans will work themselves out as Clark and Holloway go along, they said. But in the meantime, Clark will be working toward a much simpler goal--finding his way around campus.
"This place has changed a lot since I was here," Clark said, nothing that the Henry Administration Building, which houses his office, was not built when he left as a student in 1974. "It didn't look like this."
It's a whole new world, yet still home.