In the six months since Eric J. Smith took over as Anne Arundel County schools superintendent, the community has bombarded the Board of Education with contradictory messages: Listen to the man, he knows what he's saying. Don't listen to the man, his ideas are all wrong. It's okay for him to change things, but not now.
After hearing the pleas for months, the school board recently decided a public reminder was necessary: The school board invited Smith -- and all his ideas -- into the district.
"We need to be clear that we're not wavering in our commitment to the school system," board member Eugene Peterson said after a budget workshop this week. Smith "is saying that he wants to raise the floor and raise the calling. We're there."
To reinforce its support for the new, fast-moving superintendent, school board members have come up with a list of small changes they believe could bolster his work. They want to change the title of Smith's "Superintendent's Goals" brochure to "Goals of the Anne Arundel School System." They plan to rewrite their old boilerplate mission statement so it matches Smith's ambitious plans.
Little tweaks, yes. Mostly symbolic, perhaps. But Smith himself says the changes he touts work best when school board members strongly support them.
And the show of support is necessary, board members say, as Smith hustles to redo, refocus and reorganize the district.
Since arriving July 1, Smith has said he wants to standardize math and reading curriculum at 14 low-performing elementary schools, boost the percentage of high school students taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs and double the number of students taking algebra by eighth grade.
Smith wants to change schedules at the middle and high school levels, is pushing for more students to compete in extracurricular activities and wants more high school students to take the SAT.
"I think they think that we should rein him in," said Carlesa R. Finney, the board's vice president. "The public should know we don't think he's moving too fast."
The board's readiness for quick changes is fairly recent. In the eight years Carol S. Parham was superintendent, school officials focused primarily on bringing stability to a system rocked by sex scandals between teachers and students and maintaining the status quo -- not radically reorganizing academics.
But times have changed as evidenced by the huge growth in the district's number of English as a Second Language students. Anne Arundel's statewide ranking on the recently scrapped Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests had fallen from No. 6 to No. 16.
Unlike their predecessors, who were dealing with different issues, school board members say they are in an unusual position to focus intensively on academic achievement.
"We're just a board that's at a place in time where we can help to make that happen," Peterson said.
And so for now, board members plan to show their support for their new hire.
"We hired the superintendent, and we knew what we were getting when we hired him," Finney said. "I don't think there's any disagreement about our hire."