Calvert County School Superintendent James R. Hook was hospitalized after exhibiting "stroke-like symptoms" during a meeting Tuesday, school officials said.

Hook was listed in fair condition Tuesday afternoon at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Hook's family told school officials that doctors expressed optimism about his recovery, according to Deputy Superintendent J. Kenneth Horsmon.

Horsmon said school district staff members also are hopeful for Hook's recovery. "We love our leader, and we are very anxious for him to get well and to get back here," Horsmon said.

About 8 a.m. Tuesday, Hook and the high school principals gathered around a conference table for a discussion on new state and federal regulations. About 45 minutes into the meeting, while Hook was speaking, his speech became slurred and one side of his face appeared to droop, said Horsmon, who attended the meeting.

Horsmon directed someone to call an ambulance, then went over and stood by Hook. "He was conscious and very aware of his surroundings," Horsmon said. "At no time did he lose consciousness."

Hook was taken first to Calvert Memorial Hospital, then later airlifted to the Baltimore hospital for further tests.

Board of Education President Robert L. Gray said that Hook, 59, has rarely missed work because of illness. Hook announced last month that he would retire in June after working for the school system for 36 years.

"My prayers and best wishes are for Jim and his family," Gray said.

He said the school board plans to meet as planned today, with members scheduled to vote on the fiscal 2004 budget and the high school redistricting plan. Hook is the secretary to the school board but he is not required to be present for the board to conduct business, Gray said.

Horsmon was named last month by the school board to succeed Hook. Gray said that while Horsmon will fill in during Hook's illness, Hook will remain the superintendent "until his retirement takes effect in June or until he indicates he wants to retire earlier than that."

Horsmon's superintendent contract has not yet been finalized, although State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has approved Horsmon's selection.

Staff writer Raymond McCaffrey contributed to this report.

JAMES R. HOOK