Michael J. Martirano, who will take over in July as superintendent of the St. Mary's County public schools, said one of his priorities will be to continue efforts to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.
"We really need to promote education for all children, and I don't want to be cliched, but truly no child left behind," he said in an interview.
Test results released last week indicated there is still some distance to go to achieve that goal. On one portion of the Maryland School Assessment, the eighth-grade math test, 50.1 percent of white students scored proficient or better compared with 24.2 percent of black students.
In addition to addressing that issue, Martirano said he plans to meet with parents, teachers and other school officials to learn about their concerns.
"One of my philosophies is communicate, communicate, communicate, regularly and often," he said. He said he would frequently send out newsletters and e-mails as well as host community forums.
"I am never satisfied with the status quo," he said. "I never have been."
Martirano's selection as superintendent was confirmed by the Board of Education at its regular meeting Wednesday.
Martirano, 46, the director of school administration in Howard County, was chosen over three other finalists, including Charles County's assistant superintendent for instruction, John Cox, to lead the 16,500-student system.
"I think the board saw the fact that he was not only personable, energetic, enthusiastic, but he had the educational and leadership background that combined, we believe, will give us a wonderful superintendent," said board Chairman Cathy Allen. "I just am really excited about him coming and getting started."
Martirano also expressed pleasure at his appointment: "I'm just so thrilled. That's all I can say; I can't stop smiling."
Martirano is taking over from Lorraine Fulton, who served as interim superintendent after Patricia M. Richardson retired at the end of the year.
Under his four-year contract, Martirano will be paid $145,000 a year, with 24 days of leave, and be given a car allowance and up to $1,000 a month for six months for moving expenses, among other benefits, said Dan Carney, chief financial officer for the school system. The contract requires Martirano to move to the county within six months, Carney said.
"We want him to be an integral part of this community, and that is very difficult to do living someplace else," Allen said.
Martirano, who is married and has three children, has found temporary housing in the county. He said that growing up in the small town of Frostburg, Md., made the move to St. Mary's comfortable.
"I'm naturally a small-town boy. I grew up with those kind of roots, the community connection, where everybody knows your name," he said. "I'm looking for a place to raise my children with close community ties."
Martirano began his teaching career in the late 1980s as a middle school science and math teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Prince George's County. He went on to become vice principal at that school and then at elementary schools in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He holds a bachelor's degree in science education and master's degrees from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in school management and instructional leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
In 2001, he took the helm at Laurel High School. It was a turbulent year, he said: The school year started with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then a tornado destroyed eight classrooms and an assault happened on campus.
"But we survived," he said. "Then we were able to rally as a school. We just became very, very close."
After a year, he left Laurel to take the job in central administration of the Howard County schools in 2002.
The frequency with which Martirano has changed jobs was "certainly something we looked at," Allen said.
"You consider why a person changes jobs frequently. Is it because they are restless in what they are doing, or is it because they are so good at what they do that they are tapped to do more things; and our sense and our research showed that he was tapped to have greater areas of responsibility," she said.
Martirano has begun talking with school system officials but won't officially take over until July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.