Maryland State Superintendent of Education Lillian M. Lowery will step down in September to take a nonprofit education job in Ohio, state officials announced Friday.
Lowery will become the first chief executive and president of FutureReady Columbus, which will focus initially on early childhood education, public policy and community engagement.
Lowery, 60, was hired by the State Board of Education during the tenure of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and she leaves following the election in November of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. State officials said Friday that her departure is not the result of any political pressure.
“She made this decision on her own,” said John White, chief of staff for the Maryland State Department of Education. “It was the right time for her and the right opportunity.”
Hogan’s office released a statement calling Lowery a “dedicated public servant to the state of Maryland” and saying that she has been devoted to “bettering public education and working to ensure our teachers and students have the tools they need for success.”
State officials said Jack R. Smith, the deputy state superintendent for teaching and learning — and chief academic officer at the Maryland State Department of Education — will become interim state superintendent for the remainder of Lowery’s four-year contract, which ends June 30. Smith is the former superintendent of schools in Calvert County.
Hogan has named five members to the board since he took office in January. In June, he will name another, meaning he will have named six of the board’s 11 voting members.
That majority will give the Republican governor more influence over the choice of the next superintendent, as well as the overall direction of the state’s public education system.
In recent months, Hogan named two new members to the state board who support the Common Core State Standards and charter schools, tapping Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Andy Smarick, partner at Bellwether Education Partners, to take the open seats on the 12-person board.
Hogan earlier this year pushed for major changes in the state’s charter laws and to provide tax credits to businesses that donate to private schools. Both measures, which critics saw as attacks on public education, were met with resistance. The General Assembly agreed to modest changes in the charter law and killed the tax credit bill.
Lowery was traveling and not available for immediate comment. Her last day is Sept. 11, and she starts in Columbus on Sept. 14.
“We are losing an extraordinary leader, a talented State Superintendent of Schools,” Guffrie Smith, president of the state board, said in a written statement. “Dr. Lowery led Maryland through a time of tremendous transition and progress. She positioned our State as a national leader in preparing students to be college and career ready.”
State officials said that under Lowery’s leadership, Maryland graduated more students than ever before, with dropout rates falling to a new low. She has focused on the importance of science and technology (STEM) education, as well as career and technical skills.
Prince George’s County Schools chief executive Kevin Maxwell said Lowery took the helm of the state education department during a time of major reforms.
“She came in at a time of transition and challenges, with districts dealing with Common Core, new teacher evaluations and PARCC tests, but she handled it with grace, professionalism and tremendous leadership,” Maxwell said. “She has gained my respect and the respect of school superintendents across the state.”