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Schools chief who led Md. system after predecessor left amid scandals gets permanent post

Monica Goldson, as interim CEO of the Prince George’s County school system, chats with fifth-graders in September at Tulip Grove Elementary in Bowie. On Tuesday, Goldson was hired to continue in the position. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

For nearly a year, Monica Goldson led Maryland’s second-largest school system as it rebounded from a string of scandals. She is widely credited for a collaborative style that has helped ease tensions and for a deep commitment to the county where she grew up.

On Tuesday, Goldson was tapped as the system’s official leader — the second woman to hold the job in Prince George’s — a choice that many regard as another move toward stability for a system that needed it.

County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) announced Goldson’s selection as CEO on Tuesday, saying Goldson made important progress as interim leader, emerged as the best of 20 candidates nationally and was “a clear-cut choice.”

“This was a very easy decision,” Alsobrooks said, calling Goldson “a daughter of Prince George’s County.”

Goldson, 51, is a product of Prince George’s County schools and has spent her career in the Maryland school system. Starting as a math teacher 28 years ago, she rose through the ranks, serving as an assistant principal and principal before moving into higher administrative posts. She became chief operating officer and took over as a deputy superintendent in 2016. Her sons attended county schools; one has graduated.

“She has a 360-degree view of our system,” Alsobrooks said. But the county executive also called on others in Prince George’s to step up, saying Goldson alone “cannot change the trajectory of this school system. She is not a magician.”

“The success of our schools and our students will depend on our collective efforts,” she said. “This one is on us.”

Goldson’s chance at the helm came last July, after her embattled predecessor, Kevin Maxwell, stepped down amid controversies over large pay raises to aides, a lost federal grant and inflated graduation rates.

Her contract as interim leader, which paid $265,000 a year, ends June 30. The school board is expected to vote on a four-year contract negotiated by its chairman by that date.

“The culture and the atmosphere of the school system have improved so much since she took over,” said Doris Reed, executive director of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel, which represents principals and other administrators. “She has really proven herself.”

Interim leader named for Md. school system after string of scandals

Goldson, who is the county’s ninth schools chief in 20 years, spoke with emotion Tuesday about her path from teacher to chief executive of the 134,000-student system, which has more than 20,000 employees.

“I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that today would be possible,” she said.

She described priorities that include the district’s lowest-performing schools, the expansion of prekindergarten, mental health support for students and an initiative to help struggling readers in early grades.

She joked that, after the divisiveness that preceded her appointment, she is asked almost everywhere she goes about whether she really gets along with the school board.

“Let it be known, I do,” she said, to laughter.

Goldson was named after a short national search, which started in May.

County officials said they hired a search firm — Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates — that steered candidates to a three-member selection committee formed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The county paid the search firm $40,000.

The committee conducted interviews and forwarded three finalists to Alsobrooks, who said she thoroughly interviewed the candidates, including Goldson.

Lori Morrow, a mother of two in Bowie and a longtime public school advocate, said Goldson was the widely expected choice. She had made important ­changes, Morrow said, recalling that one of Goldson’s early moves involved reorganizing central-office administrators to steer more money to schools.

“It was clear she was listening to the issues,” Morrow said. “I hope that that continues.”

School board member Raaheela Ahmed called the announcement sudden but said she was pleased. Goldson has been communicative, transparent and accountable to the community, she said.

But Ahmed said much remains to be done — in special education, school discipline, academic performance and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go,” she said.

The board’s vice chair, Edward Burroughs III, said the appointment could be a turning point. “We have an opportunity where every level of government is on the same page and in full support of the superintendent, so we have to seize the moment and make the most of where we are,” he said.

Just over a month ago, the community was invited to a county hearing to weigh in on the qualities needed in the next schools chief.

Again and again, those who testified expressed support for Goldson.

Alsobrooks started the hearing by telling the crowd that she was impressed that so many people showed up “not to tell me that you want to run our interim CEO out of town but to tell me that you would love to keep her.”

Some have questioned how an authentic national search could be conducted so quickly.

Janna Parker, a longtime resident and community advocate, called Goldson a good fit, lauding what she has done to rebuild trust. But the short timeline of the search is a concern, Parker said, “bringing into question the thoroughness of the search as well as the community’s ability to really give their input.”

The search got off to a late start because of confusion about state and county roles in forming a selection committee and hiring a search firm, county officials said. The law that created the process was passed under different state and county administrations.

Goldson has receivedstrong reviews during the past year, including for a State Board of Education appearance in January to explain the school system’s efforts to tighten grading and diploma procedures.

More recently, she announced a three-year plan to provide pay raises that employees missed during lean budget years after the Great Recession and completed contract negotiations with teachers and administrators unions.

Experts say the strong push for an internal candidate typically influences the number of outsiders who apply for the job.

“It definitely affects the search to the extent that some candidates will say: ‘Why bother applying? They want the internal candidate,’ ” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the school superintendents association, called AASA.

Still, he said, some will apply anyway, particularly those from smaller school systems or those who have not yet worked as a superintendent.

Not everyone saw Goldson as an automatic favorite.

Tonya Sweat, PTSA president at Oxon Hill High School, said an extensive nationwide search could have cast light on new ideas or people who might help move the county forward. She said Goldson does not have the appropriate staff to make needed change and pointed to her long tenure in one school system as a possible drawback.

“Sometimes, you’re a little bit too close to the problem to see the solution,” she said, saying that Goldson lacks breadth of experience. “She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.”

Arelis R. Hernández and Rachel Chason contributed to this report.

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