“We have made significant progress on behalf of students, but there is still more work to be done,” Smith wrote. “I am deeply committed to continuing this progress toward our shared vision for equity and student achievement.”
Six of the board’s eight members contacted Friday and Saturday by The Washington Post indicated they favored another term for Smith. Two members could not immediately be reached for comment.
School board member Patricia O’Neill (District 3) said Smith gave the board “strong indications” of his decision a couple of weeks ago.
Under state law, Smith must inform the board that he wants to renew his four-year contract by Feb. 1, and the board must in turn vote by March 1.
“Everything is progressing in that direction,” O’Neill said, adding that it is important for the school system to have continuity and crediting Smith for “looking at us with fresh eyes.”
She noted his focus on career education, language programs and improving the success of the high-performing system’s most vulnerable students, including the growing number of students in poverty and English-language learners. Smith’s mantra has been: “All means all.”
Board member Karla Silvestre (At Large) pointed to Smith’s efforts to tackle the achievement gap, saying the school system is doing better at analyzing how subgroups of students are faring — leading to greater accountability for schools.
Board member Judith Docca (District 1) said she believed support for Smith’s leadership remains strong, praising his emphasis on challenging academic programs, diversity in staffing and improved curriculums.
“He’s got a well-rounded character and integrity,” she said.
Smith’s decision to seek another contract was welcomed by several community leaders.
Lynne Harris, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said the school system has gone through a challenging time, with a growing controversy over school boundaries, and she appreciated Smith’s grit in seeing through school system efforts he started.
“What’s become clear to me, especially in the last year, is that Dr. Smith has a very clear vision for a school system deeply ingrained in equity,” she said.
Before arriving in Montgomery, Smith, a longtime educator, was interim state superintendent of schools in Maryland and a superintendent in Southern Maryland’s Calvert County. His base salary is $290,000 a year — less than his counterparts in some neighboring systems, more than in others.
But as Smith looks to stay the course, his letter acknowledged that two of the school system’s top leaders will leave.
Andrew Zuckerman, chief operating officer, and Maria Navarro, chief academic officer, will part ways with Montgomery County Public Schools in June “to pursue other leadership opportunities,” the letter said.
Navarro, 44, said in an interview Friday night that after 5½ years in Montgomery, she felt it was time to seek other opportunities. She was previously acting chief academic officer in the Baltimore school system.
“Working here has been amazing,” she said. “We have great staff, and I wanted to provide Dr. Smith with enough notice so that he could plan accordingly.”
Zuckerman, who previously worked in the Prince George’s County school system, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
In his letter, Smith said Navarro and Zuckerman were instrumental in the school system’s progress.
Under Navarro, the school system launched an extended-school-year initiative at schools affected by poverty and created two-way English-Spanish immersion schools, while acquiring new curriculums for elementary and middle school math and English.
During Zuckerman’s time as chief operating officer, the school system opened or revitalized 10 schools, brought healthier food options to school cafeterias and strengthened school and technology infrastructure, the letter said.
“I look forward to seeing what amazing things both will do in their next roles,” Smith wrote.
Smith said the early notice would give the school system the chance to have “a smooth and strategic transition as we reimagine and rebuild our leadership structure.” He said he would discuss his vision for what is ahead in the new year.