Anne Arundel County school officials conducted a national search that yielded more than 50 candidates to become the system's next superintendent, but it turned out the person for the job was already in the building.
George Arlotto, 50, the system's current chief of staff and a former principal in Montgomery County, was appointed Wednesday by the Anne Arundel school board as superintendent of the state's fifth-largest school district and the county's second-largest employer.
The move is pending agreement on a four-year contract, school officials said. Board President Teresa Milio Birge said the system won't comment on details of the pact, including Arlotto's salary, while negotiations are underway.
A former principal at Wheaton High in Montgomery County, Arlotto follows Kevin Maxwell, who left Anne Arundel last year to take a similar position in Prince George's County. Maxwell worked with Arlotto in Montgomery County and lured him to Anne Arundel in 2006.
"He knows the district well. He knows instruction," Maxwell said. "He's been involved in pretty much every initiative in Anne Arundel County for the last eight years, and I think it represents a great decision."
Arlotto told the board he was "delighted, honored and quite honestly humbled" to be selected. He said he wants to focus on early education and strengthen magnet programs but does not anticipate wholesale changes.
"We're doing a good job. I think we can do a better job," he said. "I have a vision for better aligning the work here at central office and aligning each of the departments to better serve the schools. ... We can tighten some things up."
Arlotto is taking the helm as the school system is facing a $2 billion backlog in facility maintenance needs, as well as budget shortfalls, crowding in some schools and calls for more program options. The school system is negotiating with the County Council and County Executive Laura Neuman on a $1.04 billion budget request for the coming year.
"We hope he will see the capacity problem that is facing the Anne Arundel County school system," said Jonathan Boniface, lead organizer of a group petitioning officials to build a high school in Crofton. The group says the new school is needed to avoid sending middle school students to high schools outside the community.
Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the union's relations with the school system have improved in recent years while Arlotto has been chief of staff.
"I already have a long-standing relationship with Dr. Arlotto, and I'm looking forward to continuing to build that relationship to show we're collaborators, and it's not a 'we-against-them' type thing, which had happened in the past," Benfer said.
Specifically, McMillan cited implementation of the statewide Common Core curriculum. He said Common Core remains an issue "people are concerned about that [Arlotto] is familiar with."
"The superintendent," McMillan said, "is basically the public face of the school board. He's the executor of what happens in the county."
School board members said Arlotto was selected because of his breadth of experience while moving up the ranks. Board member Stacy Korbelak, who led Anne Arundel's search committee, said Arlotto's has "walked in the shoes of everybody that has worked in Anne Arundel County, from teacher to superintendent now."
"He's been a teacher, a principal, he's been in upper leadership in the school system," Birge said, "and we feel like he has what it takes to lead our school system to the next level."
Arlotto, who has a master's degree in education from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from George Washington University, started his teaching career at Washington's Woodrow Wilson High School. He was principal at Wheaton High from 2001 to 2006.
Chris Garran, associate superintendent for high schools in Montgomery, said Arlotto hired him as an assistant principal at Wheaton High when Arlotto was principal.
"He is 100 percent committed to students," Garran said. He said Wheaton High was "our most impacted high school in terms of poverty in the school system, and he worked to bring a number of academy programs into that building."
In Anne Arundel, a system of about 78,500 students, Arlotto has held posts that include associate superintendent and assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and school performance. As chief of staff, he has monitored legislation in the General Assembly affecting the school system and oversaw the system's legal team, support services and public information office.