The search for the next superintendent of Anne Arundel County's public schools has been an exercise filled with numbers.
It's been nine months since Kevin Maxwell left the job for a similar post in Prince George's County, and one month since interim Superintendent Mamie Perkins announced that she wouldn't seek the permanent job.
From a field of 55 applicants, 12 were invited for a round of interviews. The list was then narrowed to seven candidates who went through a second round of interviews, and from that field the school system selected three finalists who have been reviewed by a committee of 20 school, community and professional representatives.
Now the key number is 23 — April 23. That's when the school board is scheduled to announce who will lead the state's fifth-largest school district.
Two of the finalists come from the county school system: George Arlotto is school system chief of staff and Maureen McMahon is assistant superintendent for advanced studies and programs. Each is vying to become the first school system employee to move up the ranks to superintendent since Carol Sheffey Parham in 1994.
The other finalist is Francisco Duran, superintendent of Trenton, N.J., public schools, a position he has held since 2012.
School officials say they'll spend the time leading up to the announcement performing background checks and commencing contract negotiations. School officials and the review committee have had their view of the candidates. Here's a look at all three:
Arlotto was principal of Wheaton High School in Montgomery County in 2006 when that county's community superintendent said he was taking the superintendent's job in Anne Arundel County. That was Maxwell, and he asked Arlotto to join him.
The Washington resident, who began his education career as a science teacher in D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson High School obliged, leaving Montgomery County to become director of high schools in Anne Arundel in 2006.
"I knew I wanted to try my hand at central office, to take what I learned and knew as a high school principal and assist others from the central office level in assisting schools," Arlotto said. "I thought about it but had never pursued anything.
"When Dr. Maxwell called … I hadn't considered leaving Montgomery County or Wheaton High School," Arlotto said. "I was very comfortable there. But this was an opportune time, and I would be working for someone with whom I had the same mindset."
For Arlotto, 50, being appointed superintendent would culminate an Anne Arundel County schools career that has seen him lead or assist many of the school system's divisions, including presiding over two — the offices of school performance and curriculum instruction — simultaneously.
Arlotto said his first year as director of high schools included increasing access to Advanced Placement classes and testing for students.
He helped develop the school system's performance clusters, in which county elementary schools within an area feed into two middle schools, which then feed into a corresponding area high school. He also oversaw the school system's athletics and Title I programs.
As chief of staff, Arlotto monitors how legislation in the General Assembly affects the school system and oversees the school system's legal team. He also heads the school system's support services and public information office.
Arlotto said he has previously applied for other superintendent positions but declined to say which.
"Since my time here, in various positions in central office, I began to contemplate becoming a superintendent," he said.
He does say, however, that this marks the first time he's been a finalist for such a position. He said the process leading up to the board's decision has been "really good professional development for me."
"You don't have a lot of time in the education world to think of how you fit in, what your vision is," Arlotto said, "and this opportunity in the interview process … has led me to focus on who I am and where I fit into this eduction piece."
Both Arlotto and McMahon commended each other's efforts, and both lauded the board for considering in-house candidates.
"That's important in any industry — that people can see the opportunity of upward mobility. That's very healthy," Arlotto said.
But, he added, "It's also healthy sometimes to bring someone in from the outside. Sometimes a completely different set of eyes on the same issues is important as well. I was an outsider eight years ago."
McMahon could have searched for a stodgy set of canned quotations to discuss her aspiration for superintendent, but her passion for education wouldn't allow it.
So when the school board and community leaders asked her why should she be selected as the next superintendent, McMahon says she conveyed her attributes — then offered a directive.
"I said, 'If you want this school system to remain a great school system but static, where it is now, don't pick me,' " said McMahon, 52, who has served as the school system's assistant superintendent for advanced studies and programs since 2010.
"I said, 'I want to take the school system to next level, for our children in Anne Arundel County to reach their potential and beyond,' " McMahon said. "If I didn't tell them that, I'd be upset internally."
A Pasadena resident and University of Maryland, College Park graduate, McMahon landed her first job in the county at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, then moved to the public schools, where she taught at Northeast High. Then came a stint in higher education that included a position as a science education professor and department chair at California State University at Long Beach.
McMahon returned to Anne Arundel schools in 2007 as its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coordinator and helped lead Maxwell's Programs of Choice initiative for county students. She was named director of the school system's advanced studies and programs in 2008.
"Through Programs of Choice, we have been able to redesign what public education is able to do with young people," McMahon said. "We have created an environment that's highly engaging, that's students' own, and at the same time they're generating knowledge. They're also growing in self-confidence and in their belief in the innovative spirit."
McMahon said she has long known she wanted to be a superintendent but didn't consider the Anne Arundel County position until about a month after Maxwell's departure. This is the first time she has applied for a superintendent's position.
"I believe that we were on a great trajectory — and we still are," McMahon said. "Many of the young seeds that were sown in Programs of Choice [and other programs] need to be well rooted and nurtured for several more years."
As the first in his family to graduate from college, Duran says, he has long embraced education as "the key to open the door for possibilities."
As superintendent of Trenton public schools, he has sought to open doors for students in a city where, according to U.S. Census figures, 27 percent of residents live below the poverty level and only 11 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
The move here would be a significant step — Anne Arundel County's school system has a student enrollment of 78,000, only slightly less than Trenton's entire population of 84,477.
Duran presides over a school district of about 12,000 students, with three high schools. In Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, the superintendent and school board are appointed by the mayor.
"I believe in working hard to ensure that more and more students, teachers and staff have those same opportunities that were afforded to me," said Duran, 42, who said he was inspired by a former teacher to become an educator.
He began his career in Albuquerque, N.M., public schools while earning his bachelor's degree in education from the University of New Mexico.
Duran's education background includes teaching Spanish, social studies and language arts as well as serving as an athletic director, assistant principal and principal. Before being named superintendent in Trenton in 2012, he served as an assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia school district.
Trenton school officials note that Duran organized the district's high schools into five small learning communities and reconfigured district schools to direct resources were they are most needed.
Duran said he believes all students can learn when provided a quality education, and can achieve high standards though challenging and rigorous learning experiences. He encourages engagement of the entire community toward student achievement — he said among his goals for Trenton schools were to close the "opportunity gap" and to make adults accountable for student success.
To the latter end, the Trenton public schools website not only includes such icons as daily news entries and the weather emergency call number, but also a message from Duran encouraging parents to "please remind your child to read every day for 30 minutes at home."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun