Mamie Perkins said Tuesday that her top priority as interim superintendent for Anne Arundel County public schools is simply to get in step with a 78,000-student system that will start a new school year in a little more than a month.
"It's not as though I'm coming in asking everyone to start over. I'm coming in trying to catch up," said Perkins, 62. "I want to make sure I do that and respect what's already being done."
Perkins, of Marriottsville, was named Tuesday to serve an 11-month term while Anne Arundel officials seek a permanent replacement for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, who is leaving to become CEO of Prince George's County public schools. Perkins will begin Aug. 1, the same day Maxwell is slated to begin in Prince George's County.
"She's a great choice," said Maxwell. "She's very compassionate and focused on children. I think she'll do a great job."
Perkins is a former Howard County deputy superintendent and chief of staff under then-Superintendent Sydney Cousin. She stepped down when Cousin retired in 2012 and Renee Foose became Howard's new superintendent.
Anne Arundel's school board president, Teresa Milio Birge, said Perkins was chosen from a pool of at least 10 candidates.
"She made a remarkable impression on us," Birge said. "She was passionate. She was warm. You could see how much she genuinely cared about the education of children. You could tell how capable she was, what a handle she had on everything."
Birge said interim superintendents "make tough decisions still, but they're not necessarily going to be starting a lot of new programs. It's not like when new superintendents start and have grand ideas they want to bring in. It's more of making sure we're on a continuous level of improvement."
Maxwell had one year left on a contract that paid $257,000 annually. Perkins will be paid $197,087 for a contract that ends June 30, 2014. She declined to say whether she would seek the job on a permanent basis after that.
Perkins' career in education spans about 40 years, including 13 as a teacher in Baltimore City schools. She served as an adjunct professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education from 2004 to 2010, and in April she was appointed to Howard Community College's Board of Trustees by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"In the past year I've been working in higher education, so I think it was the challenge of going back to a public school system, and the excitement of it," said Perkins of seeking the interim position.
"I really care a whole lot about new teachers and making certain that we are spending a great amount of time keeping them," she said. "Once we've decided that they're best for the county, then we want to make sure that we look at what are we doing to support them."
While in Howard County, she helped launch that system's Cultural Proficiency Initiative, in which more than 4,300 employees receive diversity and cultural awareness training. She led the elementary curriculum office for five years, and spent four years as human resources director.
Perkins was named deputy superintendent in Howard in February 2011 and led the school system for several months after Cousin was diagnosed with lymphoma and took a medical leave. She then served on Foose's transition team before leaving the system in July 2012.
The Howard County school board's vice chairman, Brian Meshkin, credited Perkins for her leadership during Cousin's illness and the subsequent superintendent search and transition.
"It was a very difficult situation to be placed in, and I thought she handled it with the utmost professionalism and grace," Meshkin said. "I can see why the Anne Arundel County Board of Education selected her as an interim superintendent during a transition period for themselves."