Mohammed Choudhury, a San Antonio public school administrator with a record of trying creative solutions to improve schools, was chosen Thursday as Maryland’s next state school superintendent.
Choudhury was an uncharacteristic choice for the state school board. He is an out-of-state pick — one of two in the past 30 years — and as the child of immigrants from Bangladesh he is the first man of color to lead the state’s education agency.
He currently serves as associate superintendent and chief strategy, talent and innovation officer for the San Antonio Independent School District, where he has a record of raising achievement in the economically segregated city. He started his career as a classroom teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and then moved to Texas, where he has worked in both Dallas and San Antonio.
State school board president Clarence Crawford said the board had narrowed the search to 11 candidates, all of whom were interviewed. Four strong finalists emerged, he said, but Choudhury rose above the rest in the final selection process. After the vote, Crawford publicly offered him the job during its streamed board meeting. Choudhury said he was honored to accept.
“In every role I have held, whether in the classroom, whether a teacher leader or a district administrator, students have always been my top priority and that won’t change in Maryland,” he said.
“Maryland is truly America in miniature which means that it sets the tone and sets the example for the nation, especially when it comes to education,” Choudhury said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.”
Choudhury also praised the commitment of the legislature to education in its passage of the Kirwan legislation, which is designed to bridge gaps in student achievement around the state. He said he hoped to “foster an environment that demands equity, celebrates innovation and values accountability.”
The Maryland State Department of Education declined to release details about Choudhury’s salary or contract until they have been finalized.
The choice was praised immediately by Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson.
“I have long said that we need a transformational superintendent, and am tremendously pleased with the Board’s vote to appoint Mr. Choudhury as the next schools Superintendent.”
Ferguson said Choudhury has “helped to start the path to a more equitable education system, and his leadership throughout the pandemic has led to national accolades.”
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said she believed that despite being only able to offer the next superintendent a three-year contract, the state attracted candidates because of its recent commitment to significantly raise the levels of funding and focus on career technology education.
“We are looking at a state legislature who put in a 10- to 12-year plan that would be very enticing to a lot of candidates in the field of education,” she said.
Praise for the selection also came from some national education groups as well.
Robin Lake at the Center for Reinventing Public Education called him “brilliant, creative and totally focused on equitable and inclusive learning.”
And Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said he is excited by this news.
“Mohammed is really a leader nationally on the school integration question,” Kahlenberg said.
Choudhury was able to create city schools that attracted white middle class parents from the suburbs, he said.
In 2018, Education Week profiled Choudhury as a “Leader to Learn From,” one of 12 school system leaders recognized nationally.
“He is thinking all the time about how to design systems to make them more equitable for kids and he sees a moral imperative for the work we do,” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nationwide advocacy group of state and local school leaders.
Choudhury completed a program through Chiefs for Change that trains future leaders two years ago. He completed his undergraduate work at California State University in Northridge and earned a masters in education from UCLA.
Choudhury was interested in the Maryland job because he was looking to move to a state leadership position where he hopes to have an impact, Magee said.
Choudhury will start the job July 1, replacing Karen Salmon, who has held the position for the past five years. Salmon was expected to leave the post last year, but facing the onset of the coronavirus pandemic the state board asked her to stay another year.
Choudhury will face immediate challenges in the wake of a pandemic that has left tens of thousands of students failing classes and teachers exhausted by an attempt to teach both online and in-person classes simultaneously.
About $3 billion in new federal money will flow into schools in the next few years, and the next superintendent could be instrumental in helping steer decisions about how that money will be spent.
During the pandemic, Salmon has been widely criticized by education advocates and unions for failing to include them in decision making. District superintendents complained often that they had to listen to press conferences to learn of important pandemic-related decisions about schools.
Bost said she was hopeful that Choudhury would seek to work with other education advocates and teachers.
“I am looking for someone who is willing to talk and collaborate ... That has been so missing,” Bost said.