Baltimore County school superintendent will likely be attractive job

Baltimore County will be just one of a number of large school districts in the nation and several in Maryland looking for new leaders this year, but those familiar with the process said that despite the competition, the county will be attractive to many applicants.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told The Baltimore Sun in an email Thursday afternoon that he planned not to seek another contract after June 30. He has not informed the school board of the decision, but school board President Lawrence Schmidt said the board will conduct a national search that will start soon. Hairston has been superintendent of the 26th-largest school system in the nation since 2000.

Districts looking for a new superintendent include Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Anchorage, Alaska; Philadelphia; and Fairfax, Va., as well as Howard and Garrett counties in Maryland.

"I think Baltimore County will be attractive because of the size. It is one of the largest in the country. I think they will have a number of candidates who will be interested," said Carl Roberts, head of the Maryland Superintendents Association.

"There is a lot that will be attractive to any candidate," said Bernard J. Sadusky, the interim state superintendent of schools. "It will be a well-sought-after position. No doubt about it."

The challenges include a school enrollment that is majority minority and an increasing low-income population, Sadusky said, but those challenges are balanced by the chance to improve achievement in schools.

The county also has relative stability in its leadership and finances.

"For a person to stay in a large system for 12 years is an indication of stability and the ability of the board and the superintendent to work together," according to Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. The firm did the search for Hairston, as well as recent searches for school superintendents in Montgomery, Carroll and Frederick counties. In addition, the firm is involved in the search for a new state school superintendent.

Maryland regulations require school superintendents to have been teachers and administrators, unless the district gets a waiver. Former state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who retired in June, had a policy of not approving those waivers, Roberts said.

The Baltimore County school board has said that it will conduct a national search, as is typical for most large districts in the country, Gmitro said.

Districts like Baltimore County, which have both pockets of poverty and wealth, often choose superintendents sensitive to issues of equity, Gmitro said.

Those school systems are "recruiting candidates who want to make a difference and understand the issues around equity: 'How do you get everyone the resources they need?' And it has become more difficult in hard financial times," Gmitro said. Montgomery County, which is similar in the diversity of its student body, had about 40 candidates, Gmitro said.

The school board will have to decide whether to hire a search firm, what level of community input to allow and whether the search will be open or closed. Open searches include members of the public, parents, teachers and business leaders in the final stages of the process.

Schmidt said he would seek some sort of input from the community.

Gmitro said some communities look for someone who will turn things upside down, and others, like Montgomery County, look for someone who would continue the current direction of the system.

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