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Schools chief Guthrie named Md. superintendent of the year

Carroll County Public Schools Superintedent Stephen Guthrie greets a veteran during a veterans celebration at Century High School on Friday.
Carroll County Public Schools Superintedent Stephen Guthrie greets a veteran during a veterans celebration at Century High School on Friday. (KEN KOONSSTAFF PHOTO,)

Though he spends several hours in the evening sifting through a slew of emails and responding to concerns from educators, parents and community leaders, Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie is an early riser.

Typically Guthrie is up before dawn, at 5:30 a.m., to start the long 12- to 14-hour days necessary to manage a 26,000-student school district.

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His days consist of weekly meetings with administrators and teachers to ensure the school system runs smoothly as well as monthly meetings with the Carroll County Board of Education. He answers phone calls throughout the day and works to trouble shoot issues.

But on the last day of the work week, he is able to get away from the central office in Westminster and head to the part of CCPS that matters most: the schools. He attends programs and meets with school principals and teachers to ensure everything is in order and that they have to support necessary to educate Carroll's students.

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"I visit every school at least once [during the year] and sit with the principal to discuss their needs and wants in general," Guthrie said.

For Guthrie, it is important the schools support its students so they can be successful after graduation.

"When they leave high school, we want them to be ready for college, job training, employment or the military," he said.

On Friday, Guthrie had a schedule full of school visits including Century High School, and West and Taneytown middle schools. He started at Century for a schoolwide assembly to honor Carroll County veterans. Guthrie went from table to table to thank, talk to and laugh with the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces, during a breakfast social before the event.

Guthrie's relationship with those who work in the school system and live in the community is why Board of Education President Virginia Harrison said the board nominated Guthrie for the Maryland Superintendent of the Year through the Superintendents' Association of Maryland. He was named the winner by the association on Oct. 30.

"It's a real honor to be named [Maryland] Superintendent of the Year, not just for me, but it's an honor for the school system," Guthrie said. "No one person is responsible for the success of a school system, so any accolades that come my way goes to the school system."

Harrison said she has been personally impressed with Guthrie's work ethic since long before his first term as superintendent in 2010.

"You can see how dedicated he is and can see he works really hard to keep this school system flourishing and to make it the success it is," she said.

Although Guthrie began his career in 1978 as an educator — he taught social studies in California — he eventually came to Carroll County in 1982 and moved through the system from teacher to administrator. Guthrie taught psychology and social studies, then became a school counselor, director of human resources and assistant superintendent of administration before taking the helm of the school system.

"He really put his heart and soul into the Carroll County school system," Harrison said. "You can see the passion he puts in everything. He came through the system … he knows its strengths and its weaknesses."

Harrison said Guthrie has a clear vision and plan for the school system but also strategizes alternative options with the administration and board to ensure success.

"He's a team player; it takes a team to run a school system," she said.

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Guthrie said he also believes a lot of his success and that of the school system has come from a team effort. For Guthrie, part of that strategizing is on his own home. Guthrie's wife, Barbara, who he has been married to for 25 years, is also a veteran educator.

"Part of my skills and expertise comes from nightly talks with my wife," Guthrie said.

Guthrie's wife has been working in education for 30 years and also has connections to the human services industry in the county.

"She gives me resources on where I can get help for a child in the school system or with a situation," Guthrie said. "Sometimes she is just a good sounding board."

Guthrie also receives support throughout the year from organizations of which he is a member, such as the American Association of School Administrators and the Public Schools Superintendents of Maryland, the latter of which he leads as president.

Guthrie will represent Maryland in the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year program, coordinated by AASA. But other than the upcoming conference, which is schedule to be held in San Diego in February, Guthrie said he does not travel outside of the state much — he prefers to say closer to the school district, where he can advance his vision.

A vision for a the school system

Into his second term as superintendent of the school system, which began in July, Guthrie is moving forward on his five-year organizational plan for the school system, "Vision 2018: Focus on Excellence."

Guthrie said his top priority in the plan is to get competitive salaries for Carroll's teachers.

Carroll County teachers have received one step increase in the past five years with the lowest starting salary in the state, according to school officials.

Guthrie said he also plans to work on staffing issues for the school system, especially for the gifted and talented and special education programs. He also plans to provide more resources for professional development.

With funding as the common denominator for most of these issues, Guthrie said the one thing that constantly keeps him busy is the school system's budget.

"People think we just work on the budget once a year, but it's a year-long constant process," he said.

To fund these programs, Guthrie said he hopes to encourage the Carroll County Board of Commissioners to move away from a single-year budget and approve multiyear budgets for the school system.

"Last year I proposed a five-year budget to the commissioners," Guthrie said of the plan, which was shot down. "I plan on meeting with new board to outline our needs for a solid five-year budget."

Proponent for diversity

As the superintendent has worked on implementing his five-year plan, diversity issues have come to the forefront of discussion surrounding making Carroll schools better. That's the reason Carroll County NAACP President Jean Lewis also nominated Guthrie for the award.

Under the former superintendent, Charles Ecker, the local branch of the NAACP started a initiative to help recruit minority teachers into the school system. When Guthrie was appointed, Lewis said she met with him to continue the initiative and help the education community better reflect the community at-large.

"People want to keep things the way it's always been, but it's a global society," Lewis said. "Before, there were no adult minorities in the schools — no teachers, nurses, lunch staff, janitors."

Guthrie was willing to open the lines of communication, Lewis said. She said he was open and welcoming to the initiative of ensuring the school system has a diverse workforce.

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According to Lewis, Guthrie was also open to ensuring there were support services in the school system for minority educators.

"Guthrie has been on top of it; we are trying desperately to bring minority teachers in and making sure they stay," she said.

The school system gives minority teachers a mentor in the school system, but they also receive a second mentor of their background or ethnicity to provide an additional layer of support, Lewis said.

Lewis said Guthrie has been open to maintaining an open line of communication with the Carroll County NAACP and is easily accessible in person and through phone and email.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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