Martirano unveils major restructuring plan for Howard school system's administration

Howard County schools interim superintendent Michael Martirano presented his plan to the school board Thursday to overhaul the staffing structure for administrators.
Howard County schools interim superintendent Michael Martirano presented his plan to the school board Thursday to overhaul the staffing structure for administrators.(Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Howard County interim schools superintendent Michael Martirano presented his plan to overhaul the administration's staffing structure at Thursday's school board meeting.

Martirano, who also was sworn in as interim superintendent for the coming year at the meeting, presented his plan before a packed room of community members.


The restructured administration would help to promote equity, improve efficiencies and ensure academic excellence, Martirano told the board.

The reorganization plan includes eliminating some current positions and creating several new positions in their place, beginning with the job of deputy superintendent, most recently held by Linda Wise.


The deputy superintendent will be replaced by six chief officers, all of whom will report directly to the superintendent. These positions include a chief business and technology officer, chief human resource and leadership development officer, chief school management and instructional leadership officer, chief academic officer, chief communication, community/workforce engagement officer and a chief operating officer.

Nearly two months on the job as Howard County schools chief, Michael Martirano has begun to reshuffle his administration and empower six deputies who will report directly to him.

"I operate best, and I believe organizations are most effective, when you have a flat model where those direct lines of communication are open to navigate and problem solve that needs to occur on behalf of our children and school system," Martirano said during the meeting.

The chiefs also serve as replacement positions for other key administration roles, including the director of communications, whose responsibilities will be assumed by the chief communication, community/workforce engagement officer. The chief financial officer position is also gone, replaced by the chief business and technology officer.

Two of these positions have already been filled, including Helen Nixon as chief human resource and leadership development officer and Anissa Brown Davis as chief operating officer. The other four positions will be filled in the coming weeks, Martirano said during the meeting.

School board Chairwoman Cynthia Vaillancourt said the board has been collaborating closely with Martirano as he's developed the plan. While the board does not have to approve the reorganization, it will approve appointments for the hiring of some of the major positions, including the six chief officers, Vaillancourt said.

Vaillancourt said she likes the plan and its renewed focus on how administrators can best support students. She also said that she is supportive of the plan for the chief officers as it will increase direct communication between administrators, though she wants to ensure that having so many key positions report to the superintendent does not become overwhelming.

"He's making this [plan] based on his experience and what works best for him and what he has seen work well, but many of us agree with this direction because we want a free flow of information that isn't filtered or altered before it gets to decision making," she said.

Martirano said his plan was guided by 10 tenets, including being more responsive to parents, increasing transparency and improving efficiency. He also wants to see the structure move from a horizontal one, in which elementary, middle and high school leadership is separate, to a vertical one.

The acting superintendent for Howard County schools is vowing to reform the way the system handles requests for public information — a source of complaints during the previous administration that last year prompted a state ombudsman's audit.

To do so, Martirano's plan bunches the district's 75 elementary, middle and high schools into clusters of approximately 25, each of which will be led by a community superintendent, so that families work with the same administrative leadership throughout their child's schooling. Martirano said this vertical system would also help to close the achievement gap and create a greater focus on instruction as a "birth-through-graduation continuum."

"In theory, there's an expectation that when a parent engages in the public school system, that they will be working with the same leadership to advocate for their child from birth through the process, as opposed to be handed off to someone from elementary to middle and middle to high," Martirano said during the meeting. "There'd be a level of continuity."

Vaillancourt said she was excited about this aspect of the reorganization as it will increase administrators' knowledge of students' experiences and curriculum throughout the schools. She said the structure has worked well in other school systems in Maryland, including Montgomery County schools.

Martirano noted that his plan does not include any new spending, but instead reallocates money that was spent on now-eliminated positions to be used on the new roles. Moving forward, Vaillancourt said the hope is to fill new positions before the start of the school year.


Marijane Monck, who taught at Talbot Springs Elementary School for 22 years, attended the school board meeting to hear Martirano's plan, and said she was pleased with his ideas.

Monck said she felt the plan made a lot of sense, and appreciated the change of pace from former superintendent Renee Foose. She said she liked the creation of the six chief officers, as it would flatten out the chain of command in the administration.

Monck called the plan "unbelievably thoughtful," and appreciated that it felt "very refreshing."

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