Grasmick named state schools chief M.A. Saar takes reins at juvenile services agency.


Nancy S. Grasmick, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services, is taking over as state superintendent of schools.

She replaces Joseph L. Shilling, who announced his resignation in May.

Grasmick, who assumed the juvenile services post in January, will continue as special secretary for the Office of Children, Youth and Families, the state position that first lured her from the Baltimore County public school system two years ago.

Mary Ann Saar, a law enforcement aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, will replace Grasmick as secretary of Juvenile Services, Schaefer announced today.

Saar is the governor's director of operations and public safety and a former Baltimore city prosecutor with a reputation for toughness who once traded gunfire with a would-be street robber.

In a news conference this morning, Schaefer said he selected Saar because, "She should have the opportunity to become a secretary."

Saar becomes the third secretary of the department this year. Grasmick moved into that post after Linda D'Amario Rossi left to take a job in her home state of Rhode Island.

Grasmick's short tenure at the agency has left at least one significant legacy -- the privatization of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a training school for juvenile delinquents in northeast Baltimore County.

The school made its final transition to the private sector Sunday, when a Colorado-based agency assumed full control.

"The experience in DJS was very positive for me," Grasmick said in an interview late last night.

"It's just, at the heart of my philosophy, I believe for a child that family and education are the first imprints," she added.

Grasmick had been reported to be a contender for the job since Shilling announced his decision to take the superintendent's job in Queen Anne's County.

Grasmick initially said she did not want the job, but said she changed her mind when the board approached her.

In taking the superintendent's job, Grasmick returns to her professional roots.

Before she was appointed special secretary, she had spent 28 years in public schools in a variety of posts.

She began as a teacher in Baltimore, moving to the county two years later.

In 26 years in the county system, she worked as a teacher, a supervisor, principal, assistant superintendent and associate superintendent.

Appointed to oversee the Office for Children, Youth and Families by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1989, Grasmick first had to overcome legislators' skepticism and cynicism. Because her husband is Lou Grasmick, a Schaefer ally, her selection was considered largely political.

However, she quickly won fans within the General Assembly and among the state's advocates for children's programs.

In fact, when stories began circulating this summer that she might succeed Shilling, some advocates worried that her departure would hurt juvenile services.

But Grasmick said last night that if she is successful in her dual role as superintendent of schools and special secretary for children, youth and families, the Department of Juvenile Services will find its job much easier.

"It's a more holistic point of view," she said. "I don't feel I'll in any way be abandoning juvenile services."

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