New state schools chief pledges reforms


The new superintendent of Maryland schools pledged yesterday to aggressively carry out an ambitious reform program crafted by her predecessor and to consider taking over schools or replacing their leaders if necessary to get results.

"It is near and dear to me that every child in the state of Maryland have the opportunity for a quality education," said Nancy S. Grasmick, a former Baltimore County assistant superintendent and, until yesterday, the state secretary for juvenile services.

Dr. Grasmick, an expert in special education who has 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator, will be in charge of a $2.2 billion budget and a bureaucracy that sets broad policies for 712,000 public school children in Maryland.

At a news conference yesterday, she said pursuing Joseph L. Shilling's "Schools for Success" plan -- which includes measuring schools, student achievement and graduation rates among other things -- would be her primary concern. As part of the plan, the department will issue school-by-school "report cards" in November that Dr. Grasmick said would become blueprints for improvement.

The new superintendent backed a longer school day and school year, saying that American children are being "short-changed" compared with children in educational systems in such countries as Japan. However, she said such changes are best decided upon by local school districts.

Dr. Grasmick will bring with her to the education department her cabinet-level post as special secretary of the Office for Children, Youth and Families. The unusual dual assignment gives the state board an opportunity to expand its influence over what happens to children before they begin school.

"I find it to be a wonderful fit," Dr. Grasmick said, explaining that the office has developed programs to identify children with learning disabilities early and provide information on health and welfare issues, such as teen-age pregnancy in the schools.

Dr. Grasmick succeeds Dr. Shilling, who resigned in May to become superintendent of Queen Anne's County.

In announcing her appointment yesterday, State Board of Education President Robert C. Embry Jr. said Dr. Grasmick's expertise in putting together programs for government agencies to help children would help the Department of Education achieve one of its major goals -- to make sure that each child enters school ready to learn. Dr. Grasmick supports mandatory pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, for instance.

Until now, Mr. Embry said, the department had no control over what happens to children before they are old enough for school. "We saw that as a great plus," he said.

Dr. Grasmick was the school board's unanimous choice among 45 applicants. Her salary is being negotiated, but the school board president said that the board has received permission to increase the current $95,000 salary.

Dr. Grasmick also was the first choice of Gov. William Donald Schaefer several years ago when another board instead named Dr. Shilling. The snub prompted the governor to expand the state board and fill it with his own candidates. However, Mr. Schaefer had a good relationship with Dr. Shilling.

An administration official said it was so obvious to Board of Education members that Mrs. Grasmick was the governor's choice for the job that Mr. Schaefer did not need to pressure them to get his way.

"She will do a superb job at education," the governor predicted at a State House news conference earlier yesterday.

He also named one of his longtime executive assistants, Mary Ann Saar, to replace Mrs. Grasmick as secretary of juvenile services.

Mrs. Saar, who was a deputy state's attorney in Baltimore when Mr. Schaefer was mayor, came to Annapolis as the new governor's appointments secretary, or patronage chief.

Later, she coordinated the administration's criminal justice policies and was administrative chief for the executive department.

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