Every morning, Carol S. Parham gets down on her knees and prays for the strength to run Anne Arundel County's schools.
Perhaps those prayers are being answered. County school board members thought enough of her work to extend her contract as superintendent of schools for another year a month before her evaluation is due in August.
"Maybe this means we're finally reaching a level of stability," Joseph Foster, the board president, said late last week. "I think there's room for improvement, but I think she's progressing very well."
And County Executive John G. Gary said Dr. Parham "understands the magnitude of the problems of both county government and the school system."
She does, however, have critics who say she has shown little independence.
"I really don't know who's running the school system, the superintendent or the school board," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "Morale is at an all-time low."
In an effort to boost morale and show solidarity with employees who are upset that they got no cost-of-living raises this year, Dr. ,, Parham said last week that if the board decides she deserves the $5,000 bonus called for in her contract, she will refuse it.
"Any success I've had I attribute to the people who work for me, almost 7,000 employees," she said. "I can't possibly take something they're not going to receive."
Plucked from a behind-the-scenes job as personnel director, Dr. Parham was thrust into the the bright light of the school system's highest office to replace a superintendent who resigned in disgrace after a teacher-student sex scandal.
She was the first female and first black in the post, and the fourth superintendent since 1984.
"The position has been at the center of controversy for quite some time," said former school board member Jo Ann Tollenger. "I think it's the nature of the business."
Dr. Parham showed "courage" in taking the job, Ms. Tollenger said.
At the time, board members said they were looking for someone with style and public relations sense. "We need somebody who can communicate with people, who can take the vision and sell it to the entire school system and community," board member Thomas Twombly said then.
Dr. Parham, who can be gregarious and outgoing with parents and politicians, began selling that vision by sponsoring forums where teachers and parents can meet and talk with her.
"I think one of the areas she certainly has excelled in, which we needed very much, was her public relations," Mr. Foster said. "She's done very well in helping the public understand what's going on in the school system and what the needs of the system are."
At the same time she was sponsoring forums, however, she quickly made internal moves that some called daring but others criticized.
She changed employee discipline procedures to require those on administrative leave pending disciplinary action to go back to work rather than collect a paycheck for staying home.
Next, she reorganized her administration, creating two associate superintendent positions to run the day-to-day business and gutted other administrative jobs, reassigning some officials to other departments.
To help students, she vowed to spend more on classroom materials, provide them with computer labs and take a tougher approach to the increase in student violence. To provide more space in classrooms, she recommended reassigning some students to different schools.
The redistricting plan, changed slightly by the board, has been challenged in court by residents of the Seven Oaks community. And black community leaders said her administrative reorganization endangered the jobs of key black administrators.
Dr. Parham makes no apologies for her decisions.
"I think it's a requirement of leadership not to back away," she said.