Jerome Clark, the embattled superintendent of the Prince George's County school system, announced yesterday that he will retire July 1.
At a hastily called news conference, Clark said that though the system had improved during his four-year tenure, he was stepping down to eliminate "swirling distractions."
"I'm not trying to be a martyr," Clark said. "I'm trying to do what's best for the children, and it's also best for me and my family."
Prince George's has the second-lowest scores on state performance tests, ahead of Baltimore. During the 1997-1998 school year, 15 percent of its teachers were not certified in Maryland, the highest proportion. Twelve schools are on a list by the state Board of Education for potential takeover.
Last week, Clark's proposed $931 million budget was criticized as "bloated" by the chairwoman of the nine-member oversight committee appointed in 1998 by Governor Parris N. Glendening.
And state lawmakers have discussed giving more power to the oversight panel and County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
Clark said he hopes that his decision will help lawmakers "focus" on the needs of the county's 125,000 students and 181 schools.
"We're beginning to see test scores rise," he said. "The indicators are going up. The dropout rate is down. All of the indicators of success are there."
Clark, 56, began as a sixth-grade teacher in the Prince George's school system in 1971 and was named to the $125,000-a-year superintendent's post in 1995, becoming the first black to head the school system, the nation's 18th-largest.
Months after Clark was named Maryland's 1998 Superintendent of the Year by the Public School Superintendents Association, his performance evaluation was leaked to the public. A majority of the board rated him 2 on a scale of 0 to 4, his lowest marks coming in operation and management.
Although he said yesterday that the decision to leave was his, past battles remained on his mind.
"You get to the point where you have to make a decision whether or not you feel there is still confidence in your leadership," Clark said. "I'm not sure I believe that there's confidence in my leadership. I don't need a long, drawn-out fight."
The school board has adopted a policy to govern the search for a new superintendent.
Pub Date: 2/02/99