Carroll County's assistant superintendent of administration, Vernon F. Smith Jr., will retire this summer after 30 years as a teacher and administrator in county schools.
As director of school support services and then an assistant superintendent, Smith saw the school system through its most aggressive and productive construction era, building 11 schools in 14 years.
But the building campaign also brought contention, as a Carroll County grand jury and a team of attorneys and former FBI agents hired by the school board investigated botched construction projects and alleged mismanagement in the school system.
"The old saying is that you'll know when it's time to retire," Smith said. "I think I've struggled for the last couple months with whether I know that it's time to retire, and I think it is." His retirement date is June 30.
Smith described the scandal-ridden years as "trying times" for the school system but said he's glad "to end and leave on a positive note rather than dwell on the negative aspects."
The grand jury concluded its work in December without issuing any indictments, and interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has focused the school system on regaining credibility and improving its tarnished image since he was appointed last summer.
"There are those who will look at that as a negative part of my career, but whenever you're involved in controversial issues there are two sides to every story," Smith said. "I can think of a heck of a lot more positive memories than negative - when you think of that period of time everyone wants to focus on, if you multiply that by thousands, then those are the number of positive memories I have of Carroll County public schools."
Fresh out of college in 1971, with a degree in elementary education from what is now Towson University, Smith began his career as a fifth-grade teacher at Eldersburg Elementary. Four years later, he was named assistant principal of Mount Airy Elementary, beginning a string of jobs as principal at Winfield, Mechanicsville and Manchester elementary schools.
In 1987, Smith was appointed director of school support services, putting him in charge of school construction, maintenance, transportation and other support areas.
In July 1998, then-Superintendent William H. Hyde tapped Smith to fill his old job as assistant superintendent and oversee the construction, finance, transportation and human resources departments.
Smith has a master's degree in education from Western Maryland College and completed additional graduate work at Western Maryland, Loyola and Goucher colleges.
With a work-free summer stretching before him, Smith said he hopes to spend time on his boat, work on projects around the house and perhaps learn to golf. He looks forward to spending time with his wife, Susan, who is a special education teacher and chairwoman of that department at North Carroll High. He also plans to find a job at some point.
"Right now, I think I will enjoy my time at home cutting the grass and gardening and fishing," he said. "But that won't last real long."
Smith is the third top administrator to announce retirement plans. Dorothy "Dottie" Mangle, assistant superintendent of instruction, and William Rooney, director of human resources, also are to retire June 30.