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Schools chief in N.Y. to accept national award


When the New York Stock Exchange opens today, it will be with the blessing of Anne Arundel County Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who is scheduled to be in town to receive a prestigious national award for educators that includes a $25,000 cash prize.

Smith and two other winners, selected by one of the nation's largest publishers of educational materials for their contributions in the field of education, will ring the bell that marks the start of the trading day.

"I guess that's good news or bad news, depending on how well the market does tomorrow," Smith said yesterday before he left for the Big Apple, where he will receive the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education at a ceremony in the New York Public Library.

Smith is being honored for his achievements in Charlotte, N.C., where he was superintendent for more than five years until he was hired by the Anne Arundel school board this summer.

Past winners of the award include former first lady Barbara Bush, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Smith said yesterday he has not yet decided how to use the prize money. Grasmick and Hrabowski each donated the cash to educational causes.

While in Charlotte, Smith drew national attention for helping to close the achievement gap between minority and white students and making high school curricula more demanding. He created a "Bright Beginnings" program that allowed 3,000 4-year-olds from low-income families to enroll in full-day preschool in order to help them compete with their more affluent peers.

Smith also vastly increased the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement courses, a feat he has promised to repeat in Anne Arundel.

Last year, 46 percent of Charlotte students took at least one AP course, up from 31 percent in 1996, and the number of African-Americans taking AP courses rose from 431 to 1,277 over the same period, according to the school system's records.

Since he took over in Anne Arundel, Smith has earmarked funds to provide air conditioning for all of the county's 117 public schools and laid out ambitious academic goals, including raising the percentage of students who complete an AP course from 15 percent to 40 percent, and closing the gap between SAT scores of black and white students.

Eileen Gabriel, vice president of corporate affairs at the McGraw-Hill Cos., the educational publisher that sponsors the award, said Smith's work showed leadership and innovation.

"The people who win this prize are really at the top of their game," Gabriel said.

School board President Michael McNelly, who plans to attend tonight's black-tie award ceremony, said the prize validates the board's decision to hire Smith.

"I think it just reinforces for me what I've been saying all along, that we went out and recruited the No. 1 education draft pick in the country," he said.

Carlesa Finney, the board's vice president, said she is confident that Smith will do for Anne Arundel what he did for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

"I'm quite proud to have him join us here," Finney said.

Smith has been nationally recognized before. In 2000, he was named Urban Educator of the Year by the Council of Great City Schools, an association of the nation's largest urban public school systems. This year, he was named North Carolina's Superintendent of the Year, and he was one of four finalists for the American Association of School Administrators' Superintendent of the Year award.

His fellow McGraw Prize winners are Libia Socorro Gil, superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District in California; Dennis Littky, founder of the Met, a technical high school in Providence, R.I.; and the Principal Residency Network, a training program for principals.

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