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Mann leaves on high note


She had already cleared out her office to make way for her successor, but when Friday came around - the last day of her eight-month tenure as head of the Anne Arundel County school system - Nancy M. Mann still had plenty to do.

In the morning, she met with Frank Drazan, the new principal of North County High School to offer encouragement.

"I remember my first year as a principal," she recalled after the meeting. "It's nice to have someone come talk to you with some experience and to just provide that support."

After eight months of reaching out to teachers and making changes that some might consider significant for an interim superintendent, Mann ended her term last week much in the way that she began it - with lots of meetings.

She spent time with many of the county's principals, especially the new ones. She talked with community members about progress on the civil rights agreement that the school system entered into last fall. On Friday, she was scheduled to have lunch with a board member and then meet with Kevin Maxwell, who takes over as superintendent tomorrow.

Mann was appointed by the board of education in November to replace Eric J. Smith, who resigned amid strained relations with the board. Shortly before his departure, the teachers union passed a near-unanimous no-confidence motion in Smith.

Mann, 58, who had retired in June 2005 as an assistant superintendent after working her way through the school system over 35 years, was brought back to bring a sense of stability to the school system. She said at the time that she was there for continuity and that she would make no major changes in the school system.

But that turned out not to be the case, which wasn't surprising to some.

"She came into a very difficult situation and didn't shrink from making hard decisions," said board member Eugene Peterson.

Soon after she arrived, Mann reorganized the senior staff at the school system's central office, demoting some who had been promoted by Smith. Mann's explanation was that she needed to make room for her own people. She hired two assistant superintendents, both of whom had retired - Judy Jenkins, who oversaw instruction, and Kenneth Nichols.

She successfully recommended that the school board expand the International Baccalaureate program to Meade High School - a move that had been voted down by the board when Smith pushed for it before his departure. Mann also convened a committee to study alternatives to the high schools' block scheduling, which had been instituted by Smith. That committee has compiled a list of suggestions and will be presenting them to Maxwell.

In June, a major re-shuffling of the school system's principals was announced. Mann attributes that at least partly to retirements but acknowledges that the retirements created an opportunity to move people around.

"Some principals requested a transfer because they wanted a change," she said, adding that this year, there were more transfer requests than usual. She said that she met with all of the principals before making final decisions about who would be moved where.

"Different principals have different skills," she said. "I think most people are happy with their assignments."

Perhaps the biggest change attributed to Mann is a change of atmosphere. School board members and the teachers union had complained about what they viewed as Smith's go-it-alone style, and Smith cited public disputes with school board members, most of whom had been appointed after his hiring, in announcing his departure. In contrast, Mann got along well with the school board.

"The difference is Nancy Mann is a consensus builder," said board President Konrad Wayson. "She talks to people and then moves forward."

Wayson presented Mann with pink roses at her last board meeting, and other board members took turns offering sometimes emotional praises.

"I thought she was a terrific addition to the school system. She proved she could take her experience as a teacher and administrator and lover of children and transfer it into advocacy for good programs and sound board policy," Peterson said last week. "She had a good steady hand and a good way about her."

Peterson said Mann also had an influence in reducing the number of teachers who resigned from the school system this year and said she was liked and respected by the teachers.

Mann said that coming in, her biggest challenge and most important job was to restore morale among the teaching ranks.

"Their morale and confidence was so destroyed," she said last week. She said she felt she was able to turn that around. "I trusted them to do the job that needed to be done."

When crafting the school system's budget, Mann included funding for items that would help reduce teacher workload - a lingering complaint since Smith's tenure. Under Mann's watch, the school system also was able to negotiate a three-year contract with the county teachers union that provides 6 percent raises each year of the contract.

"Morale has improved. Teachers finally feel they have somebody there who supports them, understands them and appreciates them," said Sheila Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Members of the teachers union presented Mann with a proclamation at her last board meeting, something they had never done before, Finlayson said.

Mann said her management style is collaborative, but not everyone felt included.

Debbie Ritchie, the outgoing president of the County Council of PTAs, said that while she thought Mann did a good job, parents were often left out of the process.

"I wish that the communication had been more effective," Ritchie said.

Mann said she looks forward to getting some rest and then spending time with her young grandson, William, and traveling with her husband, John. They live in Severn.

She said she has mixed feelings about leaving but never considered applying for the job permanently.

"If you do the job the way it should be done, you don't have time for a life," she said.

She feels confident leaving the school system in the hands of Maxwell, a 24-year veteran of the Montgomery County and Prince George's County school systems.

"Dr. Maxwell will be an excellent match for our school system," she said.

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