Michael A. Sarbanes, the son of retired U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and an unsuccessful candidate for City Council president, was hired by the Baltimore school system last night to oversee communications and parent and community outreach.
A lawyer and community activist, Sarbanes will report directly to schools Chief Executive Officer Andres Alonso when he begins his new position Feb. 19. He will be responsible for building partnerships with businesses, community organizations and foundations. He will also develop and manage a strategy to improve parent and family involvement, and will oversee communications internally and with the media.
"What's happening in the school system and the possibilities are tremendously exciting. And I'm just excited to be a part of it," Sarbanes after last night's meeting.
Education and political observers were eager to see how his appointment will be viewed by City Hall. Sarbanes was defeated in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary by incumbent City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who was endorsed by Mayor Sheila Dixon and Gov. Martin O'Malley. Dixon and O'Malley jointly appoint the city school board.
But in hiring Alonso last summer, the school board clearly spelled out his authority to determine whom he wants on his staff without political interference. Technically, the board must sign off on all new hires.
Also last night, the board appointed Irma E. Johnson as the system's executive director of elementary and elementary/middle schools. Johnson, the longtime principal of Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary, was named state Principal of the Year last spring, representing Maryland as a National Distinguished Principal. About that time, she was promoted to become an "area academic officer," overseeing a group of elementary schools.
In her new role, Johnson will oversee the city's elementary schools and combined elementary/middle schools, which serve prekindergarten through eighth grade. Roger Shaw, the Paul Laurence Dunbar High principal who was named executive director of secondary schools last month, is overseeing stand-alone middle schools, as well as high schools.
Johnson and Shaw will report to the system's new chief academic officer, Mary Minter.
Sarbanes, 42, has served since 2003 as executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, a group that develops regional and neighborhood policy. He chaired Baltimore's task force on inclusionary housing from 2005 to 2006.
After he was hired last night, Sarbanes said he was eager to begin his new job.
"Excellence in our school system really transforms lives, and it can transform neighborhoods," he said.
Sarbanes grew up in Baltimore and attended the Gilman School before receiving a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a law degree from New York University. After Princeton, but before NYU, he won a Marshall scholarship to study at Oxford University.
Sarbanes has worked as an attorney for the Baltimore Community Law Center. He directed the Baltimore City Comprehensive Community Program and the state's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. From 2001 to 2003, he was deputy chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
A past board member of the Baltimore Education Network, he lives in Irvington with his wife, attorney Jill Wrigley, and their three children: two brothers adopted from Ethiopia and a girl adopted from East Baltimore. His older brother is Rep. John Sarbanes.
In the race for City Council president, pitting the children of two of Maryland's most prominent politicians against each other, Sarbanes raised more money than Rawlings-Blake and was running even with her in a poll a week before the election. But in the end, the daughter of the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings won 49 percent of the vote, compared with 39 percent for Sarbanes. He has never held elected office, and some political observers maintained that he wanted to use the office as a steppingstone to become mayor.
Read the Sun's education blog at www.baltimoresun.com/InsideEd.