Balto. Co. schools official leaves

The Baltimore Sun

After a year on the job, the Baltimore County public school system's chief academic officer is no longer working for the district, a spokeswoman for the system confirmed yesterday.

Sonia Diaz, a longtime educator hired by the school system in March last year after being fired from her previous job, declined to discuss her employment status when reached yesterday by phone.

Schools spokeswoman Kara E.B. Calder said she did not know the terms of Diaz's employment, including whether Diaz had a contract with the school system or when she had worked her last day.

"She is no longer with the school system," Calder said.

County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston hired Diaz to become associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction after she had been fired as superintendent of New Mexico's second-largest school district.

Diaz's appointment in Baltimore County coincided with an independent evaluation of the county school system's strategy for teaching youngsters. Soon after she arrived, Diaz's title was changed to chief academic officer, as the system launched reforms tied to the audit's sweeping recommendations.

Calder, speaking on behalf of Hairston, said the superintendent plans to post the chief academic officer position.

"Dr. Hairston said he will examine and repost the chief academic officer position when the time is right," Calder said. "Right now, the focus is on getting to the end of this school year and beginning to gear up for the next school year."

Asked about a recent posting on the school system's Web site for an associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction - the job for which Diaz was originally hired - Calder said that position is not intended to replace the chief academic officer position.

Diaz, who has described herself as an "assertive" leader, was dismissed after four months as head of the Las Cruces public schools in New Mexico after employees criticized her management style, the former head of the school board there said. The Las Cruces school board placed Diaz on administrative leave in November 2006 while it investigated complaints that employee morale was suffering under her management, said Sharon Wooden, who was then president of the school board. That school board fired Diaz in January last year.

Diaz lost an appeal of her firing in New Mexico when a retired judge acting as an arbitration hearing officer found that the school board there was justified in dismissing her. In Las Cruces, Diaz had been hired on a two-year contract with an annual base salary of $160,000.

She began her education career in 1973 as a first-grade bilingual teacher in Boston. She earned a doctorate in education administration, planning and social policy from Harvard University in 1996. She was deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Miami/Dade County schools, superintendent of Bridgeport, Conn., schools and superintendent of Community School District 1 in New York City's school system.

She spent four years overseeing schools in Bridgeport. Although she accepted a buyout after a shift in the school board's composition eroded her support, she also earned acclaim for reforms. She was among those credited when Bridgeport was named a finalist last year for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which recognizes districts for overall academic progress while reducing achievement gaps for poor and minority students.

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