The process of picking MCPS’ new superintendent, explained

An+aerial+view+of+a+bus+lot+owned+by+MCPS.

Photo by Matti Blume. Used with permission from Google Commons

An aerial view of a bus lot owned by MCPS.

Superintendent Jack R. Smith announced his tentative retirement date in a community update email Jan. 14, surprising both county residents and the Board of Education itself.

Smith plans to retire June 1, closing out his renewed term as superintendent earlier than anticipated. The Board agreed to renew Smith’s contract as superintendent for an additional four years after his initial term, which started in July of 2016, came to a close. But now, Smith has decided to cut that second term short.

Smith’s reason for doing so is to move closer to his wife, Gayle, and his grandson in Maine. The two-year-old recently went through open-heart surgery to reconstruct a malformed heart, leading to family circumstances and distances apart that were only exacerbated by the pandemic.

After he received information that his wife would be going through a different surgery herself, Smith decided to part ways with MCPS. “Given [my grandson’s] health needs, our family’s circumstances are not going to change for at least the next few years. I need to join Gayle in Maine as I find I can no longer tolerate living most of the time separately,” Smith said.

Smith’s imminent absence raises the question: How will we pick a new superintendent? The process is complex, but there are three general steps taken to appoint a new superintendent.

Given [my grandson’s] health needs, our family’s circumstances are not going to change for at least the next few years. I need to join Gayle in Maine as I find I can no longer tolerate living most of the time separately”

— Jack Smith, superintendent

First, the Board must submit a request for proposal (RFP) to hire a search firm. Once the Board finds and hires a search firm, they must create a search process. This includes deciding exactly what the job announcement should say, and determining what kinds of expectations the Board has for a candidate. This is also when the Board may seek community recommendations to gather what parents and students would like to see in a superintendent.

The search for a replacement is country-wide and is extremely thorough. Not only must able candidates be found, but extensive background checks must be performed. Finally, once a candidate is found, their appointment must be announced between February and May, and they must be approved by the state superintendent of schools.

However, there is a roadblock to this process. The Code of Maryland (COMAR) states that if a superintendent is not selected and announced by the beginning of the next fiscal year (July 1 – June 30), the Board must appoint an interim superintendent to serve for the entirety of that year. “A new superintendent can’t assume the role in the middle of the fiscal year,” Board member Lynne Harris said.

It is likely that the Board will appoint an interim superintendent while the search for a permanent one is carried out, similar to the case of Mr. Larry A. Bowers, the interim superintendent before Smith.

In 2015, the Board swiftly appointed Bowers after the previous superintendent, Joshua Starr, cut his term short in February of that year. Starr’s decision came in the third year of his term after the Board decided not to renew his contract.

The Board initiated a search in mid-March to find a replacement for Starr by June 30. “It was an epic fail,” Harris said. “They had to just admit utter defeat, and then they appointed Larry Bowers as interim for the entire 2015-16 school year. It worked out relatively well because he knew the system inside and out.”

Given what happened in 2015, it is likely too late for the Board to initiate a thorough search for a new superintendent. For now, the Board is “just beginning to start to think about it,” Harris said.