Lillian Lowery, Maryland's public schools superintendent, is stepping down from her position to become president and CEO of FutureReady Columbus, a nonprofit education corporation in Ohio, beginning Sept. 14.
WBAL-TV Baltimore reports that Lowery's four-year contract with the state was set to run out June 20, 2016. The interim state superintendent appointed by the Maryland Board of Education has been announced as Dr. Jack R. Smith, who will serve the remainder of Lowery's term.
Smith is now serving as deputy state superintendent for teaching and learning and is also the chief academic officer at the Maryland State Department of Education. The beginning of the national search for Lowery's replacement has not yet been announced.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan praised Lowery and said she was "a dedicated public servant who has devoted her career to bettering public education and who worked to give teachers and students the tools they need for success." Maryland State Board of Education President Guffrie Smith echoed the Governor's sentiments:
"We are losing an extraordinary leader, a talented state superintendent of schools. Dr. Lowery led Maryland through a time of tremendous transition and progress. She positioned our state as a national leader in preparing students to be college and career ready."
Even though Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents the majority of state public school teachers, and Dr. Lowery had "deep policy differences" over the role of testing, Weller added that she appreciated Lowery's interest in engaging educators in collaborative efforts.
Lowery served as Secretary of Education in Delaware and came to Maryland during the O'Malley administration in 2012. Lowery was instrumental in establishing Common Core in Maryland and played a part in more of the state's students receiving diplomas and in decreasing the the state's dropout rate. She also promoted several statewide programs such as STEM and computer science.
WJZ-TV Baltimore reports that Dr. Lowery has received many awards, the latest being a "Policy Leader of the Year" award in recognition of her numerous contributions to education.
"We are delighted to have someone of Dr. Lowery's caliber and national reputation join us in Columbus to help us prepare our kids for success in school and in life," said Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, co-chair of FutureReady Columbus.
Although Lowery was hired by the State Board of Education during the tenure of Gov. Martin O'Malley and is leaving following the election of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, state officials say that Lowery's departure is not a result of any political shift.
"She made this decision on her own," said John White, chief of staff for the Maryland State Department of Education. "It was the right time for her and the right opportunity."
Hogan named five members to the board after taking office in January and another in June, making six gubernatorial appointees out of the board's 11 voting members. This will allow the governor to have more influence on the selection of the new superintendent and on the direction of the state's public education as a whole, report Donna St. George and Ovetta Wiggins of The Washington Post.
Earlier in the year, Hogan pushed for major changes in the state's charter laws and to provide businesses with tax credits for donating to private schools. Critics touted both of these moves as attacks on public schools. Modest changes in the charter law were agreed to by the General Assembly, but the tax credit bill was killed.
The Baltimore Sun's Liz Bowie says Lowery's resignation comes just months before the state takes on important decisions concerning policy on many areas Lowery has assisted in establishing. These include the Common Core standards as well as new tests and new teacher evaluations.
"It is a big loss for the state," Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance said. "We were dealing with some tough transitions, and she led us through that."
For example, results of the new state testing for grades three through nine will be released in December and may be below what they have been in previous years since they are aligned with Common Core curricula. Many parents and teachers complained to Lowery and the state school board about the excessive class time needed to administer the tests.
"It's an absolutely critical time for Maryland's public schools," said Weller. "We urgently need to take action to prevent standardized testing from continuing to take too much time away from learning. We need to make sure that parents and the public understand what [test] scores mean — and don't mean — when they are released for the first time later this year."
Even before the release of the test scores, officials have been negotiating with colleges and universities to explore what scores high school students would have to attain on standardized tests to graduate and be ready to enter college. Lowery played an important part in the negotiations, as has Smith, said Carroll County Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, the immediate past president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.