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by Judith Hruz
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jack R. Smith will retire from the school system on June 1.
He made the announcement on Jan. 14, saying In his letter to MCPS staff that he made his decision with much consideration and mixed emotions, and that he is retiring to spend more time with his family.
Two days earlier, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to delay the start of returning small groups of students to school buildings for in-person instruction from Feb. 1 to March 15 because the new case rate and test positivity in the county are too high.
Returning on March 15 will depend on meeting the health metrics set by the school board or the adjusted guidance of health leaders as a result of vaccine distribution.
The COVID-19 new case rate and test positivity in the county remain significantly above the thresholds adopted by the county and state.
The school board in December set the Feb. 1 date for phased return to school buildings if the COVID-19 case rate was not more than 15 per 100,000 residents or a test positivity rate of less than 5 percent.
On Jan. 12, Montgomery County’s case rate was 49.8 per 100,000 resident and a test positivity rate of 7.7 percent.
In a letter addressed to parents, staff and students, school officials say:
“We understand that many MCPS families will be disappointed that we are unable to return to in-person instruction on February 1. The safety of students and staff has, and will continue to, guide our return to in-person learning. The current numbers simply do not support a return at this time.
“We remain committed to enhancing the virtual learning experience for our students. During the Board meeting, MCPS staff shared several improvements that will be made in the coming weeks that will improve the learning experiences for all students, with a focus on the secondary level. These improvements include:
Focused outreach services for struggling students
Greater use of the Wednesday virtual check-in day for students who need academic and social-emotional support
At the secondary level, providing opportunities to request an abbreviated schedule to lighten course load and take a course over the summer or in future semesters instead
Relaxing restrictions to allow students to take up to two courses Credit/No Credit (also known as Pass/Fail) instead of a letter grade
Providing additional instructional times that may involve Saturdays, including for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses
Tutoring and homework help options
Providing additional professional development for staff to help strengthen the virtual learning experience.
“In order to take advantage of some of these options, students/parents will need to consult with their school counselor to make any schedule adjustments for the second semester and to ensure progress toward graduation requirements and post-secondary planning.
“These adjustments for the second semester are in addition to adjustments that are already in place with curriculum, assessments and grading for the second marking period.
Additionally, MCPS continues to plan for the fall sports season and will provide updates regarding interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities in the coming weeks.”
The Board of Education will meet Feb. 23 to determine if students can begin returning on March 15.
Smith will remain fully engaged in guiding the school system as it works to return students to in-person learning as soon as health metrics allow and/or health guidance is adjusted as a result of vaccine distribution.
Smith came to MCPS in July 2016 after serving as the interim Maryland state superintendent of schools.
A lifelong educator, Smith has been a classroom teacher, principal, curriculum director and a local superintendent of schools.
In his letter to MCPS staff, Smith reflected on his time as superintendent, praising staff for their work and the significant strides the system has made to narrow persistent achievement and opportunity gaps.
“MCPS staff are among the most talented and dedicated in this country,” Smith said in a press release. “The work we have done together around the equity accountability framework, the allocation of resources, student well-being, technology and the expansion of early childhood programs are among a host of system improvements that I am proud of.”
Board of Education President Brenda Wolff called Smith “an unwavering champion for Montgomery County Public Schools.”
In a press release, she said, “He has helped guide the school system through very turbulent times with a deep commitment to our students, staff, families and community. We thank him for his service and wish him well in his well-deserved retirement.”
The Board of Education will name an interim superintendent of schools soon. The board will then determine the next steps for conducting a nationwide search to identify the next superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.
School system lists Smith’s accomplishments
During his tenure with MCPS, school system officials said Smith has:
Implemented the Equity Accountability Model focused on positive student outcomes;
Made equitable practices a part of all decision-making;
Expanded access to early childhood education programs;
Increased Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs and expanded partnerships that provide students access to STEAM programs;
Significantly expanded social-emotional supports for students and staff;
Expanded staff professional development, especially to support virtual-only learning;
Increased transparency of data through online dashboards and a strong district strategic plan;
Improved community engagement by requiring stakeholder involvement in all work;
Led the creation of three new regional International Baccalaureate centers to provide more access to rigorous coursework;
Increased investment in support for English Language Learners; and
Launched new initiatives to attract, recruit and retain a highly qualified and diverse teacher workforce to support the needs of all students
Smith praised Board of Education members as being dedicated to the success of all students.
“The 17 school board members I have worked with during my time as superintendent have been committed, dedicated professionals, and they have consistently made decisions with the best interest of students in mind, as well as a very real desire to maintain the excellence of the system, while increasing the access and opportunity to provide a truly equitable experience for every child we serve,” he said in a prepared statement.
County executive says Smith ‘put the education and welfare of all students first’
County Executive Marc Elrich issued a statement thanking Smith “for the leadership, vision and commitment he has provided to the Montgomery County Public Schools.”
The statement reads:
“Since beginning his tenure as superintendent in 2016, Dr. Smith put the education and welfare of all students first. His experience as a classroom teacher, principal and curriculum director have enabled him to take on the challenges of leading Maryland’s largest, and very diverse, public school system.
“As a former Montgomery County public school teacher, I appreciate what Dr. Smith has accomplished and the wealth of knowledge he brought to the job. He has guided our school system during one of the most challenging periods in education history — helping our students continue their learning despite having the COVID-19 health crisis demand a virtual system over the past year. Thanks to his efforts, we have made progress and addressed some of the other critical issues facing our school system.
“Now that he is moving on, we must continue to build on his work and ensure that every child receives the quality education they deserve, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or learning needs.
“I want to thank Dr. Smith for all he has done to improve the quality of life in Montgomery County and wish him well as he enters the next chapter of his life.”
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