On the seventh floor of the building named after her at 200 W. Baltimore St., State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick announced her retirement Wednesday after nearly 20 years leading one of the nation's top public education systems.
Grasmick, superintendent since September 1991, said her decision to step down has nothing to do with political differences with Gov. Martin O'Malley or a desire not to work.
"I need to think of a new normal for me. I also want to be sure that everything here is stabilized so that there's no absolute decline in the opportunity for our students, because they deserve the best," said Grasmick, 72, whose two-decade tenure is the longest in the nation for a state schools superintendent.
Grasmick said she will step down June 30 and will take a vacation, something she hasn't done in more than a year and a half.
Grasmick began her education career teaching deaf students at William S. Baer School in Baltimore City. Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) appointed her as Special Secretary for Children, Youth and Families in 1989. Two years later, the state Board of Education appointed her state schools superintendent.
During Grasmick's tenure, Maryland has adopted statewide standards using core curriculum in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and statewide assessment tests. The accountability tests disaggregate student performance data by factors such as race, poverty and English proficiency and can lead to penalties for schools that do not meet yearly progress goals.
Such accountability tests have since become commonplace nationally under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
“She really began accountability and education reform in Maryland long before No Child Left Behind, long before it became trendy, because she believed in making sure that the needs of every student were met," said Montgomery County school board member Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda.
In 2005, the state Department of Education headquarters in downtown Baltimore was renamed the Nancy S. Grasmick State Education Building.
As she guided school policy, Grasmick won admiration as a political survivor. She served under four different governors, earning strong support from the state school board while navigating the sometimes choppy political waters of a state that prizes public education.
Still, Grasmick got off to a rocky start with O'Malley, as reported in this 2007 story from The Gazette.
Many saw the rocky relationship as a carryover from O'Malley's days as Baltimore mayor when, in 2006, the state Department of Education attempted to take over 11 under-performing city schools. Some saw the move as politically motivated, coming as O'Malley, a Democrat, challenged Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Grasmick, who had been rumored as a potential running mate for Ehrlich, said the move was in tune with the state Department of Education's role.
She was appointed to a fifth four-year term in December 2007 and by midway through O'Malley's first term, the two had set their differences aside, The Gazette reported.
On Tuesday, O'Malley was gracious in offering parting words for Grasmick:
“I want to thank Dr. Grasmick for her service to the children, parents and educators of our state as she steps down from her role as state superintendent," O'Malley said in a statement. "From her days teaching deaf children in Baltimore City, to now serving as the head of America’s number-one public school system, Dr. Grasmick has been long-regarded as a champion for many of the progressive reforms we’ve implemented in Maryland. These same reforms have helped build the foundation for the nation’s top-ranked schools."
Grasmick will retire on the same day as , who has guided county schools since August 1999.
O'Neill, who over her 13 years on the county school board has worked with Grasmick on several state task forces and work groups, described Grasmick as someone who is "incredibly thoughtful, cares about children, works tirelessly."
“The children of Maryland are better off because Nancy Grasmick was state superintendent,” said O'Neill, who was president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education in 2005-2006. "That’s not to say she didn’t rule with an iron fist—she was very opinionated—but she always had the best interests of children at heart.”
For more on Grasmick's career and accomplishments, click here.