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AACPS Interim Superintendent Mamie J. Perkins

Jan 14, 2014 02:34PM ● By Cate Reynolds
When Mamie Perkins was appointed Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Interim Superintendent in August of this past year, she knew there were big shoes to fill. Taking over for Dr. Kevin Maxwell—who many lauded as one of the county’s most progressive and transparent school superintendents of all time and who took on a new challenge as CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools—Perkins was obliged to maintain status quo in the short term, while she established relationships among county leaders, principals, teachers, parents, and students in order to outline longer term goals and benchmarks for the system. Having previously served as acting superintendent within the Howard County Public School System, Perkins already has experience serving in—what many educators would call—a pinnacle position. She began her education career in 1973 as a classroom teacher and built a resume dotted with a full range of teaching and administrative experience, which should lend well to the job at hand. We spoke with Perkins just as she settled into her new desk.

On day one, what was your impression of the system and how Maxwell defined it?

It’s interesting. Because I had spent two years in an acting position in Howard County, I had been attending the superintendent’s meetings and similar functions. So I already knew Dr. Maxwell and of his work. I had that piece already. And he’s always been a very open, honest person when it came to the school system. He was proud of the system and always the first to volunteer information about how to do things based on the way Anne Arundel had been doing them. From that perspective, I knew that I was applying for a system that had very skilled people.

Do you think you’ll continue in his management style or that you’ll have your own spin on things?

I’d like to believe that I’ll have my own spin on things. I’m not here to mimic him. I’m really here to try to understand the kinds of things that he was doing, but then to make certain that I do them from my own perspective. I couldn’t possibly fill his shoes, so it’s a lot easier to do this from my perspective.

You’ve submitted the fiscal year 2015 recommended budget. How difficult was it to weigh perceived and real budget needs against the realistic expectations of the what the county council will adopt?

Well it is difficult because it’s a guessing game. First of all, we are looking at the number of students that we’ve increased and the needs of those students and what the system will need. And so it’s a guesstimate, but we also know that money is tight and so we’ll have to be fiscally responsible.

There are 13 school specific projects in the budget, accounting for roughly 65 percent of the budget request. By targeting infrastructure projects, does that limit other budgetary wants such as teacher salary increases? If so, how difficult is it to justify those requests?

When you start pitting one important thing against another, it is very difficult. To be honest with you, I know our teachers really deserve to be paid well. And I also know that it’s very difficult to not pay them well but want to retain them. It’s a very competitive field. So we do have to stay competitive. So it actually is like comparing apples to apples.

What do you think is the most difficult challenge for the everyday teacher?

Most teachers want their children to be academically successful and, at the same time, to be happy. They have them for six and a half hours, yet they all know—and research certainly supports this—that there are more variables involved. So we try to focus on the variables that we can control. I think that their biggest struggle is when their students are not academically successful.

You’ve visited a good number of schools already.

My goal was to get into each of the schools in which we placed a new principal to welcome them and let them know that we’re here to support them. And to let them know that it’s okay to be new at something. I visited classrooms, too. The intent for a classroom is that it be student-centered; that you see student work and the children feel comfortable. And that’s what I saw. That makes all the difference in the world—how you greet the children, their parents, and families. Parents send their children to school every day hoping they have an enjoyable and engaging experience, and that their children will come home and say they had a great day at school.

What are the overarching goals or benchmarks for this school year?

One of questions I’m being asked as I go around visiting schools is about the achievement gap because parents want to know what we are doing about trying to close the gap between the different student groups. So trying to move that needle on the achievement gap is certainly a goal. Another is to make certain our partnerships are strong. All of our high schools have their signature programs. We want to make sure our partnerships within the county are working well and thriving and that we’re getting new business partnerships. The other piece is to make sure our communication is clear, strong, and transparent because Anne Arundel County is like a hidden jewel as far as the school system in concerned. There’s not a lot of talk about the right things that are going on here and I think that’s something we need to do more of.
–James Houck