The Baltimore County school board has approved a request for proposal for superintendent search services, officially beginning the search for a new leader.

Board chair Jane Lichter added the agenda item toward the end of Tuesday night’s meeting. The board unanimously approved the measure, which came a day after embattled Superintendent Darryl Williams announced he was not seeking a second term.

Williams has faced criticism for the system’s lagging academic performance — even he acknowledged this week that the county’s recent performance on statewide test results were “troubling” — and what some have described as a brusque management style. Parents have also complained about school bus delays, a situation that seems to have improved this school year. Williams has defended his efforts to address these issues, and noted that he started shortly before the pandemic and a cyberattack.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several people defended Williams during a public comment period, with one asking him to reconsider his decision to leave after his contract expires.

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The public agenda did not include the request for proposal, also known as RFP. After a lengthy discussion about changing the guidelines for how the public participates in meetings, Lichter added the RFP for superintendent search services at about 9:35 p.m. There was no further discussion, including about a possible timeline. Some have called on the board to appoint an interim superintendent and launch a nationwide search. Williams’ contract is up June 30.

Lichter said by phone Wednesday that adding the item at the end of the agenda wasn’t a tactic, they just needed to get it done.

“We just want to find the very best candidate we can,” Lichter said.

Francie Glendening, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said finding and hiring a superintendent is an “overriding responsibility.”

“It’s crucial that school board members be involved in the process throughout,” she said. “It’s safe to assume school systems are looking for search firms with experience, credibility, a successful track record, and knowledge of their school system and/or geographic region.”

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MABE often assists in superintendent searches, but mostly for small or midsize school systems. Glendening said it’s competitive for applicants nowadays. She’s basing that on the high number of applicants that MABE has seen in recent searches.

Prince George’s County Public Schools will also be looking for a new leader after its chief executive, Monica Goldson, announced this month she’s leaving at the end the school year.

“While we don’t know details for applicants in every Maryland school system, it is possible that qualified applicants interested in being a part of Maryland’s public education system could apply for a superintendent position with more than one county,” Glendening said.

Baltimore County could be hampered by the fact that it has cycled through superintendents in the past decade amid frequent clashes among board members. However, the board has five newly elected members, two of whom are now leading it, and Gov. Wes Moore will be announcing his four appointees to the hybrid board in the coming months.

Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said it’s a tough time to be looking for a new superintendent, which he called the “most difficult and most important decision” that a board will make.

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Over the last three years, the exodus of superintendents nationwide has been the worst he’s ever seen — and Domenech has been in the business for 55 years. He cited the pandemic, discussion about critical race theory and threats from parents as some of the reasons why. As seasoned veterans have left top jobs, candidates nowadays tend to be less experienced, he said.

The best situation to be in, according to Domenech, is to have strong homegrown candidates. But, he said, many districts wind up turning to outside contenders.

The number of candidates of color have improved over the years, the executive director said, but it still sits at 6%. “The pool out there still is not where it should be when you consider the fact that over 50% of students in the United States are students of color or close to it,” Domenech said.

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