A former Mississippi state schools superintendent who oversaw a startling turnaround in student achievement will take over as Maryland’s interim superintendent on Oct. 23.

Carey Wright has gained national prominence for her role in helping Mississippi students’ scores on national math and reading tests move from among the worst to close to the national average in just a decade. She had previously worked as a teacher, principal and administrator in the Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s county school systems and as chief academic officer for Washington, D.C., public schools.

“We have a grand opportunity to assure strong, equitable outcomes for all of our students. I expect to take advantage of the opportunity to make sure this actually happens,” Wright said shortly after her appointment was announced. She will earn a $350,000 salary, prorated for the remainder of her term.

She takes over from Mohammed Choudhury, whose resignation takes effect Friday, after he apparently lost the board’s support this summer. Choudhury had previously said he wanted a four-year contract that would take him to 2028, but announced he would not seek one last month. He will stay on as a senior adviser for policy until the end of June and will retain his $310,000 salary.

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Wright will have the interim post until June 2024, when a permanent superintendent will take over under a four-year contract. The board will do a national search and Wright may apply for the permanent post but she hasn’t indicated her intentions.

“I think she is interested but we will see,” said Maryland State School Board President Clarence Crawford. Wright lives in Baltimore County.

Wright retired in 2022 after nearly a decade in the Mississippi job. She had recently joined the board of Maryland Reads, a nonprofit advocacy group that is pushing for the state to move toward a phonics-based approach to the teaching of reading, known as the science of reading.

When Wright took charge in Mississippi in 2013, the state had just passed legislation to improve reading instruction. She will take the helm in Maryland at a similarly crucial moment, as the state begins to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, legislation aimed at making the public schools the best in the nation. State and local funding is increasing rapidly as two boards — the state school board and an implementation board — oversee plans to target money for expanding pre-kindergarten, raising beginning teacher salaries and having students academically proficient by the end of 10th grade, among other goals.

She will have to navigate strained relationships between the Maryland State Department of Education and the Accountability and Implementation Board, and build connections with the legislature and the governor to keep the Blueprint funding from being reduced as the state faces budget challenges next year.

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The state board voted Wednesday night to make Wright the interim superintendent after a closed-door meeting that came a week after it had negotiated the timing of Choudhury’s departure. Crawford said the decision was “fairly easy” when her accomplishments were considered.

“She knows Maryland. She also went to another state and successfully laid a major literacy reform initiative, and in the process she had to build relationships with people who she had no relationships with before,” he said.

Josh Michael, vice president of the board, said Wright has “a demonstrated track record of implementing reform at the state level” and “has deep experience as an educator here in Maryland.” He said it was critical that the state have a leader who could build a consensus with everyone from legislators and the governor to parents and school leaders.

The changes Wright led in Mississippi were centered on improving the teaching of reading in a state with one of the highest poverty rates in the country. Schools embraced the science of reading, literacy coaches helped teachers improve their craft and third graders had to prove they were proficient readers in order to be promoted to the next grade. Mississippi’s ranking on fourth grade reading rose from 50th to 21st in the nation. In addition, economically disadvantaged fourth graders achieved higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress on reading and math than their peers nationally and in the South.

Some called it the Mississippi “miracle” and lauded it as a rare example of achievement gains in a state, but it was also questioned by others who wonder what role other factors, such as a change in testing, played. Besides a new law targeting literacy, the state also had an advocacy group that lobbied for change.

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This story has been updated with the correct date that Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury’s resignation takes effect.

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