In a sudden announcement, Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael J. Martirano will retire in January after nearly seven years in the job.

He will leave his job on Jan. 10, 18 months into a four-year contract that would have ended in June of 2026.

The Howard County school board gave no reason for Martirano’s retirement in a news release Friday afternoon. He was seen as a steadying influence after the departure of Renee Foose, a former superintendent who had battled with the board. Foose was paid $1.6 million in salary and benefits to leave, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The school board said Martirano served Howard County schools “with unwavering dedication and commitment.”

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“He inherited a system in chaos and led it to a place of stability and prominence,” the news release said. “He provided critical courage, stability, and adaptability in leading HCPSS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Superintendents in Maryland usually fulfill their contracts or leave at the end of June, when the jobs, as required by law, turn over. The departure in the middle of the year will require the board to find an interim superintendent to fulfill the contract, as well as begin a search for a permanent replacement. Martirano was earning a salary of $292,197.

Martirano declined to be interviewed, and Brian Bassett, a spokesman for the school system, declined to answer any questions about why Martirano is retiring.

In a letter to the community released Friday afternoon, Martirano said he had tried to elevate student voices during his tenure and improve relationships with students, families and staff. He listed some of the accomplishments he is proud of, including narrowing achievement gaps between student groups and “ensuring nurturing, inclusive and safe learning environments for all students.”

As he leaves, he said, he would try to be in touch with many people in the system.

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“What will remain with me forever is how grateful I am for all the school system teachers and staff who have continually led with kindness and compassion throughout my tenure and are driven to always do right by children,” his letter said.

Linfeng Chen, one of the board members, said Martirano had been thinking about his retirement and told Chen recently that the day he leaves “could be June, could be now.”

”At a certain point, he wants to enjoy time with his children,” Chen said. “That’s a good decision.”

Chen said he appreciated Martirano’s leadership, especially when the pandemic started, because it required him to make tough decisions. He also complimented the superintendent’s plan to change the school start times and for finding solutions that led to an improved transportation experience after the bus debacle at the beginning of the school year.

At the start of this school year, Martirano apologized to the community when buses failed to show up on time or at all to pick up and drop off students. The fiasco occurred after the county hired a new contractor to manage about half of its bus routes. The school system had to suspend 20 bus routes that carried 2,400 kids to school and back in its first week. The issues have been resolved.

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During his tenure, Martirano also managed a major redistricting process that shifted students away from overcrowded schools and aimed to ensure greater diversity. The redistricting initially caused an uproar in the community.

Now, Chen said, the board has to find an interim leader. Speaking for himself and not the school board, Chen said he’s looking for someone who can communicate well, improve academics, implement cost-effective policies, and bring forward creative solutions.

“We want to express our deepest thanks and appreciation for Dr. Martirano’s years of service and leadership to the students, educators and families of Howard County,” Ben Schmitt, president of Howard’s teachers union, said. “We wish him congratulations on his retirement and nothing but the best in his future endeavors and hope that he gets to spend a lot of time with his children and grandchildren.”

Schmitt said they look forward to an “open, transparent and inclusive” superintendent search process.

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