Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury will resign in a week but remain as a senior adviser on education policy to the state school board until next June, when his contract ends.
Choudhury and the state school board struck the deal for his departure this week, after he announced he wouldn’t seek a new contract that would have kept him in the job until 2028. His resignation comes after he appeared to have lost the support of a majority the school board.
Slightly over two years after taking his position, Choudhury will leave the top state education job both praised for his education policy solutions and criticized for his inability to build working relationships with the legislature, advocates and other education leaders in the state.
In a joint statement issued by Choudhury and the board, they said he will continue to receive his $310,000 a year salary until his contract ends on June 30, 2024. The board will announce an interim superintendent in October who will serve until June, when a permanent replacement will take over.
By Maryland law, superintendents can only be given four-year contracts that begin on July 1. So the state board cannot hire a new superintendent who will take the job before July 1, 2024. Choudhury was fulfilling the last three years of a contract for former superintendent, Karen Salmon, who had stayed one year.
In addition, school board president Clarence Crawford said in an interview Friday morning that state law would not allow the board to buy out the superintendent’s contract as has been done in local school systems. In this arrangement “taxpayers will still benefit from being able to tap into the Choudhury’s vast knowledge base as we move forward.”
That leaves the state education department in a period of flux for nearly a year when it’s faced with critical decisions about how to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a law that committed billions of state and local tax dollars under landmark legislation designed to make Maryland schools the best in the nation. Crawford and board vice president Josh Michael said they will work to ensure continuity during the transition.
Michael said that while the superintendent is important, the state board bears the ultimate responsibility for the department. “Continuity is at the forefront of our mind,” Michael said. “We are committed to keeping students at the forefront of our work.”
Crawford said the board has created a transition team to monitor the issues. “There is potential for issues, but we are going in with our eyes wide open,” he said.
Choudhury will remain as a senior adviser on policy and strategy providing “expert-level advice, guidance and recommendations to the state board on crucial policy issues pertaining to the implementation” of the Blueprint, the department’s strategic plan and other priorities, the statement said.
The state board appeared to put guardrails on his influence, however, by requiring him to get approval before contacting department employees. A formal agreement between Choudhury and the board says: “To ensure clarity in leadership roles and to position MSDE for future success, Mr. Choudhury will seek approval from the state board leadership prior to initiating any significant discussions with MSDE staff.”
Choudhury will have an office in the department’s downtown Baltimore office building but will also have flexibility to work from home, Crawford said.
The announcement of his resignation ends several months of speculation about whether he would receive a new contract and how long he would remain in the job.
This summer, Choudhury told the board he would like a four-year contract and he was enthusiastic about the job. In an interview in May, he said of the job, “It’s no easy task, but I love this. I live for it. I live to work. You know, it’s what defines what I am. And so I’m proud of where we’re at.”
Former employees had sent letters to the board in March saying Choudhury had created a toxic work environment, but Crawford continued to publicly support Choudhury, deflecting the criticism and saying it was disgruntled employees who chafed at Choudhury’s attempt to restructure a department.
While Choudhury seemed on the verge of getting another contract, there was continued criticism of his inability to forge good working relationships with advocates and nonprofits outside of the department.
Choudhury came under fire in recent weeks for apparently using the encrypted messaging app Signal to conduct state business, which may shield the communications from public records requests.
In addition, Gov. Wes Moore, who does not have an official say in the selection of the superintendent, never publicly expressed support for Choudhury. Moore, a Democrat, has repeatedly said that he expects more transparency from the superintendent.
Then, at a small meeting between staff and board members of the state board and the Accountability and Implementation Board for the Blueprint, Choudhury had what was described as an “intense exchange” with William “Brit” Kirwan, a widely respected state education leader who chaired the commission that produced the Blueprint.
Sources who attended the meeting spoke with The Banner about what happened but did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. They said there had been an agreement that Choudhury would meet with Rachel Hise, executive director of the AIB, to discuss plans that involved improving literacy instruction in local school systems. It was noted at the meeting that Choudhury had not shown up to meet Hise but sent his staff.
Instead of acknowledging the error, sources said, Choudhury doubled down and passionately defended himself to an extent that some in the room felt was disrespectful to Kirwan.
The behavior increased concerns by education and political leaders that Choudhury had trouble building collaborative relationships, particularly with those responsible for the Blueprint implementation, according to sources with knowledge of the events.
Choudhury’s behavior was the last straw, sources said.
Despite the missteps, Choudhury was widely viewed as having progressive education policy views aligned with both Moore and most of the state’s education leadership and advocates.
He has proposed what many considered an innovative way to more accurately measure the poverty of a school’s students, which would allow the state to target money precisely to those schools that need it most. He also pushed school systems to adopt reading curriculum and training for teachers that based on what scientists know about how children learn to read.
Lillian Reed contributed reporting.