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Opinion: State schools superintendent should stay

The Maryland State Department of Education offices in Baltimore. Google Earth image.

By Owen Silverman Andrews

The writer is a teacher, community organizer, and education policy advocate based in Baltimore.

While we have not always agreed on the minutiae of policy and process, I personally believe Mohammed Choudhury is a worthy superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education. He is smart, knowledgeable, equity-minded, and driven. While his leadership has room for improvement, it would be catastrophic for Blueprint implementation and education justice reform if his contract were to be non-renewed next year.

I am stating here publicly that his contract should be renewed. And it should be renewed in a way that holds him accountable to students, teachers, educators, and directly affected stakeholders, not to powerful old guard insiders who already have considerable leverage on the workings of Maryland education policy and administration.

On January 18, 2022, I co-authored a highly critical op-ed in Maryland Matters regarding Superintendent Choudhury’s administration of the Workgroup on English Language Learners. I have been involved in pressuring powerful people before, but he responded differently than any decisionmaker I had tangled with previously. He not only invited us to the table, he showed up to ours. He invited a coalition I am a part of to testify at a workgroup meeting. Then he and some of his top staff showed up to a community listening session we co-hosted, entering breakout rooms to engage in Spanish-English interpreted conversations about the future of our schools. He even answered questions in the chat. It was not perfect; it was messy. He and his team did not do everything we asked; we compromised. Our work is not finished; the struggle continues.

I am not here on this Earth to defend powerful people. And I very, very rarely do so publicly. But I am alarmed by what seems to be an attempt to push out this worthy, if imperfect, conductor of our moving educational train as it races toward a bridge under construction being built from a good but flawed blueprint.

I believe such a move will likely lead to derailment, which Maryland students, teachers, educators, families, and stakeholders can ill afford. It would be a mistake. Again: his contract should be renewed.

I have worked for emerging bosses who did not yet know how to wield their power as competently or equitably as the situation demanded. Circumstances, opportunity, and time determined whether they rose to the occasion or failed. Superintendent Choudhury has inherited the circumstances and opportunity to lead Maryland schools to success. Will the administration and the State Board of Education give him the time to do so? Barring any undisclosed issues, I firmly believe they should.

The superintendent must give notice by July 1 whether he wants a contract extension and the state board must declare by September whether they intend to renew his contract when it expires in June 2024. Until then and afterwards, let’s hold him accountable.

The great people’s historian Howard Zinn once said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” I agree and would add you can’t push a promising conductor from a moving educational train. Too much is at stake.


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Opinion: State schools superintendent should stay