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News roundup: State superintendent optimistic about contract, a new civil rights leader in AG’s office, and a new riverkeeper

Maryland State Schools Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Maryland State Schools Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said he remains optimistic about guiding the Department of Education for the next four years.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that Maryland sees that it is getting exactly what it wanted from its state superintendent, to shake it up,” said Choudhury. “And with that comes some noise.”

Choudhury said, despite the noise that comes from being a change agent, he is getting “it right and have outcomes produced that are trending in the right way. So, I am optimistic.”

Choudhury is nearing the end of his first three years in office. A new four-year deal remains in limbo.

“So, at the end of the day, it’s not up to me,” he said, adding he believes a deal with the state board could be close. “I think I’m close. I think they have to ultimately decide. So, I don’t know. That’s up to them. They have to decide this year, right? This is my last year so there’s still a long year left. But at the end of the day, it’s not going to distract me. I’m going to keep doing the work.”

Choudhury said his preference is to remain in the state for a decade to help implement education reforms under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

“I don’t want to move. I don’t want to keep moving. I came here to do this work,” said Choudhury. “I wasn’t thinking of Maryland. The recruiters landed in my inbox and said Maryland’s looking to shake it up and wants an innovator, a disrupter, someone who thinks outside the box. And so that’s the charge I have. I came to do that work. It means you’re going to rub some people in the wrong way along the way, but you got to rub, in the aggregate, everyone in the majority in the right way. And I believe that’s what I’m doing. And I’m still doing that. It’s not easy. It’s hard work.”

Gov. Wes Moore (D), speaking to reporters in Baltimore, expressed some dissatisfaction with Choudhury.

“Part of the challenge is that…the governor doesn’t decide that,” Moore said when asked if he thought Choudhury deserved a new contract. “I want transparency, I want accountability, and I want a superintendent that believes in it and can deliver it. The results we’re seeing right now are not satisfactory results. And I demand better. And we need to make sure that we’re getting better results for our kids.”

Choudhury, who spoke to a reporter Tuesday after meeting with the House Ways and Means Committee in Cambridge, said he was not taken aback by Moore’s comment. He said he meets weekly with members of the Moore’s staff.

“I think at the end of the day you want from your governor — you always want a push to be better and do better and reach for the stars,” said Choudhury. “I want that.”

During the interview Choudhury ticked off a list of improvements to test scores, reading proficiency and other goals that he said show there is progress in state schools.

“It’s not going to be an overnight gap closing and narrowing. That just does not happen,” said Choudhury. “I expect comments, as the state superintendent, from everywhere to constantly push me to be better, move faster, move harder, etc. That’s what I’m known for. I worked in turnaround districts in Texas, Dallas, San Antonio, Los Angeles lowest performing school system and within a three-to-five-year span made them into two of the fastest, highest scoring districts. That’s why they came to me. That’s the challenge. That’s why I’m excited about it.”

Jonathan Smith to lead civil rights division

Jonathan M. Smith. Photo courtesy of Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) announced Wednesday that Jonathan M. Smith will serve as chief of the office’s civil rights division.

Smith, who will begin in January, currently works as a senior special counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Before that position, he worked for seven years as the organization’s executive director.

The civil rights organization has conducted reports, provided legal assistance and challenged local, state and federal policies on a variety of topics that include housing, education, employment and police misconduct.

“Jon Smith has the experience, the passion, and the commitment to lead the extraordinarily critical work to be performed by our new Civil Rights Division,” Brown said in a statement. “His record of service reflects the highest level of skill and decades of dedication to the protection of civil rights. Jon will be responsible for ensuring that, regardless of who you are, who you love, or where you live, the Attorney General’s Office enforces the law and protects civil rights for all Marylanders.”

Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed Senate Bill 540 into law this year that will allow the attorney general’s office to enforce civil rights laws and bring class action lawsuits against those suspected of violating civil rights laws.

The law, scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1, prohibits bringing any action “against any unit of state or local government” or an employee or agent working for the government or political subdivision “who is acting under the color of law.”

Some work will be in conjunction with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, an independent agency that mostly handles individual cases on employment, housing, public accommodations and state contracts.

“The new Civil Rights Division here at the Maryland OAG will play a critical role in ensuring equal opportunity for all Marylanders,” Smith said in a statement. “I am proud to join the office to help Attorney General Brown fight discrimination and work for greater equity and justice, and I look forward to working with all critical partners – within the State government and in our communities – in this effort.”

Watching the water

The environmental group Waterkeepers Chesapeake announced this week that its board of directors has selected Leda Huta to be the organization’s new executive director. She’ll take over next Monday, replacing Betsy Nicholas, who spent a decade as executive director before moving on to become a vice president at the Potomac Riverkeeper Network earlier this year.

Huta comes to Waterkeepers Chesapeake from the Endangered Species Coalition, where she led the national 400-group coalition since 2006. She is credited with transforming the organization from a watchdog group to a proactive and inclusive movement that aimed to address the root causes of the biodiversity crisis.

“The waterways and ecosystems of the Chesapeake have shaped my view of nature, people, and life itself,” Huta said. “As the hub-of-the-wheel of the 17 Waterkeepers of the Chesapeake and coastal bays region, the organization has vast potential to advance shared goals. And my focus will be on uplifting the incredible commitment and dedication of the staff as well as the Waterkeepers and the communities they serve.”

Huta, a lifelong Marylander, is a longtime champion for women’s leadership and advancing equity and inclusion in the environmental movement. She co-founded EcoWomen in 2004 and has participated in several women’s leadership programs.

“The Board of Waterkeepers Chesapeake is impressed with Leda’s credentials and her extensive experience leading an environmental coalition. We are delighted that she can now bring that acumen and expertise to the Chesapeake region, and know she will be an asset to the overall Bay restoration movement,” said Jesse Iliff, former Waterkeepers Chesapeake board chair, who led the search committee.


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News roundup: State superintendent optimistic about contract, a new civil rights leader in AG’s office, and a new riverkeeper