Grasmick's legacy is practicality over popularity

April 07, 2011

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a no-nonsense lawmaker who only comes out from behind his scowl when he really means it, called retiring State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick “Maryland’s First Lady of Education” and credited her with leaving a “luminous legacy.”

Grasmick, 72, has indeed been the face of education in Maryland for 20 years. She announced last week that she will leave office in June, ending a remarkable career in which she championed progressive reforms and maintained scholastic equilibrium in a state with incredibly diverse educational needs.

From trend-setting Montgomery County to Baltimore City’s unending need for the stoutest of bootstraps, Grasmick has seen it all and dealt with it all, earning Maryland schools a No. 1 ranking in Education Week three years running in the process.

Politically savvy and blessed with a talent for consensus-building and putting the right person in the right job, Grasmick cut a path through the hallways of Annapolis and the hallways of tiny elementary schools with equal aplomb.

Path cutters, of course, are notorious for slicing through toes, and Grasmick certainly has her differences with some of her fellow state leaders.

She didn’t always win — most notably failing in a takeover bid of Baltimore schools. But backing down is not a lasting part of her resume, and she never allowed the state’s students to take a back seat to politicians who, in her view, did not have their interests at heart. She has skillfully used the legislative people and processes like an extension of her own office, winning achievements that might have been beyond the grasp of someone less politically attuned.

Her legacy is also one of practicality over popularity. Testing programs that revealed deficiencies in education drew heated challenges from parents and teachers alike, but flawed as they might have been, the tests taught a needed lesson. And in the end, Grasmick persevered because few could argue with her results.

The proof of her method is well-documented. Along with Education Week’s accolades, Maryland ranks No. 1 in the percentage of graduates who have mastered AP tests, according to the College Board. And — it would have been more of a surprise if it were otherwise — Maryland was one of a handful awarded a federal grant as part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. That victory secured $250 million over four years for the state.

Citing these successes, Grasmick said that this is a good time to pass the torch and adapt “a more leisurely pace.” Whether this will prove possible for a woman of Grasmick’s energies remains to be seen.

Along with our thanks, we offer her our hope she can enjoy a little more rest and a little less pressure, while building in new channels on a rewarding career that has touched so many Maryland lives.

In her letter of retirement, Grasmick wrote, “I retire with a feeling of enormous pride for the success of our public education system, and I am certain that Maryland’s students will continue to soar.”

And as they do, Grasmick’s face will be seen smiling over them for many years to come.

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