Jerry D. Weast, whose political savvy and focus on closing the achievement gap transformed Montgomery County schools and made him a frequent target of controversy, announced
Tuesday that he will retire in June 2011 after 12 years as superintendent.
In the final year of his third four-year contract, he is the second-longest serving superintendent in the history of the school system and one of the longest serving in the nation. The average tenure of a superintendent is about three years.
Weast, who turns 63 in October, said his retirement would fulfill a promise to his family that he would step down. He has spent 35 years as a superintendent, leading eight school districts in five states. He came to Montgomery County from Guilford County, N.C.
For two years, Weast has been telling people that the 2010-11 school year would be his last.
In a six-and-a-half page letter to the county school board, Weast outlined the school system's gains since he arrived on the job in July 1999. He noted a graduation rate that ranks first among the nation's largest school districts according to Education Week magazine, average SAT scores that outpace national and state averages, and a dramatic increase in the number of Advanced Placement exams.
He arrived at a time when robust revenues allowed the county to increase the school system's budget to pay for his ambitious initiatives. Much of those efforts focused on closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian-American peers.
In the early years of his administration the school system wrote new curriculum, increased teacher salaries and invested in early childhood reforms that included lower class sizes. Those efforts "would've been devastated" without the budget support the school system received from the county, Weast said.
Over the years, Weast worked to build a more collaborative budget approach that included support from the county teachers union.
"That's why I'm comfortable that we'll continue to progress. Because we have the budget progress," Weast said.
In fiscal 2000, Weast inherited an operating budget of $1.1 billion. The budget for the coming school year will be more than $2 billion, even after more than $162 million in cuts.
Weast's reforms included expanding all-day kindergarten countywide and increasing college-
level coursework in high schools. Later reforms placed increased emphasis on technology and advanced English, social studies and science courses in middle school.
Along the way, Weast's management style gained critics. Parents of special education students said schools were not doing enough to address the individual needs of their children. Other parents said Weast was more attuned to the inner workings of school administration and tone deaf when it came to community concerns.
His political maneuvering also put him at odds with the Montgomery County Council, which in recent years sought to rein in school spending.
In May, the school board threatened to sue the council if it slashed the schools budget beyond a $138 million cut proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). A late compromise avoided the lawsuit after the council and board agreed that school employees would not be furloughed.