Gov. Martin O'Malley made a rare appearance at the state school board meeting Tuesday to welcome the new state school superintendent, Lillian M. Lowery, and encourage the members to work harder on preparing principals and providing vocational training to students.
The state board voted unanimously to hire Lowery, who is Delaware's secretary of education. She will begin July 1.
Lowery attended the board meeting, sitting next to the interim state school superintendent, Bernard Sadusky, but did not participate in the discussion, which centered on several key issues, including the adjustment to new set of high school exams in the coming years.
O'Malley asked the board to focus on developing a unified strategy for finding better-trained principals. "I don't think we do a very good job of recruitment," he said, adding that schools that improve student achievement always have good principals.
O'Malley, who last spoke at a school board meeting in 2009, listed several areas in which the state had made gains — by moving to new common national standards, better preparing kindergartners for school, and increasing the number of students focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
But in other areas, he said, the state needs improvement. O'Malley has long promoted career and technology education, what used to be known as vocational education, in schools. On Tuesday, he said he was disappointed that some statistics indicate a drop in CTE participation.
The number of students taking such a course in high school has gone up and down, but essentially remained flat, with about 43 percent of all students enrolled in a CTE course in a given year. However, the percent of high school students who completed a CTE program has dropped from 26 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2011, according to Maryland State Department of Education statistics.
"The place where it is the greatest need is the place where it seems to be offered the least ... Baltimore City," O'Malley said.
While he acknowledged that some educators see CTE as a "vestige of the past" because many African-American students were funneled into vocational courses years ago, he said some students are eager to work in those fields.
"There is dignity in all work, not just postgraduate work," he said. "We have a skill shortage more than a job shortage in our state."
In other business, the school board voted to continue the high school government exam that had been discontinued last year because of budget cuts. With the strong support of legislative leaders, the General Assembly passed a bill that will require the state board to put the test back in as a requirement of graduation.
The state board took the vote Tuesday, reinstating the requirement, but the logistics of getting the test materials updated will mean the new test can't take effect until 2013 for ninth- or 10th-graders taking the course. Some board members questioned the timing, saying it might be better to wait until after the board had adopted new social studies standards, but staff said the move was required by law.
The cost of the test is not currently in next year's budget, but board president James DeGraffenreidt said he believed the budget problems would be straightened out, which would allow the state to figure out "how we will put Humpty Dumpty back together for the students, teachers."
O'Malley said he was "very, very excited" by the prospect of Lowery's leadership, and said he was optimistic as "we continue to move forward with the new innovation that is collaboration."