Lamar Alexander, Thurgood Marshall, Fred Rogers-and Nancy Grasmick. If ever there was an award to be won, most of us would be honored to join the first three mentioned. But Nancy A. Grasmick brings her own set of accolades to the winners' circle of the 2006 James Bryant Conant Award, one of the most prestigious given for excellence in the American education community. As Maryland's first female state superintendent, she has successfully served under three governors and both parties. Her well-known "creative leadership" has set content standards for culture and arts education in Maryland's schools as they're set for math and science, and her commitment to young children prompted the state to transition all child care from Special Services to the state's Department of Education (some 370,000 diagnostic profiles now help teachers teach these young ones even better). And she still finds time to go back to her teaching days by giving teachers a shot at a professional development day by subbing for them.
On being Maryland's first female state superintendent: "People in today's world are more surprised that there wasn't one [before me]. I don't feel special. [But] I think I provide a role model to other women who still believe doors are closed to them."
Size doesn't matter: Maryland's SAT scores are the highest in an eight-state region, and for six straight years Maryland has received an "A" grade from Education Week for its system wide assessments for accountability and achievement-all against a backdrop of 24 different superintendents, a broad spectrum of socioeconomic differences, and an educational population of nearly 1 million people.
Road trips: Grasmick enjoys working with students and wants to see them as much as she can-a difficult task when you've got 900,000 of them. So she sets a yearly school visitation goal of 100-110. "I drive about 700 miles a week," she says.
Fame of the unnamed student: Grasmick has based her major, daily decisions on one thing: the photo of the nameless student, representative of the children in Maryland's system and beyond, that's graced her desk for 30 years. "I look at that picture every day, and when I have to make tough calls I ask, 'Is this a decision that would be right for this child?'"
Free-time folly: After hours, Grasmick is either making music or skating to it. A harpist of 10 years and ice skater of 40, she loves both for their tranquility-a necessity in Grasmick's life. "As you can imagine, this job ..." she says, voice trailing. If you're a superintendent, you know exactly what she means.
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.