Charleston County schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson plans to leave the district to take the top schools job in Seattle.
She accepted the job but hasn't agreed to a contract yet. She doesn't anticipate any problems in reaching an arrangement, she said, "unless there is a deal-breaker, and I don't know what that would be right now."
Her decision to leave Charleston would end her three and a half year tenure as schools chief, a time fraught with success, failure and controversy.
Goodloe-Johnson wasn't looking for a job but was recruited to apply for the Seattle post. The hardest part about deciding to leave Charleston was the positive feedback she received from district staff who asked her not to go, she said.
"That's the bittersweet part," she said.
While the details aren't final, Goodloe-Johnson said she expects to stay until the end of the school year and start her new job this summer.
The county school board hasn'tdiscussed what will happen next, but Chairwoman Nancy Cook said she thought the district had the leadership internally to handle the superintendent's job and not lose any continuity with initiatives already in place. Chief Academic Officer Nancy McGinley certainly could do the job, Cook said, and the difficult part wouldn't be the superintendent search but rather finding a new chief academic officer.
Many school board and community members, regardless of their feelings for Goodloe-Johnson, agreed that McGinley would be a good pick to succeed the superintendent.
Goodloe-Johnson said she's established a strong foundation to make needed improvements in the district. Anytime leaders leave, the system feels the impact of their departure, Goodloe-Johnson said. But the district has a strong team that she said she hoped would continue the work being done.
"The work's not done, but the work's not going to be done for a while," she said.
News of Goodloe-Johnson's imminent departure was met with both sadness and elation.
The Rev. Joe Darby, vice president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Goodloe-Johnson's plans just were starting to bear fruit, and she's made the district better through reform efforts.
He said he hoped her successor would continue the work that's been started and not come in with new ideas and try to reinvent the wheel.
"I very much hate to lose her," he said.
Burke High Principal Charles Benton has worked closely with the superintendent during the past year. He said the district is in the midst of great improvements and losing her would be tragic.
"I'm at a loss for words to say what would happen if she left," he said. "She's at the top of my list for superintendents who can move a school district forward."
School board Vice Chairman Hillery Douglas said the superintendent had given the district more than three years, and he's happy for the time she's worked in Charleston.
"I wish we could've done something to keep her here to continue the drive for excellence, but this is life and reality," he said.
Sandi Engelman, a former school board member and vocal critic of the superintendent, said the district has been on a three-year downward spiral under her leadership and that this was an opportunity to fix the mess. "I'm sure people are dancing in the street," she said. "She was a serious mistake."
Larry DiCenzo, principal of Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, said Goodloe-Johnson was one of the reasons his school decided to become charter after she denied its application for magnet status. It's been a great move for the school in its quest to get better, despite her lack of support, he said.
He said he was happy that she was leaving and hoped that her successor would be different by not putting up roadblocks for charters and embracing them.
Marvin Stewart, chairman of the downtown constituent board, said he didn't think her departure would change the district because the county school board would remain the same.
The board allowed Goodloe-Johnson to experiment with downtown schools, and none of those changes worked, he said.
"I'd be more happy if county school board members were to leave or resign," he said.