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grasmick-nancyDr. Nancy S. Grasmick

First female state superintendent of schools

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick was not initially drawn to the field of education. She wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but a severe reaction to penicillin caused her to temporarily lose her hearing. During that time in high school, she became fascinated with the story of blind and deaf advocate Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.

“I decided I was going to be the new Anne Sullivan,” she recalls.

Grasmick began her educational career as a teacher of deaf children at the William S. Baer School in Baltimore. She would rise through Baltimore County Public Schools becoming a principal, supervisor and assistant and associate superintendent.

In 1991, she was named the first female state superintendent of schools. During her 20-year tenure, the state was named the top school system in the nation by Education Week from 2009 to 2013.

Grasmick notes her key to success is understanding that every position she has held both taught her something and reinforced her love of working with students to provide them with better opportunities. “At the time that I was on this (career) trajectory, there weren’t many women as role models,” she said. Men would often serve as role models for her in terms of developing her skill sets.

One of the biggest challenges Grasmick recalls facing was being assigned an administrative position to supervise 32 principals who were all male.

“I think that there wasn’t instant acceptance of my leadership because I was a woman and I didn’t even look like I was a strong woman,” she said. “I had to work very, very hard to convince these men that I first had a knowledge base, that I could be helpful and supportive and that I could really galvanize these 32 men around accelerating the performance of their schools. It worked but it wasn’t an easy journey. There was a lot of rejection initially.”

This summer, Grasmick became the first woman elected chair of Kennedy Krieger’s Board of Directors and is the institute’s co-director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education, a fellowship program preparing teachers and administrators to optimize learning for students with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

“That’s a program I am very proud of because it doesn’t exist anywhere else at such an institution,” she said. 

She is also a Towson University presidential scholar working to enhance the teacher preparation program.

When her career is looked back on one day, Grasmick hopes people will say she made a positive difference through her leadership for the students in the state of Maryland.

“I want the legacy to be that I cared about students,” she said. “I cared about their success and I worked hard with a talented team of teachers and administrators to achieve that goal.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.

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