Maryland’s Board of Education is in need of a new vice president now that Sylvester James Gates has announced his resignation. Gates delivered a strongly worded and somewhat personal letter to Governor Larry Hogan yesterday citing his executive order regarding school start dates as his impetus for leaving.
Gates writes in his letter, obtained this morning from a Maryland Department of Education spokesperson, that his children were fortunate to have plentiful chances to master the STEM subjects in their schooling. The asserts that an order limiting school agencies’ ability to set start dates before Labor Day and end dates after June 15 limits them from giving students with such ambitions the proper amount of learning time. He also writes that at-risk students benefit greatly from having extra reading time, even by scheduling additional school days in August.
“Your executive order has the remarkable potential to damage both the most at risk and the most ambitious students in Maryland,” Gates writes. “Ultimately, with this directive the State of Maryland will risk losing…its national standing of having one of the country’s best educational systems.”
Gates, a theoretical physicist, has served on the state education board since 2009. He holds the title of Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland’s physics department, where he has been a member of the faculty for 32 years. According to his university bio, he is the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in a physics department at any U.S. university.
Hogan announced his executive order in late August. It has since proved to be pretty divisive across the state. Many of his critics’ concerns echo Gates’ worry that low-performing schools in need more teaching time will suffer. They are also frustrated he has followed up that order with a second one limiting charter and low-performing schools and others from getting exemptions to the rule.
Hogan seemed unfazed by the controversy last Friday. He labeled the concerns “trivial, silly” and “stupid,” and said he had heard from many teachers around the state that they were happy with the new rule. People who are sick of seeing schools that lack A/C suffer through hot days or cancel it altogether in late August and early September also support his position.
Gates concluded in his letter that he was “extremely honored” to serve Maryland as the vice president of State Board of Education.
Gov. Hogan’s office has not yet responded with a request for comment on his Gates’ departure. A spokesperson told WBAL Radio that the governor “looks forward to filling this vacant seat and will do so in the near future.”
Ethan McLeod is an associate editor for Baltimore Fishbowl.