Carol S. Parham, Ph.D.
Carol Sheffield Parham, Ph.D. was the first African American and first female Superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Public School System from 1993 to 2001. Not only was she a double “first,” but she was also “outstanding.” During the eight years of her superintendency, she is credited with restoring the school system’s credibility, following a particularly difficult period. Dr. Parham established a widely praised employee record-keeping system, addressed problems in school construction, and pushed for money to clear a multi-million-dollar maintenance backlog. Test scores improved, and two schools were named Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. She also improved relations with the teachers’ union through a friendlier method of collective bargaining. Furthermore, she was the Maryland Superintendent of the Year in 1996.
Parham was born in Baltimore and earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude from the University of Maryland College Park. She began her career as a social studies teacher in her hometown. The teaching experience led her to pursue a master’s degree in school administration, with advanced studies in guidance and counseling from Johns Hopkins University. After graduation, she accepted a supervisory position in the personnel office of Howard County Public Schools. After earning a doctorate of education from the University of Maryland, Dr. Parham, with her husband William, a son and a daughter, came to Anne Arundel County in 1989 to become head of the System’s personnel division. In 1993, she was appointed the System’s acting superintendent and was officially appointed Superintendent in 1994. When she left the System in 2001, she cited the closing of the achievement gap and ensuring this System was always child-focused, as opposed to adult-focused, as the guiding principles of her tenure.
The University of Maryland finally successfully recruited Parham to join the education department in College Park. Among the positions, she held at the university was Professor of Practice—Organizational Leadership & Policy Studies, where she worked to prepare graduate students for careers in administration. She also served as Chair of the University’s President’s Commission on Women’s Issues, focusing on making the university a better place for all women.
It’s hard to imagine Parham not providing educational leadership during her career. She came from a family that instilled in her a great appreciation for others. Her great-grandfather was born a slave in Calvert County. Nevertheless, he became a sergeant in the Union Army during the Civil War. Carol’s father, Powell Sheffey, the oldest of 12 siblings, was a high school dropout. He later returned to school and earned his high school diploma. Not satisfied, he went on to college and became a teacher. Along the way, he married Parham’s mother, Margarie Talbot, who was also a teacher. Early on, Carol Parham and her three siblings learned that education was a vehicle for creating opportunity.
In addition to being Maryland Superintendent of the Year in 1996, Parham has numerous other awards, including the Martin Luther King Peacemaker Award and the Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Award for Excellence to Outstanding Maryland Women in Government Service. Also, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education Building is named in her honor.