AUGUSTA — Susan Gendron, who has overseen school district consolidation, the introduction of a new standardized test and an expansion of Maine’s student laptop initiative, will step down from her post as education commissioner, she said Wednesday.

Gendron, who has been education commissioner since March 2003, will leave her job at the end of the month. She’ll become the policy director for a 35-state consortium, called the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, competing for $350 million in federal money to develop a set of common standardized tests.

She was previously superintendent of schools in the Windham area.

The Department of Education’s deputy commissioner, Angela Faherty, will take over as acting commissioner.

Gendron is leaving the education department at a busy time, as state education officials prepare Maine’s application for Race to the Top, a national competition among the states for billions aimed at education reform. Maine could be eligible for up to $75 million if its application is successful.

In her time as education commissioner, Gendron has been charged with implementing a number of major initiatives aimed at reining in school system costs and introducing key reforms to the state’s education system.

The reforms she’s touted have often run into resistance in the state Legislature and school districts.

The school district consolidation plan she oversaw intended to merge Maine’s 290 school districts into 80 regional units to cut back on school administrative costs. Opposition to the plan in much of rural Maine thwarted dozens of school district mergers, leaving the state with 215 school districts.

Some 95 school districts will likely face penalties starting July 1 for voting against mandated mergers.

Last year, Gendron attempted to expand the Maine Learning Technology Initiative — the program that’s equipped seventh- and eighth-gradesudents with laptops — to the high school grades.

But legislators and school districts didn’t all jump on board, saying the cost of leasing Apple MacBooks for all high school students was too steep. More than half of high schools ultimately opted into the plan, but other schools purchased cheaper alternatives to the MacBook, and other schools opted out of the program entirely.

Gendron last year also pushed legislators to adopt a new set of high school graduation requirements allowing students more choice in deciding what they study in high school. The plan also would have shifted Maine toward a standards-based education system, which advances students when they’ve mastered course materials, rather than when they’ve spent a particular amount of time studying a subject.

Legislators pared down the plan to one that allows students to earn their diplomas in ways other than putting in required amounts of class time.

Gendron has also stepped up to a prominent national role in the education world.

She was one of 10 state education commissioners who made recommendations for President Barack Obama’s education secretary in the weeks following Obama’s 2008 election.

Gendron is currently president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nationwide network of state education commissioners. In that position, she’s played a national education policy role.

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