Renee Foose

Incoming Howard County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose addressed the public last month at a question-and-answer forum. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / March 25, 2012)

The Board of Education has finalized its contract with Howard County's next superintendent, Renee Foose, currently deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools.

Details of the four-year contract were not released, but will be made public at the Board of Education's April 26 meeting, when a formal vote on Foose's appointment is expected. Foose will take over July 1 for Sydney Cousin, who is retiring after 12 years as superintendent.

Before the April 26 meeting, the board will host an open reception for Foose at 3:15 p.m., in the board room of the Department of Education in Ellicott City.

Last week, in advance of her formal appointment, Foose sat down for an interview with Howard County Times reporter Sara Toth, talking about her plans, hopes and expectations for the next four years. Excerpts from that interview are below.

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Come July 1, what will your first order of business be?

I'm hoping, before July 1, that I have the opportunity to sit down with the board and map out a 90-day plan and map out what the strategic initiatives are, as well as create an entry plan. ... But from Day 1 forward, in the middle of the summer, all school systems around the country are focused on opening day of school. So first order of business is to make sure that we are completely in program mode for Day 1 of opening, making sure all the vacancies are filled, making sure we have highly qualified teachers in all the classrooms. That's business as usual no matter where you work.

What do you envision that 90-day plan to look like?

There seem to be some themes that have emerged that I think the school system is looking to focus on. If I'm correct in what I'm assuming, the 90-day plan would be focused on those themes. The themes, I believe, that have emerged to me, are the strategic alignment. For instance, we have the new teacher and principal evaluations coming with the Common Core State Standards that are coming. What are the alignment of those mandates to the strategic direction we're heading in?

I believe communication and collaboration, to make sure that we are communicating and collaborating with all stakeholders, that's important, making sure all voices are heard. Community groups, PTAs, the business community, as well as making sure our internal stakeholders are heard.

There is a strong sense that there is a desire to move our students that are flying at a high altitude to a higher altitude, so what strategies do we want to put in place, or what systems are in place to make sure we're doing that, while at the same time, eliminating any achievement gaps that might exist, whether it be a demographic or service achievement gap. There's also, from my understanding, a need for some technology enhancements.

Is there something you would identify as the most pressing issue facing the school system right now?

The economy, and how we're going to manage the pension shift from the state for the teachers. That's one of the biggest things. The other piece, I believe, is making sure we have systems and structures aligned with the Race to the Top initiatives we've taken on as a school system. That's anxiety-producing for teachers, so to make sure we're taking any angst out of that is important.

You mentioned during the public forums conducting a root-analysis to identify any achievement gaps. Is that still the plan?

We have to do that within the first 30 days. I want to see the data summaries on multiple points. I want to see where the gaps are. ... If we're talking about the SAT, that's something you just can't fix in the course of a year, because it's not curriculum-based, it's more or less something that we have to prepare students for over the course of their academic career. If we're seeing an achievement gap based on the proficiency exams, the MSA, the HSA, that's a content-driven test, those are more immediate solutions because it's the content they're being assessed on, versus their aptitude.

Where do teachers fit in to closing any achievement gaps?

If it's a curricular issue, we have to ask if they understand the curriculum that they're teaching, are they properly monitoring their students along the way so that when we come to the end, there are no surprises. There's many things we can do along the way. The other piece is do teachers understand how to differentiate what they're teaching to students with various needs and various learning styles?

They're the front line in this. They're at Ground Zero doing the most important work in the school system, so they have the biggest piece of closing the achievement gap, truth be told.

Do you have a plan as to how you'll facilitate outreach to the community, to get parents and community involved?

My goal would be to see in the transition what already exists and where is there room for improvement. What's working well, and how can we scale what's working well in other areas?

What strategies worked well for you in the past?