S. Dallas Dance, chief middle schools officer in the Houston school district, has been chosen as the next superintendent in Baltimore County.
Dance, 30, had only two years of teaching experience in public schools, and therefore needed and received a waiver for the position from interim state Superintendent Bernard Sadusky. State law requires superintendents to have three years' experience.
The four-year contract has yet to be drawn up, but Baltimore County school board president Lawrence Schmidt said Dance will earn about $250,000, about $60,000 less than Joe Hairston, who is leaving the job on July 1 after 12 years. By comparison, Baltimore City CEO Andres Alonso was hired in 2007 at $230,000, and now earns $260,000.
"We were extremely impressed with Dr. Dance during his interviews, with his poise and his maturity. His answers showed a depth of understanding. His references and prior experience were stellar," Schmidt said. The school board understands that questions will be raised about his age, Schmidt said, because he will be younger than most people he leads.
Schmidt pointed to several individuals who had been appointed at young ages to high level positions, including Kurt Schmoke, who was Baltimore state's attorney in his early 30s. "There are some people out there who are remarkable individuals not withstanding their age and we believe that Dallas Dance is one of them," he said.
Howard and Baltimore County both chose Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent in Baltimore County, and Dance as finalists, although Baltimore County's board also had a third candidate who has not been identified.
Dance took the job with Baltimore County, the larger, more urban district, at 11 p.m., only hours after being introduced to the public as a finalist for the same position in Howard County. An hour later, the school board in Howard unanimously selected Foose.
"I wish Dr. Foose a lot of luck," Schmidt said.
The search for a new superintendent in Baltimore County was a completely closed process, a factor that was criticized by Abby Beytin, president of the teachers union. She had hoped that even if the school board didn't make the list of finalists public, that several key leaders in the county would at least have the chance to meet the finalists if they agreed to keep the meeting confidential.
"I believe that we should be able to work well with Dr. Dance. I did hear him last night in Howard County," she said, adding that she has confidence that he will try to work with the teachers.
"I am however very disappointed in the process," Beytin said. "The stakeholders should have had the opportunity to meet him and talk to him. That was never afforded us. ... That Howard County was able to vet the two candidates in public and in Baltimore County we were not afforded that is a big disappointment to me."
Schmidt said that one of the finalists did not want his or her name made public, but Beytin said that reason doesn't hold water. By the time finalists are being vetted, the school boards are contacting employers and all confidentiality is gone, she said. But she said that the fact that both counties, using different search firms, had identified the two candidates was some evidence that they must be strong superintendent candidates.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said, "I am certainly happy we have a young, dynamic individual. I think after 12 years of strong progress, Dance offers new leadership and new ideas."
He said he was not upset that he has not had a chance to meet Dance. "I wanted to be hands off and respectful of their process," he said.
He added that he was somewhat surprised, however, that "there were two different search firms that came up with the same two finalists. I know that we were pleased to get the candidate the school board targeted."
Schmidt said the board had 40 candidates, 20 of whom were interviewed by the search firm. About 10 days ago, the board interviewed seven of those candidates for an hour and half over two days. On Saturday, the board met again and interviewed three finalists, then offered the job to Dance. But there was a catch.
Dance has only two years' teaching experience in a public school system and Maryland law requires superintendents to have three years. So Schmidt said the board went to Sadusky and asked whether Dance would be an acceptable candidate. Maryland law requires the state superintendent to approve all local superintendents.
Dance had three years of teaching experience as an adjunct professor on the college level, which Schmidt believed would count toward the requirement.
In the meantime, Howard County was concluding its search and so without a firm offer from Baltimore County, Dance continued to pursue the job in Howard County, Schmidt said. On Monday, Howard County announced that Dance was one of two finalists.
By Monday night, as Dance sat in a public forum answering questions about what he would do as superintendent in Howard, Schmidt got final approval from Sadusky. "The state superintendent has told us he is acceptable," Schmidt said.
At 11 p.m., after Dance had turned his cell phone back on, Schmidt reached him at his hotel and the deal was sealed.
Baltimore County's school board still needs to take a vote in public session, which the board is trying to schedule in the next week. At the latest it will be on April 17 at a regularly scheduled meeting, Schmidt said.
Dance has said he would like to be at the meeting. He has not yet met any of the administrators or key leaders in the county, including Kamenetz, legislators, parents groups or the leader of the teachers union.
Dance presides over middle schools in a district with more than 200,000 students, the seventh-largest district in the nation, with double the enrollment of Baltimore County. He has been in the job since 2010.
Schmidt said Dance is a sports fan and has said he will be visible at football, basketball and lacrosse games in the county schools as well as at robotics and other academic contests.
The school board did not travel to Houston or Virginia, where Dance has also worked, to do face-to-face interviews about Dance. However, Schmidt said he had called key references in those places. He said Dance received glowing recommendations, including one from the superintendent in Houston.
County Councilman David Marks said he is not concerned about Dance's age.
"I think Mr. Dance is an energetic young educator and personally it is great to see someone of my generation moving into such an important position. He seems to be a man in a hurry and I think it will be nice to have someone very energetic and focused in that position," he said.
Marks said he hopes that Dance will focus on three things: transparency is school operations, modernizing school facilities, and the minority achievement gap.
Dance served as executive director of school improvement for the Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia in 2009 and for two years before that was assistant superintendent of Louisa County public schools, also in Virginia. Dance earned a bachelor's degree in English at Virginia Union University, and a master's in education and a doctorate in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun