Renee Foose

Renee Foose, 45, who took over as superintendent of Howard County schools in July, submitted her first budget on Thursday, Jan. 3. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / June 14, 2012)

Renee Foose's call to education came around the 10th grade, when she says she "fell in love" with biology class. From there, she began a circuitous route to her career, and sometimes she was literally behind the wheel.

Among the jobs Foose took to pay for her schooling: ice cream truck driver, bus driver and Maryland state trooper.

While working full time at these various jobs and meeting the demands of college, she kept her sights on the path to a career in education; she earned four degrees and steadily moved up the ranks in local school districts. And Monday, she begins her new job as superintendent of Howard County schools, becoming the first woman to head the system. She replaces Sydney Cousin, who is retiring.

Her jobs gave her frequent contact with people from all walks of life. "Being able to talk to anyone and defuse difficult situations [while a state trooper] has served me well in education," said Foose, 45, the Baltimore County deputy superintendent since 2011.

Those traits will undoubtedly come in handy as Foose takes over one of the state's highest-performing school systems but one recently fraught with controversy, particularly among school board members. She will also face concerns from parents and teachers about equity in a school system that now has a majority of minority students.

Foose worked as a state trooper in the early 1990s while attending college. Then-police Deputy Superintendent Col. James Harvey said he once intervened on Foose's behalf after her superiors would not let her have time off to gain her teaching credentials.

"Letting her off to continue her education," said Harvey, "was one of the best decisions I've made in my career with the state police."

Foose grew up in Allentown, Pa., the youngest of eight siblings, and was the first in her family to graduate from college.

"Her love for the school system starts way back when she was younger," said Foose's sister, Debra Michlovsky, who lives in Lansford, Pa. "Let me tell you: When she is out to do something, she goes full force."

Foose has been an educator for about 15 years. "A lot of folks see me as having been on a fast track. The one thing that I have had to do is work for everything that I've gotten," she said.

She said that her focus in Howard will be on building confidence in the school system.

"What I want to focus on, first and foremost, is making sure that we're continuing to provide a world-class education for each and every one of the students in Howard County," she said. "I think it's important that we continue to find ways to build stakeholder trust and confidence."

Howard school officials have lauded Foose's reputation for implementing education initiatives that help prepare students for college and the workforce. Foose's former colleagues and bosses say that she will provide the necessary leadership, drive and people skills.

"She has a very strong, analytical skill set that will serve her well," said retiring Baltimore County Superintendent Joe Hairston. "What I love about her is her ability to question in a nonintrusive, nonthreatening way. She has tremendous investigative skills and research skills."

Foose signed a four-year contract that will pay her $250,000 annually. The contract stipulates that she must live in Howard, which means she will be putting her home in neighboring Frederick County on the market this month. The school board agreed to pay her up to $25,000 for moving expenses.

Howard school officials would not say whether those expenses could include the costs for a new home. But Foose said, "I don't think it's going to cost $25,000 or even half of that."

"The expense is to move from one residence into another," she said. "There will be full transparency. I will provide the estimates and the actual expenses."

When she was hired as deputy in Baltimore County, school officials sparked controversy after refusing to release details about her $219,000 salary.

In addition to working as an administrator in Baltimore County, she taught there and has worked as an administrator in Washington and Montgomery counties.