Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance's visited Cockeysville Middle School Friday, marking his first visit to the school and completing his goal of visiting all 174 county schools this year.
During one of his two hour-long presentations at the sixth-grade career day, Dance fielded dozens of questions from students about his goals as superintendent, and how he, just 31 years old, came to take the helm of the 26th largest school system in the nation.
Dance told the students that he aimed to become either a corporate or civil rights lawyer when he was in high school. Then, while he was in college, he recognized how much he enjoyed tutoring other students. He eventually ended up teaching high school English for two years in Virginia.
"I was going to go back to law school, and they made me an assistant principal," Dance said. "I never looked back."
The students at Cockeysville had many questions about Dance's future plans for the school system, especially as it pertained to technology in the classroom. Dance said that each student could expect to take an online class while in county schools, and that the process was under way to bring the new school system curriculum online.
One student pointed out that some families don't have Internet access at home, and Dance said the county school system is working with various Internet service providers to households of students without an Internet connection.
He also told the students that although they are only in the sixth grade now, it won't be long before they'll be in the shoes of the high school students he is watching graduate this month.
"They didn't realize how quickly the last seven years (of school) went," Dance said. "As sixth-graders, now is the opportunity to get really serious about what you want to be doing" in your futures.
Not all the questions Dance was asked pertained to classwork. Some made Dance and the students chuckle.
One student asked who paid him and how much he made, to which Dance referred the student to his published contract on the BCPS website.
Another asked if Dance would remove a ban on dodge ball — "probably not," he said.
And still another girl asked if his job allowed him to meet famous people such as Kate Middleton.
Most of the notable figures he meets are in politics, Dance said, and the best parts of his job are the hours spent at schools.
Sue Harris, assistant principal at Cockeysville Middle, said the students appreciate the visits that she deemed "invaluable."
"I think the students can see themselves in him, because he's young and energetic and completely focused on education," Harris said. "So for him to come and spend the time that he did, to come and answer questions and relate to them, makes them feel more a part of the school system than they would otherwise."
Dance told the students it's his goal to visit each school every year, and this year, that's provided him with a baseline for achieving his two main visions: a fully digital classroom with tablet devices for students in grades six to 12 and each student speaking a second language by the time they graduate.
"It's going to be very feasible," Dance said. "What I always have to do is, once we map out what we want to do, what does it look like for the next five years?"
Funds are allocated in the FY14 budget for the first round of wireless Internet upgrades at high schools and Dance said the community and staff will be engaged in each step of the way going forward.
At each school he visits, whether he's there for an event or showing up unannounced, Dance said he also talks with teachers about the job and what they want to see happen in the future.
"(The teachers are) very pleased, because I think we as administrators have more access to speak up and share our thoughts to give feedback and improve the system," Harris said. "We really are working together to make it better. It's not just one person at the top or a few administrators making decisions."