Dumbarton Middle's new principal wants to boost technology

A familiar face will be stewarding Dumbarton Middle School into a time of great change, both to the school's physical facility and academic program.

Sue Harris, who five years ago left her role as an assistant principal at Dumbarton for the same job at Cockeysville Middle School, has succeeded former principal Kelly Erdman who resigned for personal reasons.

"I was waiting for the right school, I really was," Harris said. "When I heard about (the job at Dumbarton), I was very interested. I wasn't in a hurry to be principal anywhere, but I was ready if the right place came up and this is a really good match for me. It's great to come in and know the community and the kids, and the faculty stays here. I probably know two-thirds of the school."

That base of knowledge with her staff has been key to this summer's transition for Harris, who also spent 11 years in the classroom as a teacher at Middle River Middle and Pine Grove Middle.

"I think that comfort level allows us to start further down the road with things that we need to do," she said.

As she takes over as a first-time principal, Harris has a set of challenges that are both familiar to her colleagues at other schools and unique to her situation. Baltimore County included $28 million in funding in its FY 2014 budget for a holistic renovation to Dumbarton, and although Harris said she has not been briefed on details of the project, she said it would include more than the installation of air conditioning.

In the short term, however, small painting and landscaping projects will give the school a new gleam when students arrive next week.

"We're trying to make sure our facility looks as good as the parents and the kids are, and it's hard when you have an old building, especially when it's going to be renovated," she said.

A cheerier physical space will contribute to a more engaged student body, she said, and a more engaged student body could help school spirit — another aspect of Dumbarton Harris hopes to nurture.

Harris said middle school students "are energetic and happy and curious and interested in learning," and adding middle school sports and other spirit-building activities can only help engage them more in the classroom.

Students at Dumbarton will also be more engaged as BCPS begins its digital conversion, Harris said.

"We're trying to hit the ground running by including more technology into our lessons — not having the classrooms where you sit behind a desk the old-fashioned way," Harris said. "We were educating kids in the past, I think, by the factory system. But kids aren't going to work in a factory. They need to be able to problem-solve and be creative and think on their feet and be innovative, and kids love that."

In a time of such change, Amy Kline, president of the Dumbarton PTSA, said Harris gave the impression she would be a "terrific leader for the school."

"She's going to be in touch with the teachers, parents and students," Kline said. "I feel like she'll be addressing all three groups, as well as the surrounding community. She's full of enthusiasm and energy, full of school spirit, and she's a very strong leader."

Kline said that "everyone is going to be on edge with the big changes," and Harris' leadership skills will be vital to ensuring a smooth future for Dumbarton.

"The thing that's most important is to have that connection with the entire school community, each aspect of the school community," Kline said. "If she can bond and forge and unify everyone … then we'll be able to handle whatever's going to happen."

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