Baltimore County school board to start search for interim superintendent

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school board is planning to begin the search soon for an interim superintendent to replace Dallas Dance, who abruptly announced Tuesday that he will leave his job at the end of June.

Board President Edward Gilliss said he believes the board must select an interim superintendent to serve for at least a year because there isn't enough time to find a permanent replacement.

"The two choices are either an internal candidate or someone from the outside," he said. "Our objective is to identify a person to serve for a 12-month period."

Dance, who is in his fifth year as superintendent in the sprawling suburban county, is stepping aside after the first year of a four year contract.

He said he does not have another job but is considering offers. He said he was leaving for family reasons, and because working 18-hour days had become taxing.

Board member Marisol Johnson said the board is planning to have an emergency meeting in about a week to begin the search process.

She believes the board should look at internal candidates before beginning a national search. She said there are administrators inside the system who are qualified to do the job. She declined to identify them.

Dance has two top lieutenants. Verletta White, the chief academic officer for the 112,000 student school system, and Kevin Smith, the chief administrative operations officer, who oversees the district's $1.4 billion budget.

White, a Baltimore native, has been in the school system for years. She has served as a principal, head of professional development and coordinator of leadership development before becoming the chief academic officer under school superintendent Joe Hairston, Dance's predecessor.

Smith previously worked with Dance as the finance director in Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia for 16 years. He joined Baltimore County schools in 2014.

Dance's resignation gives the board just 10 weeks to find a replacement — an uncommonly short period, according to John Woolums, director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Maryland school systems, particularly those in urban areas, tend to take more time to choose a superintendent, Woolums said, because the jobs are so big.

"So it is quite often the case that an interim is selected to allow the board to engage in a more thorough process," Woolums said. "Given the short time line, it is predictable that they would look in-house."

The school system faces the likelihood of substantial change in 2018, when the board goes from an entirely appointed body to one that is mostly elected. For that reason, some board members suggested an interim might be brought in to serve two years.

Under a new state law, county voters will elect seven school board members in November 2018, and four members will be appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan the following month.

Board members will have to decide whether they want to hire a new superintendent just months before a turnover of the majority of the board.

"That is really the debate," said board member Nick Stewart. One option, he said, would "be to hold off in recognition that the composition of the board may be changed."

In that case, he said, the board could hire "a very competent superintendent" to lead the district through June 30, 2019. Then the new board could hire a permanent replacement.

Stewart believes the board can look to internal and external candidates at the same time.

"Do we look internally for someone who can manage the ship for two years?" he asked. "Or do we look at someone who can parachute in? ...

"I think that is a good conversation to have."

Hiring someone who has worked alongside Dance might provide continuity, Stewart said, particularly at a time when the school system is moving forward on a number of important policies started by Dance, including training principals and teachers to avoid racial bias and implementing a program that blends technology into instruction.

Elementary and middle school students now all have laptop computers that they can use to do research, and more individualized instruction.

"There is never a good time to step aside," Stewart said. "We are system that is moving with a sense of urgency.

It's uncommon for a superintendent to leave in the first year of a multiyear contract, and to announce the departure so late in a school year. But it does happen.

The superintendent in Washington County, Woolums noted, announced in January that he would be leaving in March. The school board chose a top administrator as an interim and then named him the permanent replacement.


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