David C. Ring Jr. considers three things as “absolutely pertinent” to being a successful school leader — building relationships with all parties within and without a school system, networking within one’s community and visibility.
“People need to know who you are ... they want to match a name with a face, they want to hear from you, they want to see you,” Ring said.
Ring, one of two finalists for superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, met with representatives of multiple community groups Tuesday afternoon and evening in the Board of Education meeting room in the A.A. Roberty Building, the HCPS headquarters, in Bel Air.
It was the first of two public forums with the finalists this week. The second finalist, Sean Bulson, an interim vice president with the University of North Carolina, will meet with the community Thursday starting at 4 p.m. in the Roberty Building.
One of the two candidates will be hired to succeed outgoing Superintendent Barbara Canavan, who will retire effective June 30. Her successor will take office July 1.
Ring spent Tuesday morning and afternoon touring schools and talking with school board of members. Bulson will do the same Thursday before the community meetings.
Ring said he visited Edgewood High School, Bel Air Middle School and William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School. He spoke at length about his experience visiting Edgewood and how it blew away the negative perceptions he hears about Harford schools in the Route 40 corridor.
“There’s a perception out there,” he said. “[I] did not, in any way, shape or form, sense that perception in that building.”
Ring met with students in the International Baccalaureate magnet program and the Academy of Finance signature program for Edgewood students.
“It was fabulous,” he said of his experience.
Ring spent about three hours, interspersed with breaks, answering questions from HCPS students, staff and administrators, as well as local media, elected officials, members of the community and leaders of other institutions such as Harford Community College.
Harford school board President Joseph Voskuhl moderated the forum.
Ring’s answers covered a range of subjects, including school safety in an age of mass shootings, standardized testing, budgeting, working through racial tension in a school and the necessity of building strong relationships within the school system as well as with school boards, local government, public safety agencies and parents.
“Families and parents, regardless of what the background is, they have to play some role in the life of the child or the children they’re responsible for,” Ring said.
Why Harford County?
Ring said he wants to be superintendent of HCPS, leading a system with 54 schools serving about 37,800 students and about 5,000 employees, because he knows “the job that I like the most was the role of superintendent.”
“I enjoy leading people,” he said. “I enjoy being responsible for things because I’m passionate.”
He and his wife live in Rosedale, in Baltimore County, but he plans to move to Harford County should he be hired.
Ring has spent more than 35 years as a teacher, administrator, school head and superintendent in public and private education. His career included 16 years as a classroom teacher, department chair and curriculum specialist. He has been a teacher and administrator in Baltimore County Public Schools, and spent 10 years as superintendent of the Delmar School District, a bi-state public school district straddling the state line between Sussex County, Del., and Wicomico County, Md. on the Eastern Shore.
His most recent position was a two-year tenure as the first male president of the Institute of Notre Dame, an all-female private Catholic high school in Baltimore City founded in 1847.
He served as head of the Institute of Notre Dame from 2015 to 2017. Ring said he decided the position was “not a good professional fit” for him, though, and he helped select and train his successor.
“At the end of that second year, I honestly believed that a woman needed to be back at the helm, so to speak,” Ring said.
He said he knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was 8 years old, growing up in Bronx, N.Y., but he did not consider a leadership role outside the classroom until he was choosing a master’s degree program and his principal encouraged him to study school administration.
Ring has a master’s in education from St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, preceded by a bachelor’s degree in education and English from St. Francis University in Pennsylvania. He became certified as a school administrator through Towson University, and he earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University, according to a biography provided by HCPS.
“I was fortunate enough in my early years of teaching to have a female principal who, in my opinion, was outstanding,” Ring said. “She saw something in me that I didn’t see. I was very happy in the classroom, coaching and enjoying life. So I took her advice and decided to pursue a master’s in school administration, and that was the beginning of me searching and looking for ways on how I could continue to serve children outside the classroom and still feel productive.”
Ring said he views being a leader as being a servant.
“If you choose to lead, and in our case, if you choose to be a building principal, or if you choose to be an instructional leader, then you need to view yourself as a servant,” Ring said.
“I think the concept of this meeting was excellent,” Christian Walker, a sophomore at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, said of being able to ask questions of the superintendent finalists.
Walker said he thinks Ring’s “experience is strong,” and he is glad he toured local schools.
“I would have like him to be more specific on some of the issues he commented on, such as bullying and diversity,” Walker said.
Ring did discuss working with students and parents, even requiring all parents to attend professional development sessions, to diffuse racial tensions at the Institute of Notre Dame. He also recalled working with LBGTQ students in Delmar to start a club, despite opposition from some in the community and on the school board.
He stressed, in both instances, the need for clear communication and strong relationships with all parties.
“You have to have that sense of courage and belief that, if you believe in something and you can be a change agent let’s go ahead, take that little risk,” Ring said.
Havre de Grace resident Christopher Providence said he was glad to hear Ring talk about inclusion and diversity and his efforts to hire more teachers of color, but he wanted to hear more specifics about what he would do as Harford’s superintendent.
Providence also said he would like to be able to ask direct questions of Ring. Providence attended the latter portion of the forum, when Voskuhl read questions submitted by the audience.
“It was a great opportunity to get a feel for [Ring’s] feelings about different issues and things that he’s done, but it was difficult to get a real interaction with him because it was so structured,” Providence said.