Harford school board expects to appoint new superintendent by May

The next superintendent of Harford County Public Schools should be announced by the late spring, based on a superintendent search timeline unveiled at the Board of Education meeting Monday night.

“The plan is, in May — it could be as late as June — probably in May, you would appoint your new superintendent,” Terry Greenwood, a consultant with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, told board members.

The school board is working with MABE, an Annapolis-based lobbying organization for boards of education statewide, on its search for a successor for outgoing Superintendent Barbara Canavan, who plans to retire by June 30. As of January, Canavan’s base annual salary is $218,307, according to an HCPS spokesperson.

Board President Joseph Voskuhl has said previously that he and his colleagues plan to have a successor in place by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

That person will preside over a system with about 37,500 students in 54 schools and about 5,000 employees.

Greenwood and William Middleton, MABE’s lead search consultant, made a presentation Monday on the timeline for Harford’s superintendent search and the duties of the consultants and the board.

The board is paying MABE $29,000 for its consulting services.

“I want to be clear that we are here to support and assist the board,” Greenwood said. “The board makes all decisions related to the superintendent search.”

Board members and MABE representatives met in a closed session Feb. 5 to discuss the timeline and search parameters, according to HCPS leaders.

The next step will be public input sessions; simultaneous meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21 at Aberdeen High School and Patterson Mill High School — sessions for HCPS employees start at 4:30 p.m. and sessions for the general public start at 6:30 p.m. The make-up day, in case of snow, will be Thursday, Feb. 22 with the same times and locations.

Anyone who cannot attend the meetings can give input via email to Kathryn Blumsack, of MABE, at kblumsack@mabe.org, no later than next Wednesday, Greenwood said.

People should prepare questions and comments, either for email or the meetings, such as three to four reasons why Harford County is the best place to live, learn and work, four to five qualities and characteristics desired in a superintendent, one to two major challenges the new superintendent could face and two to three questions they would like the school board to bring up during interviews.

“We will bring all this information back to you, the board, for your review,” Greenwood said.

He said public input helps the board “set the criteria and characteristics in the person that they are looking for.” The school board is responsible for setting the criteria for screening and its desirable candidates, then works with the consultant to secure public input and establish protocols for confidentiality during the application and interview process, according to Greenwood.

The board and staff must develop promotional brochures for applicants and create an announcement of a vacancy used in the advertising, according to Greenwood.

Following the public input sessions, officials will spend March and April advertising, recruiting and reviewing applications, Greenwood said.

He said the consultants will create the application — based on the board’s criteria — and handle advertising. Greenwood said board members will review every application, which MABE will gather and submit to the board. He said MABE will assist with vetting the applicants.

The consultants will handle reference checks, online searches and contact additional people who know the applicant but were not listed as references, according to Greenwood.

He said MABE also determines whether candidates meet the educational and professional experience requirements laid out in state law to be a school superintendent in Maryland.

Candidates must have a master’s degree from an institute of higher education, at least three years of “satisfactory teaching experience” and at least two years of “satisfactory administrative or supervisory experience” in a pre-K through 12th-grade setting, as well as at least 24 credits in post-master’s degree coursework in “educational administration and supervision,” according to the law displayed by Greenwood.

He said the consultants will work with the board to develop interview questions and identify the top candidates, usually six to eight people, for initial interviews conducted by the board.

The board will conduct a second round of interviews to determine the “best fit,” Greenwood said. He said interviews would be conducted in April and May.

The school board will then identify and rank finalists, confer with the state superintendent of schools, contact the top candidate to determine their availability, negotiate with them and announce the appointment, according to Greenwood.

Board members encouraged the public to participate in the selection process.

“The superintendent of public schools in Harford County is one of the most important positions in this entire county,” member Thomas Fitzpatrick said. “Our school system builds the future.”

Fitzpatrick said board members will give “due consideration” to MABE’s recommendation, but “ultimately it is our decision” to select the next superintendent.

Board Vice President Laura Runyeon said she and her colleagues plan to be as transparent as possible about the search process, but they also have “a tremendous obligation” to ensure the confidentiality of all applicants, as some might not want their current employers to know they are seeking the position.

She said board members should not disclose any information about applicants until they are ready to name a superintendent.

“We’re not being cagey if we say we can’t discuss it,” Runyeon said. “We are literally just trying to ensure that this process has the ultimate amount of fidelity and fairness.”

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the local teachers’ union, urged board members to make their decisions on budgeting and positions well before the fiscal year ends in June so teachers and other employees are properly informed about their salaries and job status.

Burbey said “you will be throwing the albatross around the next superintendent’s neck” if they do not.

“At any time, after that person comes on, they could look at the budget and [say] ‘Oh, this just doesn’t work,’ and change it and cut positions,” Burbey said.

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