Canavan named Harford superintendent

Harford County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan, 64, was appointed by the Harford County Board of Education to a permanent, four-year position as superintendent during a board meeting Monday night.

The newly-appointed school's CEO wiped tears from her eyes as she accepted the appointment, ending a four-month search for a new superintendent for the school district.

Canavan, with flushed face, thanked the school board for the appointment.

"I have to make a confession that I am an average person asked to do a superhuman job," Canavan said during the board meeting. "And I am very confident that I am going to succeed because of everybody in this room and everybody that couldn't make it tonight...together we can do this."

She quoted one of her favorite leaders, Mother Teresa, to the crowd: "I can do things you cannot; you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things."

According to Canavan's contract, she will be paid an annual base salary of $192,500 in bi-weekly installments. She will be eligible for the same annual salary increases by percentage amount, as applicable to the salaries of administrative/supervisory employees in HCPS. As interim superintendent Canavan's base salary has been $179,400, according to earlier statements from the school system. Tomback, who announced his plans to depart as his five-year contract was coming up for renewal, was hired at a base salary of $190,000 and was making $202,000 when he left.

Her appointment, effective July 1, was met with a standing ovation and rave reviews from board members and a packed meeting crowd.

"We all know a leader when we see one and we just appointed one this evening," board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said.

There were several good candidates for the position, he said, but Canavan showed her ideas worked because she had already been implementing them for months, since she'd been appointed interim superintendent July 1, 2013 after Robert Tomback did not to seek to have his contract renewed.

James Thornton, school board member, said Canavan represents "the future of this district." He said Canavan comes to the position when the school district is at a very critical crossroads with funding public education and building alliance, but he is confident she will continue to grow the school system.

School board member Robert Frisch said he hopes Canavan's appointment will become a long-term relationship that leads to stability for the school system.

"We are looking for longevity," Frisch said. "We don't need turnover."

Student board member Benjamin Barsam, a senior at Bel Air High School, said as a student and quasi-school board member he is in a unique position. He said he welcomes Canavan as superintendent.

"The students of Harford County are better for having her in our system and now at the helm, so I thank you for that and I wish you the best of luck," Barsam said.

School board president Nancy Reynolds said she is excited about the appointment of Canavan, and with it, the students, staff, parents and community are all winners.

William Seccurro, board chairman for Harford Business Roundtable for Education, said he commends the board's "due diligence" to ensure the best person was appointed for the job. He said Canavan has demonstrated success at every level of education: the classroom, teaching, school based central office and with the community.

Sean Abel, principal at Patterson Mill High School, said a year ago things were not well in Harford County Public Schools and decisions that needed to be made were not.

"Now, decisions are starting to be made in the best interest of the students, with them in the forefront," Abel said during the public comment portion of the board meeting.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, commended the board for appointing Canavan as CEO of the school system. He said it is inspiring to have someone "born and bred" in your school system rise to the rank of superintendent.

"[Canavan] has given every single employee of the school system the hope that they have a representative that truly understands their perspective and they could one day rise to the level of superintendent of their own schools," Burbey said during public comment.

The school system started its superintendent search in November 2013, Reynolds said, contracting the services of Iowa-based education search firm Ray and Associates to help to board find the right candidate. Reynolds said the firm held 10 community focus group meetings and three public forums and hosted an online public survey to get public input in the superintendent search process.

"The goal of this process was to engage as many stakeholders as possible to better understand their criteria for an ideal superintendent and the needs of our community with respect to the school system leadership," Reynolds said during the meeting.

Ray and Associates, also used in the past by Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties during their superintendent searches, was paid $7,500 and had been expected to make a recommendation to the board in January.

During a meeting with the Harford delegation in Annapolis last month, Reynolds told the legislators that the school board intended to make an offer for superintendent as early as February.

Reynolds said Monday night the results from the focus group overwhelmingly pointed to Canavan as the ideal choice for the next superintendent of HCPS. She said Canavan has the "ideal qualifications and standards to be our next long-term leader."

A longtime educator in HCPS, Canavan has been serving as interim superintendent since July 1, 2013, following the departure of Tomback. She will serve out her term of interim superintendent until her permanent appointment becomes effective.

Canavan began her career in education as an elementary school teacher at the Sacred Heart School in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1970. Three years later, she moved to the Harford school district, teaching at Aberdeen Middle School before accepting a position as an assistant principal at Edgewood Middle School in 1978.

She was promoted to assistant principal at Magnolia Middle School in 1983, and then moved to assistant principal at Southampton Middle School, where she later became principal, remaining there for 19 years.

Canavan received her bachelor of arts in English literature and minor in secondary education and French at Mount Saint Mary's College. She received her master of arts in middle school education from Columbia University Teachers College and master of arts equivalency in administration and supervision from what was then Loyola College of Maryland in Baltimore.

According to Joe Licata, chief of administration for HCPS, Canavan has not yet discussed her plans for getting a doctorate.

He said Canavan's availability to media would "be the same as our previous Superintendents, and that will be arrange through our Communications Department."

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