Harford community shows little concern over superintendent search

Members of the Harford County community showed little concern over the search of superintendent for the Harford County Public Schools Wednesday night.

Only one person, Kyle Dixon, a substitute teacher for the school system, attended a public forum at C. Milton Wight High School.

"As someone working with the school system, I think it's important to see where the future of the school system will go," Dixon said in an interview.

The event was the first of three forums hosted by Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based education search firm, contracted by the Harford school board to hold focus groups and public forums to gather public community input in the superintendent search process.

The board contracted the outside firm for about $7,500 to conduct the research. The firm is also helping school boards in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County in their search for superintendents.

"We're here to gather information from various constituent groups so [the Harford school board] knows how to proceed with the superintendent search," Ryan Ray, co-director of Ray and Associates, said. "We think the crowd is small because many people are filling out the survey online."

The online survey can be accessed at http://www.hcps.org/boe/suptsurvey.aspx until Jan. 10.

During the one-on-one session, Ray asked Dixon a series of questions about the strengths and challenges of the school system.

Dixon said he believes Harford's diverse school system is one of the district's strengths. He said the school system meshes the suburban and rural communities.

"There are also a lot of dedicated school teachers in the school system," Dixon said.

The substitute teacher said he believes one of the critical issues the new superintendent will face is navigating the politics of the school system.

"With the budget issues and as far as employee pay, the new superintendent should know of the history of the county," Dixon said during the public forum.

Ray, of the education firm, said it is the firm's job to make sure superintendent candidates have a clear understanding of the scope of the issues and challenges facing a school system during the search.

When asked about desirable characteristics about a new superintendent for Harford's schools, Dixon said he is looking for a candidate with a student-first approach with a regular presence in the schools and who is approachable.

"I think a candidate should put students first and make the best decision for what will benefit the students," Dixon said.

Two more public forums are scheduled, both on Dec. 19. The first is at 10:30 a.m. at the A.A. Roberty Building Room in Bel Air and the other is at 7:30 p.m. at Havre de Grace High School.

Ray and Associates spent all day Wednesday holding small focus groups of specially invited people from the community, representing all stakeholders, to discuss desirable characteristics of the new superintendent.

After the focus groups and public forums conclude, the education firm will gather the data and present it to the Harford school board, Ray said.

"We're not in the superintendent search process yet," Ray said. "We're hoping to finish with the focus groups and make a recommendation to the board in January. At that time they will decide if they want to begin the search."

Ray said the school system is still on schedule to name a permanent superintendent by the July 1, 2014 deadline given by the Maryland Board of Education.

The previous superintendent for Harford schools, Robert Tomback, left office when his five-year contract expired in July. He was replaced on the interim basis by Barbara Caravan, a veteran educator in Harford schools.

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