Now that the Howard County public school system is up and running after delaying its first day in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, school board members are turning their focus back to the search for a replacement for Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who will retire next year.
Board members had met the week before the storm to discuss the selection of a company that will conduct the search, according to Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui. She said that the board plans to approve its request for proposal for a search firm on Sept. 8 and expects to have a firm hired by the end of October.
Member Allen Dyer, who is battling a move by other board members to have him ousted from his position, has proposed that the board include nontraditional candidates, and suggested that the board consider retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert P. Steel, who lives in Springfield, Va.
Steele, speaking from his home, said he has expressed his interest in the superintendent position to board members. He said he has few ties to the county.
"I have to explore the willingness in the community for their interest in kind of taking the Howard County school system maybe to the next level," he said. Siddiqui said that no one else has asked the board to be considered for the position.
Steel said he was interested in the position, "Having been kind of experienced in the Department of Defense in numerous overseas operations and stateside operations, having been in the education system my last 31/2 years in Washington, D.C." He has served as commandant of the Washington-based National War College.
Steel is the first person to be mentioned publicly by a school board member during the search. Other board members expressed reservations about discussing specific candidates outside the formal process that the school system is conducting.
Vice Chairwoman Sandra French said she told her colleagues that the board must exercise confidentiality in the search.
"I think it's OK to think outside the box, but I think you have to make sure that the box top is open," Siddiqui said. "What I said to the board is that I would suggest that we look for a candidate that will maintain what the school system currently has in terms of their leadership. We will be having further discussions with the community in terms of what they want to see in a superintendent."
Meanwhile, French expressed sympathy for school system employees dealing with delays and scattered school closures amid the power outages that followed the storm.
She was among the county residents who experienced Hurricane Irene in a big way. She not only lost power to her home for more than three days, but because she's on a well, her home lost water as well.
French and other board members took solace in the fact that as of Thursday, all county schools had had their power restored. The last county school to open its doors was Atholton High School in Columbia, which opened Thursday after its power was reconnected at noon Wednesday, school officials said.
The last school to welcome kindergartners to the system was Triadelphia Ridge Elementary in Ellicott City, which had its power restored in time to open Wednesday.