Dance rushed into unwise decisions

I can't say as I'm sorry to see Dallas Dance leave, as announced in "Dallas Dance resigns as Baltimore County schools superintendent" (April 18). Although it is wonderful that some metrics have improved during his tenure, he has made it a rocky road for Baltimore County Public Schools parents and students from the beginning.

In the article, Abby Beyton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, credited Mr. Dance with being a "talented visionary" but acknowledged his "tendency to rush new initiatives and policies." This is the crux of the issue. Change for the sake of changes does not equal improvement — and inadequately considered change equals disruption and unnecessary expense. This is not an approach we should embrace in the running of our schools.

Mr. Dance announced his decision to remove the sibling preference and magnet status from Cromwell Valley Elementary School before talking with the parents, teachers or administrators who would be affected. The backlash was swift and vocal. He then backed off, saying the decision would be re-evaluated, but the damage was done. With the prospect of primary school siblings not being able to attend the same school and parents possibly having to juggle departure, arrival and events from two (or more) schools, families opted not to send their children to Cromwell Valley. The result? A nationally-recognized, blue ribbon magnet school went from keeping a waiting list to having to cut teachers due to lack of enrollment. It is unconscionable to have empty seats in an award-winning school due to an ill-considered policy that took years to clarify.

Under Mr. Dance's administration, the system invested in ID cards that students were to carry at all times, to scan wherever they were in school. It didn't take long before they quietly stopped being used. The Scholar Chip contract cost $10 million and now has been canceled — but BCPS is under contract to pay $220,000 per year to Scholar Chip until 2024.

Then there was the hurried roll out of Common Core without adequate support and materials for teachers. And his proposal to eliminate school librarians that was later reversed. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

I heartily agree with Baltimore County state Sen. Jim Brochin's comment that the next superintendent should have more experience. Mr. Dance only had two years of classroom teaching experience when he was hired by Baltimore County. How does that make him an expert on what should be going on in our students' classrooms at any age? How does that inspire our teachers and administrators to have confidence that he knows what he's talking about? I certainly respect a doctorate, but hands-on experience must be seen as equally important for this job. Sadly, the interim state superintendent granted Mr. Dance a waiver for his lack of hands-on experience, and we have paid the price. The fact that some people call Mr. Dance a "rock star" among the students is totally immaterial. The job is supposed to be about improving schools for the students, not increasing admiration of the superintendent.

I strongly encourage the upcoming selection committee to not be dazzled by an engaging smile and the deceptively simple promise of change and new ideas. We need to move more deliberately and stop unnecessarily rocking the educational boat.

Katherine Wikstrom, Towson

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