'Ecstatic' Foose named new superintendent

Renee Foose was so "ecstatic and honored" to be named Howard County's next superintendent, she said she would have begun working months ahead of her start date if she could.

"I would have started at 8 a.m. (Tuesday) if they would have had me," she said.

Pending a contract negotiation, an official vote and approval from the state superintendent, Foose will become superintendent July 1, following the retirement of current schools leader Sydney Cousin.

Foose, 45, was named the next Howard superintendent Tuesday, March 27, about 24 hours after she was first presented to the public as one of two finalists for the position.

The decision from the Board of Education, said Board Chairwoman Sandra French, came at around midnight Monday, and was a unanimous vote, made after several hours of board members poring over community feedback behind closed doors.

"She is our first choice, and we are so thrilled she said yes," French said.

Foose is currently deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools — the 26th largest school system in the country, about twice the size of Howard's 50,000-student system. She's held that position since April 2011, and prior to that was associate superintendent for Montgomery County schools.

She will be the 16th superintendent in the county, and the first woman superintendent in the system's history.

The other finalist for the position was S. Dallas Dance, chief middle school officer for the Houston Independent School District in Texas. On Tuesday morning, Dance was named as Baltimore County's next superintendent. (See accompanying story).

A 1993 graduate of Towson University, Foose began teaching in 1996, after leaving the state police, and received a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University in 1997. She became an assistant principal in Frederick County in 2000. In 2004, she earned a doctorate of education from the University of Delaware.

She was a principal in Washington County from 2003 to 2006, then started her career in Montgomery County as principal for two years before being promoted to Director of School Performance. In 2010, she earned an master's degree in business administration from Loyola University.

"I know education, from driving a school bus, to being a school secretary, to being a classroom teacher," Foose told members of the public Monday. "My experience, my passion and my ability to move a great school system even farther along (are my qualifications)."

Foose, who is single and has no children, joined Baltimore County in 2011 — amid some uproar over her salary, which at $214,000 was about $20,000 more than her predecessor had earned — after serving as director of school performance, director of shared accountability and associate superintendent in Montgomery County.

Salary specifics have yet to be discussed for the job here, Foose said. In December 2011, the Howard board approved a pay scale "in the range of $265,000" for the position.

Favorable reviews

Foose's experiences impressed local community leaders, who said they were pleased with the board's decision.

"This is a smart person who has obviously worked very hard and achieved a lot," said Paul Lemle, Howard County Education Association president. "My first impression is admiration; going from a school bus driver to a state trooper to a teacher to a principal to, ultimately, a superintendent in 15 years is a meteoric career path. It speaks to someone having a lot of drive and a lot of skill."

Lemle said Foose's work in Montgomery County was of particular interest to him, in part because of that county's practice of interest-based bargaining and also because of a program known as Peer Assistance and Review — a system designed to provide frequent and helpful feedback for struggling teachers. Howard County currently does not have a collaborative effort between the union and school system to review employees, he said.

"That practice provides lots of feedback for improvement and working toward the right goal, the goal of helping a person along to be the best teacher they can be," Lemle said.

During public sessions, Foose discussed ways to engage the community through social media and focus groups to gain input on an array of subjects, including the capital and operating budgets. That interest on parent and community involvement impressed Chaun Hightower, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, who said Foose struck her as a warm, personable candidate.

Hightower said Foose's approachability would be an asset.

"I hope she'll have an open-door policy," Hightower said. "It seems she wants to get the community — not just parents — involved and included. The community wants a board and a system that's transparent, that will listen to us."

The challenges facing the system are the same facing other districts, Foose said in an interview, with new mandates coming down from the state with the PARCC assessment set to replace the MSAs, and a new teacher and principal evaluation system coming in the next few years.

The economy is also a challenge, Foose said.

"We have to continue to find ways to do more with less money," Foose said. "We have to find a way to reduce redundancies and cut inefficiencies. At all costs, we have to preserve classrooms and schools to make sure we're not having a negative impact whatsoever on schools and classrooms. It means taking a look at what we're doing and finding ways to be more efficient while maintaining the same level of effectiveness."

In both the public sessions and in an interview, Foose spoke to the importance of eliminating the achievement gap among students of different backgrounds, and her work in the state to do that impressed board members.

"She knows what's demanded in Maryland," French said. "The whole state is a leader in the nation in the drive to eliminate the achievement gap, and we may be the first to do that."

Foose said she had a track record of eliminating the achievement gaps where they persist.

"We have to identify the gaps," she said. "Are the gaps based on race, on socioeconomics, or services received? We need to do a root-cause analysis to determine what's the cause, why do they exist, and what are the barriers that prevent us from moving forward? Then we have to put systems and structures in place so we're giving teachers opportunities to meet the students where they are, to take them to the next level."

Staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

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