New superintendent Foose presents entry plan

Increasing communication, collaboration, trust and technology are all high on Renee Foose's list of priorities for Howard County schools.

Above all, she said, the school system must provide a world-class education for every student.

Foose, whose first day of work as the new superintendent of Howard County schools is July 2, presented her plan for the first 90 days of her tenure to the public and the Board of Education June 11, a plan that included five objectives.

The first objective, she said, is ensuring a world-class education for everyone in the system.

"We have 50,000 students," she said. "Each one comes to school every day, and they learn differently, they think differently and they move along the continuum at different paces. We're already high-achieving on proficiency-based tests, but I want us to do better on voluntary exams, like the SAT and the AP."

Foose said she and the board had entered into "exploratory conversations" with the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University to conduct diagnostic analyses of student achievement, in real time, to see where students are struggling and where achievement gaps exist.

The second objective, Foose said, was to build trust and confidence through open, transparent communication. Financial deficits are difficult, Foose said, but the more serious deficit threatening the schools is a lack of trust and engagement.

"Without adequate reserves of stakeholder trust, the district's shrinking resources are drained by unnecessary conflicts," Foose said. "Leaders are challenged to be more efficient and effective, but waste an inordinate of time addressing issues caused by miscommunication and misinformation. It's a hindrance to the very work that we do."

Foose said an audit would be conducted to review how the schools communicate, and determine current perception of the school system.

Increasing communication and trust, Foose said, feeds into her third objective: building a culture of collaborative governance and workforce engagement with the community.

"The public expects more than transparency: they expect an opportunity for input on an issue before a decision is made," Foose said. "Multiple avenues of outreach must be presented to spark and facilitate healthy dialogue. ... I plan to listen to and learn from all stakeholders."

Foose's fourth objective is to leverage technology innovations for efficient operations and effective teaching and learning practices. Foose said she plans to conduct an overview of technology in the school system, hold community focus groups to create a vision for a multi-year plan and work with other districts and businesses to find cost-effective means of using technology.

"It's an aspect of technology I find utterly fascinating," she said. "How are we equipping students to learn any time, anywhere?"

The last of Foose's objectives is to align organizational structures and resources with the system's priorities.

"It's my experience, that when there's a concern about a lack of transparency or a lack of openness, a fundamental ingredient is a lack of fundamental organization, and whenever there's that, folks feel something is missing, or something is hidden," Foose said. "We have many changes coming, ... all coupled with dwindling resources.

"We need a multi-year strategic plan to align our resources. Our goal should not be to do more with less, but doing more with better."

Board applauds plan

Foose, 45, was offered and accepted the position of Howard superintendent March 27, a day after she was announced as one of the two finalists for the job. She signed a $250,000 contract April 26.

She'll take the reins from current superintendent, Sydney Cousin, who has lead Howard schools for the last eight years.

Foose said she'll be meeting with local leaders in her first week as superintendent, and once school begins, she'll be visiting each school to see how efficiently they are run.

"I want the exact same thing you want," she said. "I want a high-achieving school system that offers a rigorous curriculum in a safe and nurturing environment. I want us to realize our potential."

Board member Janet Siddiqui said Foose's plan summed up what Howard schools are all about, and Foose's objectives reflected what the board was looking for in choosing the next superintendent.

Other board members agreed.

"I think we're going to do great things together," Ellen Giles said.

Allen Dyer, long an advocate of greater openness on the board, praised the plan as "rational," especially the objectives that focus on public input and transparency.

"I must confess, you really got to my heart when you started to talk about transparency, and the importance of the people who are paying the taxes and who trust their children to our schools," he said. "This is a public school system, and we don't have a need for any stinkin' secrets."

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