The public had its first chance to meet the two finalists for the next Howard County superintendent Monday, and they packed the Board Room of the Department of Education twice to do so.
In two sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, Renee Foose, deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools, and S. Dallas Dance, chief middle school officer in the Houston Independent School District in Texas, answered questions related to the future of the school system and their visions for that future. The achievement gap, technology and community involvement were all up for discussion — as was the question of "why are you the best candidate for the job?"
"I know education, from driving a school bus, to being a school secretary, to being a classroom teacher," Foose said. "My experience, my passion and my ability to move a great school system even farther along (are my qualifications)."
Foose, 45, is currently deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools — the 26th largest school system in the country. She's held that position since April 2011, and prior to that was associate superintendent for Montgomery County schools. She recently was passed over for superintendent of Orange County schools in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reported earlier this month.
Dance also spoke about his passion and commitment. He said he would look at the school system from the perspective of an administrator, a teacher and a parent — of which he is, or has been, all three. Working together, he said, "the impossible is nothing," and challenges like the achievement gap can be overcome.
"In Howard County, we could be the first district in America to eliminate the achievement gap," he said. "It can be done. But it's going to happen with getting individuals in the classroom and getting building principals the resources and support they need."
Dance, 30, currently serves as one of three chief officers in the Houston Independent School District — the largest school district in Texas and seventh largest in the nation. It is a position he has held since March 2010.
Prior to his work in Houston, Dance served in leadership positions in Virginia, where he was director of school improvement for Chesterfield County public schools and assistant superintendent for Louisa County public schools.
The Board of Education announced the names of the finalists Monday morning, and is expected to name a new superintendent by this end of this week.
After the evening session Monday, board members met in closed session to review community feedback.
At 9:45 p.m., Board Vice-Chairman Frank Aquino said the board would not be making an announcement Monday night.
Though the community has had little time to offer the board any feedback, board Chairwoman Sandra French said she was pleased to see so many people in attendance at the forums — both of which were well-attended, the board room packed with administrators, teachers, parents and community members.
"This proved again how dedicated the Howard County community is to education and the students' futures," French said.
French declined to speculate when the board would make its final decision, which must be approved by the state superintendent and is contingent on contract negotiations.
Some community members at the evening forum said they were happy to finally meet Dance and Foose, but were frustrated that it had taken so long.
"I'm glad we finally got to meet them, even if it kind of was on short notice," said Ray Lischner, of Ellicott City. "That's unlike other school districts, where the public doesn't even have that much of a chance. (The candidates) seemed remarkably similar, and qualified."
Despite a limited amount of time for public input, Jim Oglesby, regional search consultant for Ray and Associates, the search firm hired by the board to find the next superintendent, said the whole process could have been even more condensed.
"There are a lot of things coming up — spring break, the elections — and we're trying to assist the board in the most expedient time frame and address their concerns," he said. "It would have been better if the distance could have been closed between when the search started to coalesce around the candidates and the time of working out contracts."
Paul Lemle, Howard County Education Association president, said he thought a rushed announcement and decision were due to Baltimore County's superintendent search, where he thinks Dance and Foose are also finalists. Foose declined to comment, and Dance could not immediately be reached.
The Howard board has been looking for a new superintendent since October 2011, when it hired Ray and Associates. Applications for the position were due by Feb. 22, and the board spent the week of March 12-16 interviewing finalists from a pool of 58 applicants, French said.
Sydney Cousin, who has been superintendent since July 2004, announced in May 2011 that he planned to retire after his contract expires at the end of this June.