Only time will tell if Barbara Canavan is up for the job of superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, and during her tenure as interim superintendent, she's managed to do a thing or two worthy of criticism.
This, however, is not the time to focus on the negatives. Rather it is the time to offer congratulations to the new superintendent and wish her all the best in taking on one of the most important leadership roles our community.
As superintendent, Canavan is responsible for setting the tone for how the school system runs. Sure, she's also responsible for overseeing the budget process, and the implementation of various curriculum and managerial regimens. But advocating for the schools and generally being a standard-bearer for the people entrusted with the education of our children is as much a part of the job as any of the more tangible responsibilities.
She faces big challenges. The school system is obliged to maintain an infrastructure suited to an operation that's a few percentage points larger in terms of enrollment, even as the trend in enrollment has been downward. The ever-increasing pressures to hire administrators and facilitators to deal with non-teaching responsibilities thrust upon the public school system is an issue that appears to be having more of an effect on the local school system each year.
Canavan has plenty of experience to recommend her for the post. She has been with Harford County Public Schools since 1973, starting as a teacher at Aberdeen Middle and holding the posts of assistant principal, principal and, in more recent years, working in central office management positions.
And, of course, for the past several months, she has been interim superintendent.
Importantly, the board of education did something it hasn't always bothered to do when hiring a new superintendent: It picked someone from within the school system. This means, if nothing else, the new superintendent will not have to deal with issues of learning the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the system. (It also means the temptation will be great to keep doing things they way they've been done, even if there's good reason to make changes.)
Will Canavan be what the school system needs? To some extent, that's up to her, but at least during her introduction earlier this week she expressed a realistic assessment of her situation when she said, "...I am an average person asked to do a superhuman job."
Superhuman only if she tries to go it alone. Canavan is clearly wise enough to know the impossibility of not involving the entire school community in her own journey. "Together we can do this," she told those gathered in the board meeting room Monday night. We'll take her at her word.
Congratulations, Barbara Canavan, and good luck!