Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance announced Tuesday that he will resign June 30, shocking the schools community and raising questions about its leadership during the final three years of his contract.
Dance issued a statement Tuesday morning giving no reason for his decision, and he declined to be interviewed. He said through a spokesman that he does not have a new job but is considering offers.
At Tuesday night's school board meeting, Dance suggested that heading the county school system has become wearing.
"While the superintendency has been the best job I could ever have, it does weigh on you and become taxing. Eighteen-hour days — they're just not sustainable," he said. "Personally, it was the right time for me and my family. And I know it is personally the right time for the school system, too."
People who worked closely with him pointed out that his grandmother, who helped raise him, died two weeks ago. His young son lives in Richmond.
Dance, who turns 36 this week, had never been a superintendent when he was hired five years ago from Houston, where he supervised middle schools.
During this tenure, he has been an energetic and charismatic leader of Maryland's third-largest school system. He won praise for new programs, such as providing laptops to students and offering Spanish in elementary schools, and for training teachers and principals to avoid racial bias.
The county's graduation rate rose during every year of his tenure, and last year for the first time the rate for black and white students was the same — 89 percent.
But he also drew criticism, especially for his abrupt introduction of a new elementary school curriculum and imposition of a uniform high school schedule systemwide. Early in his tenure, he was found to have violated ethics standards when he took a consulting job with a contractor who was working for the school system.
The timing of his announcement leaves the school board without time to find a permanent replacement before he leaves, school officials said. State law requires that all permanent superintendent contracts begin in July and run four years.
"I think we are going to have to look toward an interim [superintendent]," said school board president Edward Gilliss.
Gilliss also said that the board will have to take into account that the 11-member panel is likely to change significantly after November of next year, when county voters will for the first time elect seven members under a new state law.
"We should think about how to plan in light of those realities," Gilliss said. The current board will have to decide whether to let the new board hire the superintendent it will supervise for four years.
Gilliss added that the county "has been fortunate to have Dr. Dance at the helm. ... I am sad to see his tenure end."
Dance is in the first year of his second contract with the school system — a four-year pact paying him $287,000 annually.
Before sending out a statement about 10:15 a.m., Dance began informing top county officials, calling County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Gilliss and state Del. Steve Lafferty, who heads the county's House delegation in Annapolis. Lafferty said that he was speechless for a moment and that the superintendent did not express much emotion.
"He didn't sound downbeat or anxious," Lafferty said. "Just pretty matter-of-fact statement of his decision to leave."
Kamenetz said he got the sense Dance might leave based on conversations with him over the past few months.
"He had some family issues that he felt he wanted to better devote himself to," Kamenetz said. "The job of superintendent can be very taxing, and there are a lot of different constituency groups you respond to. I think he just decided he wants to take a little break and recharge his batteries."
Kamenentz, a Democrat, credited Dance with increasing the county's graduation rate. And he said he was "amazed" at the superintendent's relationship with students, saying that when Dance attended school events, they would gravitate toward him and ask to take selfies.
This morning Dance tweeted, "Students - my biggest joy & accomplishment will always be that you KNOW your superintendent! I LOVE EACH OF YOU!"
Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, saw students' admiration for Dance when she visited schools with him.
"It was like being with a rock star. … The fact is in the past, most of the kids probably had no idea [of] the name of the superintendent."
A top priority for Dance was ensuring that students had access to the same kinds of courses and high standards, regardless of race and socioeconomic status. He created new arts magnet programs in different parts of the county because not all students could get to the county's premier arts school in Towson.
He also led an effort to make schools in the southwestern part of the county more diverse through a redistricting process. The attempt failed.
On his first school day on the job in 2012, Dance had to rush to Perry Hall High School after one student shot another. A year later, he was embroiled in a controversy over the failed rollout of a new elementary school curriculum. He then enraged parents in the Hereford district when he ordered all high schools to use a similar schedule.
Beytin called him a talented visionary but said he had a tendency to rush new initiatives and policies.
"I never doubted for a minute that he really wanted what was best for the school system, for the kids," she said. "I think if he was guilty of anything, it was wanting to move too fast. And so a lot of unintended consequences came about because of it."
In the past year, a few members of the school board have been increasingly critical of his decisions. Board member Ann Miller filed numerous, sprawling requests for information about Dance's actions. She said she needed the information to make decisions, but top administrators saw the requests as obstructionist.
Miller called for his resignation when he retweeted a message on election night that suggested educators be especially sensitive to students who felt intimidated by newly elected President Donald Trump's statements during the campaign.
State Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he gives Dance "mixed reviews."
Brochin said Dance deserves credit for improving technology in schools, but failed to allow schools to make decisions for themselves. "It was the one-size-fits-all policy," Brochin said.
He said he hopes the new school board hires someone with more experience.
"This is vastly different board than the one that brought in Dallas Dance. They need to combine experience with creativity. You can find a lot of talent for what they are paying," Brochin said.
Emory Young, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, said he was shocked about the announcement.
"He hasn't been afraid to try to effect change with new ideas," Young said.