Meet Verletta White, the new interim Baltimore County Schools superintendent. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)
Hours after she was named Baltimore County's interim schools superintendent, Verletta White wanted to make one thing clear: She wants the job on a permanent basis.
The county school board voted to give her the interim job Tuesday, a month after Superintendent Dallas Dance announced his resignation at the end of the school year. Without time to complete a national search before Dance leaves June 30, the board appointed White, the chief academic officer, as interim superintendent for one year.
"I know what the title says, but I am in this for the long haul," White said during an interview Wednesday. "I have a personal and professional investment in Baltimore County. I care deeply about this school system. And so my plans are to stay and to make a difference long term."
White, 49, said she made it clear to school board members that she will be applying for the permanent position. It is unclear, however, whether the current board will be hiring the next permanent superintendent.
The current panel, which could turn over completely at the end of 2018, could choose to keep White on for two years to give a new school board the chance to hire its own person.
Board Chairman Edward Gilliss said the board expects to address that question in the fall. He said it isn't clear whether the board will launch a national search for a permanent replacement this year.
Gilliss said he saw in White a leader whose learning curve would be short. A homegrown teacher and administrator, she has deep knowledge of the county and the system, Gilliss said, and has been part of Dance's leadership circle.
"I think Ms. White has the great characteristics of having the hands-on intimate knowledge of existing programs and a strong independent philosophy that will manifest itself in the months ahead," Gilliss said.
After five years of rapid change under Dance, White said, she doesn't see the need to make major course corrections. She said she's planning to be a steady hand in carrying out the policies that Dance has begun.
That would be a welcome respite for teachers, teachers union president Abby Beytin said.
"I am hoping she will make herself available and really listen and learn from past mistakes," she said. "This is someone who truly understands Baltimore County. Time will tell."
Jean Satterfield was White's supervisor when White was principal of Seneca Elementary School. She called her "very committed."
As principal, White invited teachers from another school in the county to observe her teachers in the classroom and provide suggestions for improvement. Satterfield said it was an innovative idea and worked well.
"She is a listener, very good listener. A decisive person. She wants feedback," Satterfield said.
Essex Elementary School Principal Amy Grabner said county administrators were hoping the board would pick White.
"People were nervous about having too much change," she said. "I think her leadership will be very calming."
As the central office administrator in charge of academics for the school system, White has been associated with what some say are failed initiatives.
In the fall of 2013, a year after Dance took over, White led the rollout of a new elementary school curriculum. Teachers were furious that they had difficulty accessing the curriculum online and had no time to prepare lesson plans. Dance acknowledged the problems, which occurred after the school system broke off a contract with the company that had been hired to write the curriculum.
White also led the effort to redo the grading system, which caused an uproar last fall among parents, who argued that homework and a student's attendance and behavior should carry some weight in the assessments.
While White said she intends to carry out many of Dance's policies, those who have worked with her say the style of leadership will change substantially.
A number of former administrators and principals who worked closely with White say her quiet, understated style contrasts starkly with that of Dance, a charismatic leader who critics say has charged ahead before considering consequences.
Bill Lawrence is director of the union that represents administrators in the county.
"The challenge in following Dallas I don't think is one of educational philosophy," he said. "It is presence."
Dance has 38,000 followers on Twitter and posts regularly on social media. Lawrence and others say the superintendent is popular among students, but was also able to communicate well with the county leaders to get the resources the school system needed.
"Is she the person who can go toe-to-toe with the county executive? I don't know," Lawrence said. "That is the hard part of the job: being an advocate."
But to some in the Baltimore County education community, he said, White's deliberate pace is what they were looking for in the next superintendent.
Dance "is the Energizer Bunny," Lawrence said. "I think [White] will make good decisions, but she will make them over time. Principals like her because she is thoughtful and she is of them. I have never heard anyone say anything negative about Verletta White."
White said her leadership style "is known and documented throughout the organization," and she doesn't intend to alter it.
"I am a listening leader," she said. "I am a thoughtful leader. I move about things very deliberately and thoughtfully."
She proceeds cautiously, she said, but she does proceed.
"We have to move," she said. "We cannot remain stagnant or complacent. Our students are growing, and we have to grow the organization.
"I have a steady hand at moving things forward, and that has been my history and I believe it will be my future too."
She said she will focus particular attention on the teaching of reading and literacy at all levels, and on analyzing discipline in the schools.
"I don't believe that we have any significant problems, but I do believe that [discipline] is an area we need to address. There are isolated cases school by school, but they are cases nonetheless."
White said she has heard from parents and other members of the community who are concerned about student safety and an "orderly learning environment."
She is taking over the reins of the school system that educated her. She attended Woodmoor Elementary School, Woodlawn Middle School and graduated from Woodlawn High School.
She met her future husband in seventh grade, but they didn't start dating until many years later.
After a stint in Baltimore City schools, she began teaching elementary school in the county. She rose through the administrative ranks under the past three superintendents.
The board and White have not completed negotiations on a contract yet, but White said they are close. Dance makes $287,000 a year.
Education: Attended Woodmoor Elementary and Woodlawn Middle schools and graduated from Woodlawn High School; B.S., Towson University; M.A., Notre Dame of Maryland University; doctoral candidate, Morgan State University.
Experience: Elementary school teacher in Baltimore City and Baltimore County; principal, Seneca Elementary School; currently chief academic officer, Baltimore County schools.
Family: Married with two daughters who attend high school in northern Baltimore County.