On Tuesday, Sept. 3, more than 113,000 students and about 9,300 teachers teachers will file into more than 170 schools across Baltimore County for the first day of the 2019-2020 academic year.

It’s a year with several new beginnings: Dundalk Elementary has a replacement school and the Watershed Public Charter School in Woodlawn will start its first year. Students will use Chromebooks in elementary schools, rather than other laptops, a move designed to save money and have young students spend less time looking at screens.

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There have been dozens of administrative appointments for the new school year, including new principals, department heads, central office staff and assistant principals. There’s Jess Grim, the new director of transportation, and Michael Zarchin, the new chief for school climate and safety.

Grim, in an interview, said he wants to work on recruiting and retaining bus drivers to continue to transport about 84,000 students across 73,000 miles of road each day during the school year. He also wants to improve communication, both between the transportation department and parents and families, and between the department and the schools.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., himself a former teacher, said he was excited to start his first full school year as executive. He said he wants teachers to know that he’ll advocate for them in the coming months, citing both the Maryland legislature’s plan to increase funding for school construction and the work of the Kirwan Commission as areas on which he’d be focusing.

He also said he wanted to assure teachers he would advocate for them as county employees and public servants.

“Teachers are our most important frontline workers. We need to support them and empower them to be successful,” Olszewski said. He connected kids’ schooling to later public safety and economic benefits that derive from a well-educated population.

“Getting it right on the front end is the best way to really ensure a better future for the county,” he said.

It’s also the first school year with a new superintendent, Darryl L. Williams, who previously worked as an associate superintendent in Montgomery County, and a new president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, Cindy Sexton.

Williams said he was appreciative of the welcome he’s received from school staff and the community so far, and that he was excited to start the school year. A team of people are working on developing ideas on how to improve the school system’s safety, academics, communications and organizational effectiveness.

“I don’t want to say I have the magic pill. There are still folks out there gathering data and gathering information, and I want to stay true to that work,” Williams said. But, “I really want to focus on the instructional program, looking … to increase student achievement.”

During a recent Board of Education meeting, Sexton said she remembered sitting in Perry Hall High School for new teacher orientation, feeling excited and anxious to start her career. She offered encouragement to new teachers, soon to be sitting in that same auditorium for their own orientation.

“These new educators will be part of a system where all parts are working together to do what is best for our students," Sexton said.

What follows are interviews with new administrators in Baltimore County: Cockeysville Middle School Principal Adam Carney and Linda Griffin-Shortt, assistant principal at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville. Questions asked by the reporter will be designated as coming from Baltimore Sun Media. The conversations have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Cockeysville Middle School’s Adam Carney

Baltimore Sun Media: So tell us how you got to this current job. Where did you work before?

Adam Carney: I started out as a teacher in New Town High School, when I moved to Maryland from New York. I worked there for a while, I taught English. And then I was able to move on to be an assistant principal at Pikesville High School for the last four years.

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BSM: I know it’s still early, and you just got here, but what’s it been like so far?

AC: Two weeks? It’s been a lot like a sprint. I will tell you it was a really quick turnaround getting from Pikesville to here. I left there one day and then I was here the next. So it was kind of getting my feet under me for a bit. I’ve got a great group of leadership team members here that are just phenomenal people. They’ve got a lot of great systems in place. It was good to come into a situation where everything has been a well-oiled machine. Everybody’s made me made me feel very welcome, from the parents and the families to the teachers and staff. I feel like I lucked into one of the best jobs in the county.

BSM: Do you have any first orders of business, or any priorities for the school year?

AC: I’m really big on metacognition, thinking about thinking. So really working on those skills, making sure kids think about why they’re doing things. If you don’t understand why you’re doing something, you know, the passion and the urgency is just not there. So the ‘why’ is really what we want to focus on — why we’re here, why we do what we do. And we’re going to look at our data, we’re going to have a very honest look about, you know, where we are and how we get where we want to be.

BSM: On the other side of things, what do you anticipate being your biggest challenge or obstacle this year?

AC: Being new, coming into a building that’s had a leader for years, it’s going to be a difficult situation in terms of just being the new person and figuring out how things are done here. That’s going to be a challenge.

BSM: What do you see as the biggest difference between a high school environment, where you came from, and a middle school environment, where you are now?

AC: In high school, we really focus on getting students ready for college, making sure they’re prepared with all the tools they need. Not only getting you to college, but like giving you a skill set so that you can get through college and get your degree. As for middle school, we feed into a very elite high school, one of the best high schools in the county at Dulaney, and we need to make sure our all of our kids are ready to go and perform at a high level there. So we see our mission as more of a bridge.

Hillcrest Elementary School’s Linda Shortt

Baltimore Sun Media: So tell us how you got to this job. Where did you work before?

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Linda Shortt: I taught kindergarten for eight years. From there, I went to I work on Fort Meade, at Manor View Elementary for second grade and fifth grade. And then I became a special educator and the admin designee, which means when the principal wasn’t there, it was my job. Then I went to Brock Bridge Elementary [in Laurel] as their behavior intervention specialist and also equity liaison.

BSM: Do you have any sort of priorities or any kind of work that you want to focus on?

LS: For me, it’s equity in education. It’s celebrating the differences in all students, to understand that culture starts at home, and it’s so ingrained in our students. We’re not trying to put everyone in a box; we want to celebrate their culture, we want to celebrate the fact that we want all students to have the same opportunities. And we want them to feel like the culture of the school that they’re part of something bigger.

It’s making sure that teachers understand that students come to school with a whole lot of things that we might not know about. And making sure that their needs are met on a very basic level, but then also understanding that we were not looking to just stay at that basic level. We want to take them beyond and push them further.

BSM: Is it difficult to do that sort of equity work at the elementary level?

LS: Elementary school kids, they want to share. And it may stay at the surface level when it comes to kind of culture and equity and things like that, and what we eat and what we drink, and how we celebrate things. But they want to share. As they get kind of to the older levels, then they start to develop other opinions.

BSM: What sorts of challenges are you anticipating facing this year?

LS: Well, coming from a different county, even though we’re doing the same things, we may call them something different. Kind of feeling a little bit like I’m starting over, being the low man on the totem pole, if you will. Just kind of learning all those systems again. I’m excited, though. But my kids went to school here, and I live here, so I don’t see a big difference. I think we’re all in the same boat of helping kids and teaching kids.

BSM: What are you most looking forward to?

LS: I’m looking forward to meeting the parents and the students. The first day school is my favorite. You know, when they all come in, and they have their brand new lunch box and their brand new backpack, I’m looking forward to those things.

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