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In Towson, Baltimore County school system stakeholders want a superintendent they can trust

Members of the public listen at a forum for feedback on Baltimore County's superintendent search at Loch Raven High School on March 22.
Members of the public listen at a forum for feedback on Baltimore County's superintendent search at Loch Raven High School on March 22.(Libby Solomon/Towson Times / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Baltimore County Public Schools stakeholders said at a public forum in Towson that they want a superintendent who listens to teachers, practices transparency and understands the diversity of the school system.

The school system’s new leader needs to be “ethically straight,” said Bill Groth, of Perry Hall, a retired Baltimore County teacher and technology specialist. “We have a crisis of ethics in this district, and we need to fix that.”

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The meeting Thursday night at Loch Raven High School in Towson was one of 10 public forums held across the county this week by executive search firm Ray and Associates to solicit feedback as it begins a national search for a new superintendent. More than two dozen people attended the forum.

Constituents had a lot of requests: someone who will encourage staff to share their needs “without fear of punishment”; someone who uses data to make decisions; someone who invests in teachers rather than central office staff; someone who proactively supports African-American students in reaching the achievement levels of their peers.

Though the Towson constituents had many thoughts about the superintendent, they also had complaints about the search process.

Some said that an online survey put out by the company was not substantive — asking stakeholders, for instance, if they want a superintendent with a “student first” philosophy. “Of course we want to put students first,” one woman said, adding later, “That to me is a generic statement.”

Others said they wanted the process to include more convenient and better-attended public forums.

Ultimately, people at the Towson forum said Baltimore County needs someone who can handle the unique challenges the county school system is facing.

“I think we have a climate problem,” said Tracy Barr, a county para-educator. Barr said county schools are struggling to get students with social and emotional problems the help they need, causing behavioral issues that are “taking a toll” on staff. She said she hopes the new superintendent will be someone with proven success in that area.

Others told the search firm representative that after recent tumultuous years, which included former superintendent Dallas Dance pleading guilty to four counts of perjury, Baltimore County needs someone honest and steady.

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Groth, a 36-year county employee, told a story about one of his final years before retiring in which a top administrator told him the school system was about to embark on “second-order,” or irreversible, change.

“Whoever comes here needs to understand that is the underlying issue that goes on in the culture of this district right now: They have blown up everything that worked,” Groth said.

One woman told the firm she wants candidates to be fully vetted, not just for traffic tickets but for associations and conflicts of interest. Another said he wants a transparent, honest administration to be the primary goal.

Others said the new superintendent should understand and be able to navigate the complex socioeconomic and racial diversity that makes up the school system.

While many at the forum spoke about diversity as a strength of the community, Towson resident Diana Spencer said race and socioeconomic diversity are “something that really divides this community, sometimes in unspoken ways.”

“The person needs to be aware that for a long time Baltimore County was a very homogeneous community, and now it’s not,” Spencer said. “And we have to deal with that and we have to embrace it.”

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The county is required by law to have a new superintendent in place by July 1. Interim superintendent Verletta White is a candidate for the permanent position.

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