Mamie Perkins says she speaks each day to Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney Cousin, as she helps fill in for him while he is on a medical leave of absence and receives treatment for cancer.
Perkins, whose promotion from Cousin's chief of staff to the county's deputy school superintendent was announced last week, says that Cousin is in good spirits and added, "Every day he reminds us of the expectations he has for us."
Perkins knows that those expectations will likely mount, both within the school system and the Howard community, as she assumes a role vacated when Deputy Superintendent Sandra Erickson retired in June.
Howard Board of Education Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui said of Perkins, "Since our loss of Mrs. Erickson at that position, she has assumed a lot of responsibilities. We're looking forward to her working with the board."
At Tuesday's board meeting, Siddiqui announced that Cousin, who had been on indefinite medical leave since early January, would be out on medical leave through March 1. Cousin is battling lymphoma, said the school system's director of public relations Patti Caplan.
"All we know at this point is that on March 1, he will give us an update on his condition, and we'll make appropriate decisions at that time," Siddiqui said after the meeting.
A Clarksville resident, Perkins, 59, has been involved in education for 38 years, including 13 as a teacher in the Baltimore City schools. She served as an adjunct professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education from 2004 to last year.
In Howard County, Perkins helped launch the school system's Cultural Proficiency Initiative, in which more than 4,300 employees receive training to help serve the system's diverse student population. She led the elementary curriculum office for five years, and she spent four years as the system's human resources director and executive director. She had been the deputy chief of staff since 2005.
"I bring the knowledge of the school system, the day-to-day operations of the school system, as well as what the challenges are," Perkins said. "I think I can hit the ground running.
"I'm honored and very excited," added Perkins, who went through the interview process in December and said that she was told then by Cousin that she was selected from six candidates.
"I look forward to the challenge. I also know that I am surrounded by a magnificent team of people to work with," Perkins said. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity, and I rise to that."
Perkins will oversee Theresa Alban, the school system's chief operating officer; Raymond Brown, the chief finance officer; and Linda Wise, the chief academic officer.
Meanwhile, Cousin is eager to return to work, according to Perkins. "It's hard to get him to not pay attention to the work part," she said. "But his doctors have asked him not to do that and to really focus on resting and not be as involved. He's a hands-on superintendent, day right into the night. This is hard for him."
Caplan said no plans are in place to fill the superintendent chief of staff post that Perkins vacated.
Perkins takes over the deputy superintendent position at a time when the system is working on its proposed budget and exploring such matters as reports of high teacher turnover at Reservoir High School.
"Certainly our challenges are to work with the different communities as they bring their needs forward," said Perkins, "and making certain we are communicating with them in the best way we know how. Certainly all the issues that come with Race to the Top [federal funds] are right there in the forefront.
"We are looking to bring forward our budget" this coming week, Perkins added, "so it's certainly a challenge to make certain we are being fiscally responsible."