Long-time Howard County resident Ananta Hejeebu, an advocate for special education, was appointed by County Executive Allan Kittleman on Wednesday to fill the vacant seat on the Howard County Board of Education.
The County Council will review Hejeebu's appointment at its legislative session on June 5 and during a public hearing on June 19 before confirmation.
Hejeebu's appointment comes three weeks after the resignation of former board member Christine O'Connor, who left her position on the seven-member panel one day after the departure of schools Superintendent Renee Foose. A career teacher and former board chairwoman, O'Connor served on the board since 2014, with one year remaining in her term.
Officials said Wednesday that if confirmed, Hejeebu will finish O'Connor's term through December 2018. The 51-year-old is the founder and managing partner of Howard Tech Advisors.
A 23-year Howard County resident, Hejeebu, who serves on the schools' Budget Review Committee, said two of his children are currently attending Howard County public schools, with another child having graduated last year. The Marriottsville resident said he's been "a father, cheerleader and supporter" of the public school system, during which time his family has learned about its special education efforts alongside their son, who has an undiagnosed genetic disorder.
"I'm really excited," said Hejeebu, regarding his appointment. "I think there's a real opportunity to help Howard County move forward positively in the future. We have a new superintendent and lots of new board members. It seems like a great opportunity to be a positive influence."
His special education advocacy extends beyond his family as a member of the Howard County Autism Society, he said, as well as his service on the county's Transition Commission for Youth with Disabilities. The commission assists students with disabilities during their transition from high school to college and employment.
Hejeebu and his wife also host a support network for mothers of children with disabilities and organize special needs ministries as members of Grace Community Church in Fulton, where he serves as an elder. Hejeebu is vice chairman for the Leadership Howard County Board of Directors and sits on the executive committee for the county's Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
As part of the Board of Education, Hejeebu said he hopes to enhance collaboration and community partnering, while addressing structural challenges in the budgeting process.
"I understand this community pretty well and how to foster collaboration," he said. "I don't have rose-colored glasses. I don't expect we'll just be drinking lemonade and singing kumbaya. I would like to contribute to collaboration and better partnering."
Nancy FitzGerald, executive director of Special Education and Student Services in Howard schools, said Hejeebu's experience as a parent of a child with disabilities will bring a nice perspective to the board. FitzGerald has briefly worked with Hejeebu during a couple of transition committee meetings.
"He has been in the special education world for 17 years, so he has a perspective of elementary, middle and high school and what programs are available to students," she said. "From what I can see, he's a great guy, friendly and knowledgeable about special education. I'm really looking forward to him being part of our board. I think he'll be a good support for special education."
Kittleman said Hejeebu's business background will also be beneficial to the school system and the county as they work together on budgeting.
"There are many challenges ahead for the school system, particularly looking at how we address the structural deficit with the health fund," Kittleman said. "Ananta will also add diversity to the board, particularly timely as HCPSS gets ready to hire a director of diversity, equity and inclusion."
Outside the school system, Hejeebu's additional volunteer efforts include working with the Community Foundation of Howard County, the Baltimore Area Salvation Army and Howard County Youth Sports. He received a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1988 and a Masters in business administration from Johns Hopkins University in 2001.