Educator prepares to tackle new position as associate superintendent


Sandra Erickson left her old job and office last week.

Ms. Erickson, the former Howard County schools staff development coordinator, took down her pictures at her office at the Faulker Ridge Staff Development Center. She finished filling cardboard boxes full of memorabilia, awards and degrees.

All the shuffling did not ruffle the 40-year-old educator, who is taking over as the school system's newest associate superintendent.

Although it was close to quitting time, she looked fresh, charged, ready to tackle anything -- just like the children she has taught.

"I've always loved children," she said. "They energize you. They spark you. There's something about working with kids and seeing their eyes light up."

As an associate superintendent, she will be in charge of staff development for more than 3,000 school employees and in charge of curriculum for more than 33,000 students.

She will wind up spending long days in the office and longer nights at Board of Education meetings and giving up time with her husband and three daughters -- 14, 12 and 3.

She will do it, she said, because she believes she will make a difference.

"It's a commitment I felt I could make," she said. "I'm extremely confident I can be an asset to the school system."

Among the memorabilia and awards she's packed, her most treasured is a certificate of appreciation from Matt Baker, a former student who had attended Oakland Mills Middle School. Matt credited Ms. Erickson for turning him from an average student into an outstanding student. He wrote that because of her he was excited about learning.

Ms. Erickson's favorite teacher -- a fifth-grade math teacher -- did the same for her when she was a student. The woman had inspired her to do bigger and better things.

"She just made me feel like I was smart, that I could learn," Ms. Erickson said. "I love to learn."

Ms. Erickson started her career in 1975 as a teacher at the James Craig Elementary School in Charles County. She transferred to Dasher Green Elementary School in Columbia in 1977, helping write math and social studies curricula. She finished her master's degree in gifted education at Johns Hopkins University in 1984, when she set out to develop the county school system's gifted and talented program.

Ms. Erickson, who lives in Ellicott City, supervised the gifted and talented program until 1991 when she was promoted to coordinator of the staff development program. Along the way, she developed a gifted and talented education curriculum for teachers at Johns Hopkins.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who picked her for the associate superintendent job, credited her with developing the county's highly touted gifted and talented program from scratch.

"I felt she offered the best combination of skills, experience and characteristics that I was really looking for," he said. "I really expect to have some real movement from her. I think she trained well under Joan Palmer."

Dr. Palmer left the associate superintendent's position in late June to become a deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education. Ms. Erickson said she plans to have a more hands-on approach than her predecessor. She wants to transform the curriculum office into a service-oriented department, she said.

"I really believe we should be in the schools, in the trenches, working with teachers . . . providing coaching, anything the school needs to help them deliver the best product for the school system," she said.

She has changes in mind -- changes that she said will affect the way students learn and their desire to learn.

"I believe we could really learn to take a curriculum and weave a student's interest into that," she said. "Instead of focusing on what they don't know, we should focus on what they want to know. It's amazing what can happen."

She cited as an example "Type III" investigations gifted and talented students undertook last school year. The project requires students to identify a problem or question, then solve or answer it. She hopes to incorporate this approach in general education.

"I believe you can do whatever you want to do," she said.


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