Howard, Baltimore county schools were vying for same superintendent finalists

As the clock ticked toward midnight Monday, school boards in Howard and Baltimore County were scrambling to make job offers to their next superintendents.

The timing was not a coincidence. The school boards in the adjoining districts knew they were in an intense and unusual fight for the same finalists — S. Dallas Dance, a middle schools chief from Houston, and Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent in Baltimore County — and that they might have the same first choice.


School board leaders in both districts say they got their top candidate: Foose went to Howard and Dance went to Baltimore County, but the public may never know what happened behind closed doors.

"This is really unusual," said Terre Davis, who heads the Colorado-based superintendent search firm TD & Associates. Competitions between school districts for candidates are not uncommon, she said, but not at the same time in the same state.


Foose, 45, will become the first female superintendent in Howard. She has worked in Maryland public schools for the past two decades. After serving as associate superintendent for Montgomery County public schools, she was hired a year ago by Baltimore County for its No. 2 job. She also served as a principal in Montgomery and Washington counties. Her contract will be for four years; her salary has not been disclosed.

Dance, 30, presides over middle schools in a district with more than 200,000 students, the seventh-largest in the nation, with double the enrollment of Baltimore County. He has been in the job since March 2010. He also has experience in Virginia school districts. He will sign a four-year contract worth about $250,000 a year.

The superintendents, who are paid more than their county executives, will oversee budgets of $1 billion or more and tens of thousands of employees.

Races like these between districts are not unheard of, experts say, given the shallow pool of candidates for superintendent jobs. But the way this one concluded was different.

"It is not unusual that the same person would pop up in multiple school districts at the same time," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools. "What is a little unusual is that the pool of finalists would be identical at precisely the same time in a way that was so obvious to the public."

Usually in these cases, Casserly said, one candidate will have time to bow out before his or her name is made public.

Competition between counties

Each county school board had narrowed its field from dozens of applicants to two or three finalists by late last week. Baltimore County held a closed search, while Howard County announced its finalists, Dance and Foose, on Monday and invited the public to offer feedback at two events.


Both school board chairs said Tuesday that they knew their candidate lists overlapped. Chairwoman Sandra French said the Howard school board heard that Baltimore County was either interviewing or choosing its superintendent on Saturday. "Yet we believed very strongly in involving the community," French added. "Therefore, we set up Monday ... as the time for the finalists to meet the community."

In fact, Baltimore County's board did conditionally offer Dance the job Saturday. The problem was that Dance wasn't qualified to be a superintendent in Maryland because he only had two years of teaching experience; the state requires three. The Baltimore County board went to interim state Superintendent Bernard Sadusky and asked him to give them a waiver to hire Dance.

In the meantime, Howard County was concluding its search, and without a firm offer from Baltimore County, Dance continued to pursue the job in Howard.

Board member Allen Dyer said that during Monday afternoon's meet-and-greet event at the Howard County Board of Education offices, he had a casual conversation with Baltimore County school board member Mike Bowler, who along with others, had attended to check on how the two candidates would perform. Dyer said he brought up Baltimore County's superintendent search.

"We had received word, unconfirmed, thirdhand, hearsay, that both Dallas and Renee were also being considered by Baltimore County," Dyer said. "So I brought that up and asked whether they had made any decisions, and he said that they were still looking at candidates and that they would be meeting soon. I interpreted that as Tuesday. But he couldn't tell me exactly when because it was a secret process. He didn't give any specifics."

A couple of hours later, Schmidt received state approval to hire Dance. He called Dance in his hotel room at 11 p.m. and made him a formal offer, which he accepted.


French said the board chose Foose over Dance about midnight after weighing scores of questionnaire responses, blogs and email messages from residents. She said the board's decision was unanimous.

Foose said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that after she arrived home tired from the two public events Monday, she went to sleep feeling positive about the process. She was awakened by a phone call from the board offering her the job.

Foose called the board's phone call, "One of most pleasant phone calls anyone could get at midnight."

"She was asleep. She immediately accepted and said, 'When do I start?'" said French. "We are thrilled with our choice. She has a strong understanding of our mandates ... and how to reach out to every child and to help every child attain success."

Board members would not say whether Dance called Howard County to tell them he had taken the other job, which would have left Howard with Foose as its only finalist. Dance returned to Houston early Tuesday and did not reply to requests for an interview.

Both school districts formally announced Tuesday morning that they had selected their superintendents.


The search in the two counties might also have been complicated by the selection of a new state superintendent. The state board is expected to announce its choice for the job soon.

'Young, dynamic individual'

The four-year contract has yet to be drawn up, but Schmidt said Dance will earn about $250,000, about $60,000 less than Joe A. Hairston, who is leaving the job July 1 after 12 years. By comparison, Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso was hired in 2007 at $230,000, and now earns $260,000.

"We were extremely impressed with Dr. Dance during his interviews, with his poise and his maturity. His answers showed a depth of understanding. His references and prior experience were stellar," Schmidt said. The school board understands that questions will be raised about his age, Schmidt said, because he will be younger than most people he leads.

Schmidt pointed to several individuals who rose to high-level positions at young ages, including Kurt L. Schmoke, who was elected Baltimore state's attorney in his early 30s. "There are some people out there who are remarkable individuals not withstanding their age, and we believe that Dallas Dance is one of them," he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said, "I am certainly happy we have a young, dynamic individual. I think after 12 years of strong progress, Dance offers new leadership and new ideas."


He said he is not upset that he hasn't met Dance. "I wanted to be hands off and respectful of their process," he said.

He added that he was somewhat surprised, however, that "there were two different search firms that came up with the same two finalists. I know that we were pleased to get the candidate the school board targeted."

Abby Beytin, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said that while she thinks the union will be able to work well with Dance, she was disappointed by the closed search.

"The stakeholders should have had the opportunity to meet him and talk to him," she said. "That was never afforded us. ... That Howard County was able to vet the two candidates in public and in Baltimore County we were not afforded that is a big disappointment to me."

The name of a third finalist for the job in Baltimore County has not been made public.

Terry Grier, the superintendent in Houston and Dance's boss, said: "Dallas is wise and experienced way beyond his years. ... He is very, very talented. He is passionate. He understands school improvement. He was the youngest principal in the history of Virginia."


Dance served as executive director of school improvement for Chesterfield County public schools in 2009 and for two years before that was assistant superintendent of Louisa County public schools, also in Virginia. Dance earned a bachelor's degree in English at Virginia Union University, and a master's in education and a doctorate in educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.

'Strong understanding' of Md.

Foose will replace Sydney Cousin, who announced last year that he would be retiring effective July 1, after eight years in the job.

"I am delighted and honored to be the next superintendent of Howard County public schools," Foose said. She said she has been inundated with congratulatory phone calls and email messages from family, former colleagues from around the state and current Howard County teachers, principals and executive staff.

French said she was impressed that Foose called the standards of learning "the floor, and she said that we would do better than the floor."

Foose said her first scheduled meeting is this week with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.


"I'm looking forward to it," Ulman said. "I've heard really good things, especially about her time in Montgomery County, where she was there longer. Having a strong understanding of the Maryland education system, the system of local government, boards of education and interacting with the state government, the budget, is really helpful and important.

"I'm really optimistic and hopeful that we will develop a great working relationship," Ulman added. "Our school system is the engine that drives this county. It is incredibly important that we continue to have a great school system and strengthen that school system."

Foose is responsible for the schools' instruction, operation and performance, directing the implementation of school system policies and programs in Baltimore County, the 26th-largest school system in the country, with 105,000 students. She was hired in April.

Foose earned a bachelor's degree from Towson University, master's degrees in business administration and education from Loyola University Maryland, and a doctorate of education from the University of Delaware.

French said the decision is pending contract negotiations and approval by the state superintendent.

Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, applauded the school board's choice.


"We're impressed with Dr. Foose. She's ready for the job. We're going to work hard for her as we did Dr. Cousin," said Lemle. "We think she's the right choice for our county. She has varied experience, and she seems like the steady hand that we need here. I'm glad we got Dr. Foose because she's got a strong Maryland background, too."

Chaun Hightower, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, agreed.

"I think the board made a good decision," said Hightower. "I don't think that they were going to make a wrong one because both candidates seemed to be qualified, personable, all the things that we as a community were looking for."

Renee Foose


Hometown: Allentown, Pa.

Age: 45

Personal: single

Education: bachelor's degree, Towson University, 1993; master's in education, 1997, and master's in business administration, 2010, from Loyola University Maryland; doctorate in educational leadership from University of Delaware, 2004.

Career highlights: Deputy superintendent, Baltimore County schools, 2011-present; associate superintendent, Montgomery County schools, 2009-2011; principal, Montgomery and Washington counties, 2003-2008; teacher, Parkville High School, 1996-2000; Maryland state trooper, 1990-1996.

S. Dallas Dance


Age: 30

Personal: father of 2-year-old son

Education: bachelor's degree, Virginia Union University, 2001; master's of education, 2002, and doctorate in educational leadership, 2007, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Career highlights: chief middle schools officer, Houston school district, 2010-present; executive director of school improvement, Chesterfield County public schools, Va., 2009-2010; assistant superintendent, Louisa County, Va., public schools, 2007-2009; principal, Henrico County, Va., public schools, 2005-2007; teacher, Henrico County public schools, 2001-2003.