Thursday marked the final day at the office for Harford County Superintendent of Schools Barbara P. Canavan.
She retired after a career with HCPS that started in 1973 when she began teaching at Aberdeen Middle School. Over the next nearly 45 years she moved through the ranks from teacher, to assistant principal, to principal, central office administrator and finally, in 2013, as interim superintendent. The following year, the Board of Education gave her a four-year appointment as superintendent. In January, she announced her intention to retire at the end school year.
When she received the four-year appointment to lead the school system, her friend and then-board president Nancy Reynolds said: “She has dedicated more than 40 years of exemplary service to our school system and the board and I are completely confident in her ability to move our school system forward.”
Just how far forward HCPS has moved in the ensuing four years is a matter of debate, we suspect. Certainly the school system hasn’t taken backward steps, and in fact its students’ overall academic achievement has definitely improved if measured by standardized testing, understanding that for many people such testing is phony and is not a true measure of achievement.
We can also say that under Canavan’s leadership the magnet programs at Aberdeen, Edgewood, North Harford and Joppatowne high schools are flourishing, as is the more well-established program at Harford Technical High School, where many students are choosing to attend, if there is room. Canvan herself has called for expanding the Harford Tech programs, either through adding to that school or building a new one, but the obvious need for more spaces has not gone beyond the rhetoric stage.
It has been said by Reynolds, who is still serving on the school board, and other board members that during her long career at HCPS, Canavan has consistently put the needs and education of the children of Harford County above all else. On that point, we couldn’t be more in agreement. We wish her only the best and much health and happiness in her retirement.
Canavan’s successor, Sean Bulson, starts to work Monday. Unlike Canavan, Bulson arrives having never worked in the Harford system, coming from North Carolina by way of Montgomery County. Since the mid-1980s, there have been a succession of HCPS superintendents coming from outside the system, as well as within. Frankly, some of the outsiders didn’t work out so well, which should be taken as word of caution.
While we believe Bulson is inheriting a sound school system academically, there are many challenges ahead in the area of budgeting – particularly funding, staffing and the physical plant, which has a number of aging buildings in need of repair or replacement. It’s also clear, and has been for a number of years, that HCPS needs to get its internal house in better order before it can make a case for larger amounts of county funding. Several people from within and outside of the system, such as County Council President Richard Slutzky, have recently bemoaned that HCPS spends less per pupil than all but one other Maryland school system, but let’s get to the bottom of why that is and try to understand what specifically has to change, before going around and throwing more money at the schools.
As with any changing of the guard in a large institution, Bulson will need time to get acclimated, but he’s going to need to be a fast learner. We welcome him and wish him success. Our schools are important, and the person leading them has a big, difficult job to do.