Shine some light [Editorial]

Choosing a new superintendent of Harford County Public Schools isn’t done that often.

And when a superintendent is chosen, rarely are the same individuals serving as part of the Harford County Board of Education for the selection of more than one. For many school board members, it’s likely they haven’t been involved in hiring anyone, yet alone anyone to fill a job as vital as superintendent of Harford County Public Schools.

There’s no easy step-by-step process to find the right person from among the applicants to be the CEO of the county’s public schools, leading an organization with more than 37,000 students, 5,000 employees, 50 locations and an annual budget of more than $800 million.

In short, it’s not easy to select a superintendent, yet alone the right one. Two recent illustrations include Dallas Dance, the former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, and Renee Foose, the former superintendent of Howard County Public Schools.

They were two much ballyhooed hires, lauded for their youth and bright, youthful approaches to leading the education of children. Each school system left the community believing they were lucky to have found them to hire.

Neither lasted long, nor was either successful. Foose is gone from Howard County as is Dance from Baltimore County. Dance also is facing jail time for misconduct in office.

We point to Foose and Dance as examples of how school systems in neighboring counties made the wrong hires. Harford has its share of disappointing superintendent hires in the past few decades, too.

To prevent making a mistake in the search for the replacement of Barbara Canavan, the retiring superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, we urge the school board to listen to what some in the community are saying and make the hiring process transparent. Or, at be least as transparent as they can be, considering some candidates may still be employed elsewhere and are not yet ready to have their identity revealed so as to not negatively impact a job they may be keeping.

“We have selected our first round of interviews,”Joe Voskuhl, president of the Harford school board, said at Monday night’s meeting. “They have been notified and accepted the invitation to interview. They will take place in the near future.”

And that is all that the school board president would say about the selection process. He wouldn’t say how many applied. He wouldn’t say how many would be interviewed. He didn’t offer when, or where, or who would interview them.

That’s not acceptable.

“The board has been making decisions in secret with details like what was given tonight,” Rachel Ashbrook, an Abingdon resident, said at Monday’s school board meeting. “It feels like we’re being excluded.”

At the school board meeting two weeks prior, Jim Thornton, the education chair of the Harford Branch of the NAACP and a former Harford School Board member, made a similar push for transparency in the hiring process.

Ashbrook, a frequent commenter and critic at school board meetings, and Thornton have a point.

Voskuhl tried to appease Ashbrook and other like-minded people in the community.

“We will be making announcements about how the public can be involved and laying out the process that will be followed,” the school board president said. “We will be making further statements, but tonight is not the time, we’re not at that point in the process.”

Actually, every step in the process is the proper way to give updates – real updates, not what was given Monday night – and to get the community energized and involved. It should have started with announcing how many people applied, where they were from, how many were invited to interview, how the number of those to be interviewed was reached and more precise details on the who, what, when, where, why and how of the interviews.

This isn’t about national security. It’s about hiring a person to run a very public organization and the Harford County Board of Education should stop treating it as if it’s a CIA operation.

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