Finding Harford's next school superintendent [Editorial]

The Aegis

While it may be that Maryland education law is ambiguous when it comes to the relationship between local boards of education and their district superintendents, it’s pretty clear in one respect when it comes to Harford County: The Board of Education is responsible for hiring the superintendent.

It some, not all respects – or at least in our opinion, this is the most important statutory function of the nine men and women who serve on Harford’s school board. The task of finding and hiring a new superintendent is before them, with current Superintendent Barbara Canavan’s retirement effective July 1, and they can’t afford to make a bad hire, because the future education of more that 37,000 of our county’s children and young adults is at stake.

We don’t have to look far to witness the impact of a bad hire, as seen in the past year in Howard and Baltimore counties, where superintendents either were fired or resigned in the middle of contracts. A superintendent that loses the confidence of the staff and the public, can adversely impact a school system well beyond their tenure.

The hiring process needs to be thorough and open as much as possible to the public. It can’t be rushed. It needs to be scripted in a way that everyone involved, from the board to every segment of the community, understands upfront how the process will unfold and what qualifications will required for in the next Harford County Public Schools superintendent.

There’s no excuse at this point for the board not to be prepared, or that this process should be in any way rushed, even though July 1 may not seem all that far away. Each of the nine members seated in July 2015 should have been well aware they likely would be called upon to hire a superintendent. If they weren’t then, certainly they were made so when current board president Joseph Voskuhl and vice president Laura Runyeon were selected this past July. The two acknowledged in a sit-down session with Aegis editors a short time later that they were prepared to move in the likely event of Canavan’s retirement.

This is not an easy process for a variety of reasons. The pool of candidates experienced in running a school system the size of Harford’s will not be large – most districts across the country, except in urban areas, are smaller. There may indeed be good candidates from within the current HCPS administration, or from other Maryland districts, and by all means they would merit strong consideration, all other qualifications being equal, but sometimes far away is better. Harford has gone all those routes in the past, with decidedly mixed results.

But rather rehash the past hiring history of hiring superintendents in Harford County, good and bad, let’s wish the board well in its current search and, most importantly, signal our support and willingness to be involved. It’s a monumental task, but we think this board is up to doing it well and finding an excellent successor to Mrs. Canavan.

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