Sean Bulson, a finalist for Harford County Public Schools’ next superintendent, was so impressed by a student he met while touring schools last week that he said the first thing he would do if hired is tell that student’s story to the community.
“We need to get your story out,” Bulson recalled telling the student. “There’s so much great stuff that’s going on here.”
Bulson is one of two finalists for the job of leading Harford County Public Schools, a system that serves about 37,800 students in 54 schools and has about 5,000 employees.
Bulson, currently a University of North Carolina System official and David Ring, the former president of the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore, each spent a day last week touring schools and meeting students and later participating in a forum answering questions from students, HCPS staff, local media and the community.
Ring meet with the community May 15, Bulson May 17. Each finalist spent a portion of the roughly three-hour forums answering questions from a reporter and editor with The Aegis.
Bulson talked, during his nearly 15 minutes with the media, in part about his desire to tell the stories of Harford County student successes and empower others in the school system to do the same.
“I’d want to make sure this community knows just how wonderful some of the [stories] are, and I think that communication is an important part of what we do,” Bulson said.
He said he was “absolutely impressed” with what he saw when visiting Harford Technical High School in Bel Air, Red Pump Elementary School near Bel Air and Aberdeen High School, such as the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen and the programs for students with autism at the elementary level.
“One thing that has been a practice throughout my career is identifying excellence and finding ways to scale that and make sure it gets shared,” he said.
Bulson said the individual needs of all schools should be considered, and a superintendent should not try to make them all alike.
“Value what they’re good at, but also bring good ideas to them to help them get stronger,” he said.
Bulson is a former superintendent of schools in Wilson County, N.C., a district with about 12,000 students in 26 schools, and he spent the first 16 years of his 23-year education career in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.
He held positions in Montgomery County, such as community superintendent responsible for 24,000 students in 36 schools — MCPS has more than 161,000 students in 205 schools total — and a director of school performance for 28 schools, according to a biography provided by Harford County schools. He also served as principal of Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School.
He said one of the most important roles for a superintendent is to find resources to support students and develop community partnerships to make that happen. He said those partnerships can create benefits for those within and without the school system.
“I’m always in the business of helping secure the resources that everyone in our district needs to be successful,” Bulson said.
He said he has had experience working with schools in low-income areas, such as Wilson County, where he said nearly 70 percent of the students are on free and reduced-price meals, as well as parts of Montgomery County such as Wheaton, as well as wealthy parts of Montgomery County such as the districts around Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Walter Johnson and Walt Whitman High Schools, “and everything in between.”
“There were things to draw on in my experience when I went to Wilson, that I took from Montgomery County, but there was also a huge learning curve going to Wilson and understanding a very different culture, a very different type of community,” Bulson said.
He is currently the interim vice president for the Division of University and P-12 Partnerships in the UNC System. He supervises programs to prepare educators and support students in low-performing school districts across North Carolina.
He said the experience demonstrates the benefits of partnerships between public school districts and nearby colleges and universities, which he would promote if he becomes a superintendent again.
“There so much more in the way of resources and expertise in the universities, but the universities are also benefitting form those relationships with the school district,” he said.
Bulson said he wants to return to the Maryland — D.C. area and had been looking for superintenent openings as a next step in his career. He said he will buy a house and move to Harford County if he is selected.
He was one of three finalists for the superintendent’s post in neighboring Cecil County, but the Cecil Board early last week chose Jeffrey Lawson, that district’s associate superintendent.
Bulson highlighted the value of partnerships between a superintendent and their school board.
“I rely on the board of education to help me understand the community,” he said. “They’re the chief advocates for this community, for the populations they serve.”
He said school boards and superintendents must be ready to challenge each other, though.
“My expectation is, they’re going to ask me very hard questions and I’m going to turn around and work with the staff and make sure we can answer those hard questions,” Bulson said. “We’re going to address the challenges together.”