Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan has informed the Board of Education and school system employees she will retire when her contract expires June 30.
Canavan has led the Harford school system since the 2013-14 school year when she served one year as an interim following the departure of Robert Tomback, who was hired as superintendent in 2009. She received a full year contract at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
A veteran educator, Canavan taught in Brooklyn, N.Y., before joining HCPS in 1973, according to her biography on the HCPS website. She taught at Aberdeen Middle School for five years, and was named an assistant principal at Edgewood Middle in 1978.
She later served as assistant principal at Magnolia Middle and Southampton Middle and became principal of Southampton in 1991. She was principal for 19 years before being named executive director of middle school performance in 2010, according to the biography.
In a statement emailed to the school system’s 5,000-plus employees, Canavan said:
“It has been my honor to serve the students, staff and community of Harford County as your Superintendent of Schools. Harford County Public Schools is truly an exemplary school system; however, after forty-eight years of public service, forty-five of which have been in Harford County, I have decided to retire effective July 1, 2018.
“While I look forward to the opportunities retirement will offer, it still saddens me to be leaving the organization. Harford County Public Schools has blessed me with the privilege of working with an exceptional staff and a caring and supportive community. Collectively we have provided an exceptional experience for the students in our care. I will forever cherish our accomplishments.
“In closing, although I look forward to spending precious time with my family, I remain committed to serving faithfully through the duration of my contract and working with the Board of Education and the leadership of Harford County Public Schools to ensure a seamless transition for the future Superintendent.”
School Board President Joseph Voskuhl said he was aware of Canavan’s decision and would be taking immediate steps to begin the selection process for her replacement.
“We are going to begin the process of naming a new superintendent,” Voskuhl said in a phone interview Monday morning.
The board president had said privately on past occasions he did not expect Canavan to seek renewal of her contract, but he’d also said he was reluctant to discuss the situation formally until some sort of action was taken by the superintendent.
“We are going to take the steps necessary now that it is official,” he said. “We are going to proceed as we decide."
Voskuhl said had been prepared to discuss with the other eight board members how they wish to proceed during the regular board meeting that was scheduled for Monday evening. The session was canceled, however, because of the threat of inclement weather, which also prompted a decision to close schools three hours early.
“I had hoped we could get started [Monday night], so I am contacting other board members via email and asking how they want move forward,” he said.
Voskuhl said they could hold an administrative session to discuss the personnel issue at a later date. The board is scheduled to hold a public budget work session Wednesday night.
The school system also issued a statement from Voskuhl:
“On behalf of the Board of Education of Harford County, I would like to wish Mrs. Canavan all the best as she moves on to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. We thank her for her five years of service to the students and staff of Harford County as superintendent, but more importantly for the 45 years she devoted to Harford County Public Schools. She will be greatly missed.”
“From a professional standpoint, I think she’s done very well for herself,” school board member Robert Frisch said Monday. “Now, she should go ahead and spend as much quality time with her family as she’s able to do. Her retirement is well deserved.”
Frisch, one of three sitting board members who was serving when Canavan was elevated to the superintendent’s office, said he thought Canavan has done a good job overall.
“We haven’t agreed on several issues, but I never had any doubt that Barbara was making decisions that she believes were in the best interest of the school system, and I have a great deal of respect for her in that regard,” he said.
Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the union representing HCPS teachers, said Canavan has worked for the school system nearly as long as he has been alive, which he considered an accomplishment in and of itself. Burbey, 46, has spent 18 years in education, 15 of them with Harford County.
“Barbara is going to enjoy a well-deserved retirement,” Burbey said Tuesday. “Her dedication to the kids of Harford County and to Harford County Public Schools is appreciated, and we look forward to the search for a new superintendent, and moving forward.”
Burbey acknowledged there have been “contentious moments” between the union and Canavan’s administration in recent years, “but I think the 45 years Barbara worked for the school system speaks for itself.”
“I think that she has always been a dedicated public servant, and we appreciate the work she’s done,” Burbey said.
He, along with representatives from HCPS’ other employee unions were consulted when Canavan was hired as superintendent four years ago, and Burbey said HCEA “advocated for her hiring.”
Burbey, along with Frisch, said Canavan was the right hire at the time, with her decades of experience in the Harford schools ensuring a smooth and stable transition after the last superintendent, Robert Tomback, stepped down in 2013.
“She was the right person at the right time when that transition needed to happen,” Frisch said.
Frisch also said he appreciates the timing of Canavan’s announcement, early in the year, as it gives the board more time to do its “due diligence” and vet candidates for the superintendent’s job, so the board “can make the best decisions possible for the school system moving forward.”
Burbey said he hopes the employee unions will be consulted and involved in the hiring of the next superintendent, although the school board has the final say.
“It’s an important decision, and it will set the course for where things go with our teachers, our kids, our schools for at least the next four years,” he said.
This story has been updated from earlier versions.