It roughly a year ago that Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance’s contract was renewed for a second four-year term on his contract. There was a lot of opposition, but the supporters came out in full force, many of them from the northwest.
I am disappointed and sad that on April 18, Dr. Dance announced quite suddenly that he was resigning from the position he held since the 2012-2013 school year. I did not agree with all of his decisions, nor the decisions of the board, for that matter. However, in my opinion, he was was a true visionary and had the right stuff to move our minority majority school system forward.
Every now and again you get people who can size up a situation, see where the world is going and come up with a plan to get there. Dr. Dance was about trying to prepare our young people not for today’s world, but for tomorrow. Needless to say, he ruffled a few feathers for a number of reasons, on a number of different fronts. He saw where some of the problems were, and devoted time, energy and money to fix those problems.
Over the years, some saw him as big on ideas and not execution. Maybe in some instances that was true. But I wonder if they could not keep up with the pace he was setting. When you’re trying to move things forward you always have people who are more comfortable where they are. It’s less work to keep the status quo and not try new ways of doing things.
Some said he was too young. Some thought he was making too many changes too quickly. There was intense opposition and scrutiny at many of the board meetings. Just take a look at some of the video of the board meetings, such as the April meeting where the heat policy was rescinded, putting the decision of when to close schools, back into the hands of the Superintendent. The attacks from certain board members were almost personal in nature. He never went low; he remained even-toned and professional. Throughout his tenure, he encountered some enthusiastic partners — teachers, administrators, students, parents and elected officials who lauded his creativity and innovation. Dr. Dance also was met with entrenched staff, other teachers and parents who didn’t support his vision. For others, quite frankly, it was difficult to accept a young black man in such a powerful leadership position overseeing the third largest school system in the state and 25th largest in the nation, with 112,000 students and 173 schools.
As they say, timing is everything, and this could not have been a worst time for Dr. Dance to decide to leave.
A perfect storm is quickly coming up on the horizon. The county school system will be influx. An elected school board will replace the current structure of an appointed board. There will be nine new faces making the decisions about our schools for the 2018-2019 year. At that time, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a supporter of Dr. Dance and public schools, would have reached his term limit after eight years in office. So, with the turnover, you’ll have predominately inexperienced leadership at a very crucial time. That’s troubling.
Without a doubt, Dr. Dance came to a system that had a lot of inequities. Some parts of the county were doing a lot better than other sections. I agree with his philosophy to give some additional attention and resources to the schools that were not doing as well. As long as things were flowing in certain areas’ direction, those parents were fine. When they saw other areas, such as the northwest and southwest, getting attention there appeared to be a problem. I think Dr. Dance had much more support on this side of the county than east of 83. By helping the schools that weren’t doing as well the whole system benefits.
How should we evaluate Dr. Dance’ s tenure? For one metric, we should ask, “Did he leave the Baltimore County Public Schools system in a better place than when he came?”
For one, graduation rates increased and the gap has narrowed between white and black students to less than 1 percent. For the first time, last year black students in Baltimore County graduated at a higher rate than white students and both groups exceeded the state average. BCPS was the only large school district in Maryland to do so.
Some of our schools still need attention with academics, accountability and culture. But I believe that the system is better today. There is a lot of pride and progress in our area.
I wonder what will happen to the some of the plans he put in place?
The county and state funded many renovations and new schools. Under his technology initiative, a laptop went to every elementary and middle school student, foreign language studies was introduced in elementary schools and he introduced cultural competency.
Old Court Middle School became Northwest Academy for Health Sciences and offered a six- through eighth-grade health sciences program. Those kids will go to Randallstown High School, which has a biomedical magnet program. He established the partnership with Northwest Hospital and Randallstown High School to create the health sciences curriculum.
In the 2017-18 school year, Woodlawn High will become an early college high school in collaboration with the Community College of Baltimore County. Through BCPS’s partnership with CCBC, students will have the opportunity to get their diploma at the same time they get an associate’s degree.
This year Milford Mill Academy expanded as a magnet school offering theater, literary art and music. In the fall, dance and visual arts will be added.
Hopefully, those initiatives will continue, as the system looks for an interim superintendent to serve the next academic year.
How do we protect what he’s put in place?
Parents with students should care and people without students should care about the school system. How our schools go, the county goes. If Baltimore County is to progress, there must be 21st century learning for our children. Be ready to organize your support when necessary.
Let’s plan to push to keep what we’ve gained and to get more. There are forces at work to maintain the status quo, as we have seen played out on the national level. Because we achieve progress doesn’t mean we keep it. It’s important for us to be diligent. We must have a school system to serve all of our students with the best the system has to offer.
Dr. Dance’s last official day in the position is June 30. We wish him well as, in his words, he “transitions to another chapter of my career where I will specifically use my passion for equity and access to a quality education.”