Dr. Robert Tomback was introduced as the next superintendent for Harford County Public Schools yesterday afternoon at administration headquarters in Bel Air. Dr. Tomback, who is currently an area assistant superintendent for Baltimore County Public Schools, will head up Harford’s system of approximately 39,000 students.
While the superintendent’s position was advertised at a minimum annual salary of $190,000, HCPS spokesperson Teri Kranefeld said terms of Tomback’s contract will not be released until after it is signed.
The Harford County Board of Education plans to formally approve the new contract on June 8th and Tomback’s appointment won’t be official until July 1st. But the announcement was the result of a five-month, nationwide search to fill a vacancy left by Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas, who passed away suddenly in December, 2008.
After being introduced by Board President Patrick Hess, Tomback said “It is an honor to be associated with Harford County Public Schools”, adding that he would do his best to move the system forward. Tomback noted that HCPS are “highly effective and efficient” and that such success “does not happen by accident”. He said his priorities would be to understand the workings of the school system and also “to continue the fine work that is going on.”
Dr. Tomback had high praise for Dr. Haas, whom he said he had met briefly, and he pointed to her 12 years of service in HCPS as “extraordinary” and a testament to her skills and dedication. Tomback said he would strive to be like Dr. Haas in terms of her dedication and commitment. And he said he would like to establish trust as Haas had done, beginning by getting to know the people here. But he also said unequivocally “I can’t be Jackie Haas.”
Thus, a new era has begun for Harford County Public Schools. And as Dr. Tomback noted, his first task will be to move as quickly as possible up the learning curve. So Dagger readers, here’s your chance to help our new superintendent get acquainted with the community of Harford County Public Schools.
Imagine a fresh start for HCPS…
Our school system is successful in many ways, which should not be taken for granted. So let’s talk about positive experiences and about what’s working and what should be encouraged and strengthened.
And since Dr. Tomback has also said “I do believe complacency is the enemy of an effective organization”; let’s offer some constructive criticism about the programs and practices in need of improvement.
And last but not least, let’s welcome Dr. Tomback and wish him well. Because we all share a stake in his success as the next superintendent of Harford County Public Schools.
Jansen Robinson says
While there are some great things occuring in some parts of the Harford County School System, we have some growing challenges in schools that serve other parts of the county-particularly Edgewood.
I would like to suggest that Dr. Tomback make community outreach-at all levels one of his top priorities.
This effort will afford him and his staff the opportunity to become intimately familiar with the unique challenges of my community and not simply rely on what is reported..
Community Outreach Example: To increase parental involvement, try holding PTA and other such activities/meetings right in the community rather than at the school. Step outside, the comfort zones, and meet your customers (students and parents) right where they live. Dr. Tomback will learn that apathy is not the biggest hurdle that many of my parents face. And the community will learn that your really do care about their children’s education, increasing the potential for increased parental participation. We’ve tried everything else, who not try this approach?
I believe that if his tenure is marked by a substantial increase in parental involvement in my community, it would be seen as successful. I stand ready to assist him in this effort.
Next, I suggest that he help the HCPS “read the road ahead”, to be proactive rather than reactive.
Example: The Harford County Comflict Mediation program is an excellent tool, but it can only be effective when used appropriately. Conflict Mediation is usually mandated or implemented (for students involved in a conflict) after the fact. Why wait for something to happen?
EVERY STUDENT (at least in my community) should be REQUIRED to take and successfully complete this program at the beginning ofand throughout the school year. This will help to ensure that they are equipped with the skills to deal with conflict both in the community as well as in the school house. Community involvement will bear this out.
When we realize that community conflict becomes school house conflict, we then understand that there is no reason to believe that if children are engaged in conflict that when they get to the school they don’t bring that conflict with them.
Note: Holding meetings in the community will also afford the opportunity to share conflict mediation with parents as well.
If Dr. Tomback’s tenure is marked by a decrease in conflict both in the community and in the school, it would be successful. I stand ready to assist you in this effort as well.
I would also suggest that from time to time he schedule some time to meet (informally) with the Community leaders (faith-based, business and lay leaders) in the Edgewood community. I will assist him in that effort as well.
District “A” (which includes Edgewood) will be the first to “elect” a member to the HCBE and it would present an excellent opportunity for Dr. Tomback and the community to hit the ground running-on the same page.
I congratulate and wish Dr. Tomback good luck and welcome him to the Edgewood Community.
Dr. Tomback is correct in not trying to be Jackie Haas. Dr. Haas did some amazing things for Harford County! There were also some decisions that were made in which she relied heavily on poor advice from her staff, especially as it relates to secondary education. Her background was in elementary education and the secondary level will hopefully get a much needed review with Dr. Tomback, who has a strong background at the middle and high school levels.
I am especially hopeful that Dr. Tomback uses his background knowledge to analyze the effectiveness of such secondary initiatives as LCW and the block schedule as it has been implemented in Harford County. Part of his analysis should reveal the manner in which changes are made. It is my hope that the suggestions made by the Director of Secondary Ed won’t be blindly accepted as factual and best now that we have a superintendent with a secondary background.
Regardless of your position on the controversial issues being discussed in Harford County, the center of the debate usually comes back to the decision making process. There is a history of mistrust with some members of the HCPS administration which has been well documented in the Dagger and Aegis. I hope Dr. Tomback keeps an open mind that there may be some validity to that mistrust. If he only lets the BOE and certain members of the existing administration manipulate his thinking than HCPS will not benefit.
He seems like an open minded person who will accept all forms of feedback and not let others filter the information. This venue is the perfect place to start.
I also think he needs to go out into the community and meet many different people instead of relying so heavily on the staff. If you look at Baltimore County, they compiled a Results Report which encompasses many (almost all) of issues which have been talked about here on the Dagger – SAT scores, HSA results, Community College Readiness, the list goes on. 100+ pages with information that any parent can access and see who their school is doing. You will be amazed. In addition, it talks about goals and programs in place, what their successes are, and many other ancillary topics. So for example, if the Edgewood Community had initiatives in place to help students and parents, that would be talked about in that report so you are not just getting “numbers and stats.”
It is maddening that HCPS doesn’t have anything like this and they have known for years that parents want to see this and BRAC is coming. No excuses really. Baltimore County also treats high schools differently and many don’t have the block schedule (they have the 7 period schedule). They also don’t have Career Clusters and they don’t have LICW. Every community and high school in this county is a bit different and instead of using the excuse that you want everyone to have the same academic opportunities (they don’t), same schedule (they don’t), extra high school graduation credit (they do but at a cost of instruction time in core classes), intervention time (they did before anyway and then they still need extra money for after school interventions) someone needs to be a leader and say this isn’t working. What they are doing in high school is NOT in the best interest of our students (and has been proven by data generated by the College Board and independent studies of college readiness). It also doesn’t help the students who aren’t going to college and may want to embark on a trade.
I blame much of this nonsense on the BOE who implemented these changes and has neglected their duties by consistently ignoring pertinent information about academic success. If they had to ask teachers and parents the question of “are you better of then you were 4 years ago” the answer would be a resounding NO. There needs to be direct line of communication where that sentiment can be expressed without people worrying about retribution or about being marginalized by individuals who may have convinced themselves they are doing a good job but in reality may be blinded by the “limelight.”
I’d also like to welcome Dr. Tomback to HCPS and to mention a few excellent examples of what is superb about our public schools. I sent my 3 children through this system and they were all different style learners. The best teachers recognized their strengths and capitalized on them. They recognized their weaknesses and introduced them to use alternate ideas to accomplish their goals. Our fine arts programs need to continue to flourish. Our successful technical education programs should be expanded to meet the demand. Don’t forget that the world needs the artists, mechanics, plumbers, brick masons,etc.
HCPS has provided thousands of gifted academic and technical graduates.
Yes, some aspects of the system are not perfect; however, let’s give credit to the aspects that have been and hopefully continue to be valuable and successful.
Parent, Taxpayer and Businessman says
Welcome, Dr Tomback. I wish you great success.
Some thoughts for you:
– You have an excellent opportunity to create a new spirit of openess and collaboration with the stakeholders. Please be open-minded in approaching those that have been unjustifiably dismissed in the past as resisters, rabble-rousers, or malcontents. I think you’ll find that most of them are very constructive, care very much about the system, and can be excellent allies and resources as you move forward.
– Your greatest challenge (but also where you can make the most important impact) will be in your your assessment of the dysfunction of the administration of Secondary Education in HCPS. We have some truly professional and dedicated principals and teachers; but, the Executive Director of Secondary Education has created a regrettable environment: 1) initiatives that are ill-considered and poorly substantiated, 2) an utter and well-founded mistrust in Mr. Volrath by most system insiders and outsiders [he is, quite often, veracity-challenged], 3) suppression and intimidation regarding the input of teachers and principals; and the rewarding of sycophancy, 4) decisions that, too often, are self-serving, 5) egregious manipulation and misrepresentation of data. I could go on, but you will find out for yourself.
Here are a few of the areas that should merit your early attention: “Living in a Contemporary World” (LICW), career clusters, and the block schedule.
Ask for a copy of the 2008 study from Leadership Capacity, Inc and find out about the communication gap between the Director of Secondary Education and all stakeholders, which led to a poorly conceived and poorly executed “reform” with dubious benefits
Look at the internal reviews of Comprehensive Secondary School Reform (CSSRP) to see the lack of substantive data swamped by a tsunami of useless information dressed up on colorful charts that Volrath passed off as analysis (Volrath seems to be perversely proud of his powerpoints and their ability to smokescreen and misdirect; unfortunately, he does not realize how many of the consumers of his misinformation are on to him; quite sad) .
And please do not let Mr. Volrath put you in the position that he constantly put Dr. Haas in: that of having to circle the wagons with him at the expense of your credibility.
Parent Taxpayer and Businessman was pretty accurate…and blunt. I believe feedback like this would have been disregarded because it dared to question the powers that be.
Please don’t disregard this feedback. For so long, some in HCPS would just explain points like these away as a few disgruntled citizens. Everyone will never be satisfied, but perception is important to building trust. We have a lot of rebuilding to do and you can serve as the bridge instead of a wall if you are open to the public perception and feedback.
PTA Mom says
Welcome to HCPS -you bring a wealth of experience from a large and diverse school system. In talking to co workers and friends in our neighboring county I have heard many positives about you.
My understanding of BaCountyPS is that not all schools are designed to be alike and that given the respective school’s demographics there are some differences between schools. IE I understand some of the High Schools in Baltimore County use the 4 period day/Block schedule, but others still use the more traditional 7 period schedule.
I have had three children graduate from HCPS and only my oldest attended another system (Kdg-2nd). HCPS has a lot to feel good about and I am thankful my children were educated here. And as mentioned earlier no two children are alike nor do they learn similarly. A gifted teacher is one who can recognize this and helps channel the student appropriately. HCPS has many of these gifted teachers, but at time their talents are not appreciated.
Post #5 did an excellent job identifying some hot topic issues that parents of students in secondary schools have concerns with. I agree with all his comments.
Currently the LICW class (which fortunately my 3 were spared from) is a huge WASTE of time. A brain child of someone-but there is no curriculum consistency at all between the high schools or even within the same school. The BOE has agreed to stop this class, but it is three years too late.
The block schedule itself has posed a number of problems–one big one is that it takes time away from critical classes like English and Math. When the block schedule was being proposed numerous teachers spoke out against it, (and then were told not to for fear of retribution). Aren’t the seasoned teachers the experts?? (This is not a trick question as I know you are not too removed from your teaching days…).
One math teacher spoke to the BOE re: his/her concerns and pointed out to them that having math ONLY every other day would be harmful for retention. Parents were also told that no homework would be done during these loooonnnggg 84 min. classes..ask any high school student and get the answer to that one. Better yet as Post #5 points out read the results of the internal review and Leadership capacity study, OR look at scores/grades of Pre block schedule students to Post block schedule, parents asked for this after one semester we knew the data was there. In a smart world the class of 2007, 08 and 09 would have been asked for their thoughts re: the block schedule upon graduating as these students had at least one year of a non block schedule before changing to the block schedule, (at most high schools).
I realize secondary schools are not going to be your only concern, and I suspect there are many concerns on the primary level, but these issues are major concerns on the secondary level. Please do not wait too long to re-assess the career clusters, block schedule, etc.
And to reiterate your statement: “I do believe complacency is the enemy of an effective organization”
I am concerned that fear of admitting a mistake is also an enemy here.
I wish you the best of luck!
Congratulations and welcome to our county. I am hopeful that you will see there are many changes needing to be made. Continue to read the Dagger Press articles to see how parents, teachers, etc. feel about issues going on in this county. Let me point out a few:
Students with boundary exceptions causing problems in their host school. The rules are clear… maintain good grades and behavior or the boundary exception is revoked. This is not happening and students in their home schools are being affected.
Math grades being curved in some schools and not in others. This is creating an unfair advantage for some students to get into the magnet school programs offered in the county.
Special education students being allowed to stay in school instead of being suspended for the same infractions (or worse, as many cases may be) as students who are not special education students.
These are just a few issues. There are many wonderful teachers here in this county. Help them to do the job they were hired to do. That job is not babysitting. However that is what occurs in a lot of classrooms due to the disrespectful, insubordinate students they are forced to deal with every day. There are many gifted, hard-working students here as well. They have the right to learn in a classroom that is safe and free from disruptive students. Let’s get a handle on this situation before it is too late.
Parent in all fairness the part about special ed is beyond the control of the superintendent of schools and is a matter of Federal Law.
My husband and I have 3 children who have graduated from HCPS and overall we are very happy with the education they received. However, our last child had to suffer through the changes made at the high school level during the last few years. So, Joan, if I was asked if we are better off than 4 years ago, my answer would be NO.
The implementation of the block schedule was definitely a step in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Our experience with the block schedule did not allow for any of the benefits stated by the school board. Class selection was limited and so time was wasted on unnecessary classes, time that would have been better spent learning the important subjects such as Math and English. Teachers and students did not have the opportunity to get to know each other. Teachers were forced to give a large quantity of information without quality instruction in order to complete the curriculum. Students felt pressure to attend class even if sick because of fear of falling too far behind. As a PTSA Mom, I can tell you the block schedule drastically changed the atmosphere at school and not for the better.
Even though my children went to college, I feel Harford County also needs to focus on students who are not college bound. Magnet schools are in place or have been planned for students entering the medical field, homeland security, math and science, etc. but all of these programs are for students who will most likely attend college anyway and would be able to gain the necessary knowledge for their chosen career. Also, the problem with Magnet schools is that they are for a small select group of students. Of course, we have Harford Technical but there are many students who don’t make the grades to get accepted and they are the students who need to learn a trade or skill in order to get a job after graduation. My knowledge regarding career clusters is limited, however I do know the struggle that many college students have in deciding on their major; how can we expect young teenagers to decide on a career path?
I hope that as Dr. Tomback begins to review and make changes in HCPS that he takes the time to listen to the many parents who want the best education possible for their children and to the teachers who have first hand experience with the students and are the source of valuable knowledge and advice.
I’m very excited about his experience and knowledge at the secondary level and the changes that he will bring to Harford County. As you can tell by the other comments posted many people are not happy with the state of our high schools. However, changes must be needed at the elementary level because that is where our children should be learning the basics such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. If so many graduates attending college have to take remedial subjects I shutter to think about the level of skills in basic math, reading and writing other students have when they graduate. This is not only a disservice to them but also to the taxpayers.
Parent, Taxpayer and Businessman says
Good points all everyone, particularly regarding our dire need for more capacity in technical education. But until we get a new director of secondary education, we will only see more, self-serving “feather-in-the-cap and feather-in-the-resume” initiatives like magnet programs (instead of unsexy, practical and much-needed initiatives like technical programs).
Dr. Tomback: Help!
HCPS Volunteer says
All of us caring about education have the common goal of working to provide
the highest level of education possible for each and every student. The end
result of those 13 years of education should enable the HCPS graduates to
not only pass the HSA but also, more importantly, be adequately prepared for
whatever they choose to do after high school.
The effort recently undertaken to identify the number of HCPS graduates
requiring remedial classes at HCC (posted elsewhere on The Dagger)
illustrated the value that quantitative data can have when answering
specific questions. The real key is to use it correctly to ensure that you
don’t let the decision drive the data analysis (kind of like doing the
outline after you write the paper) but use the results of the unbiased data
analysis to drive the decision.
There seems to be a real reluctance on using quantitative data as either
input to the decision making process or when evaluating the impact of
decisions that have been implemented. Hopefully, this will change. Because
of the time in which we live, there is tremendous opportunity to use the
myriad of quantitative data available on a routine basis to improve the
effectiveness of educating our students.
There are volunteers in the community available to assist in this, as well as other ways. It takes a village. We are fortunate that Harford County is a village. Let’s use it.
Experienced Educator, Citizen says
Welcome to Harford County, Dr. Tomback. I will be in my 40th year of teaching during your first in Harford County. I’m retiring after this next year – not because I’m tired of teaching or tired of the kids, but I’m very tired of the lack of respect given to preofessional educators by our Board of Education and School Board. Specifically:
1. The modified block has been a disaster, in my opinion, for the core classes. I have noticed that the students who come to me after 3 years of Block Schedule have not mastered many of the basic skills that are necessary to achieve success in my Advanced Placement Class. I anticipate lower AP scores this year than ever since I began teaching AP 20 years ago. The students have not had the time for practice, reflection and internalization of the material necessary to make the concepts their own. I know that the teachers who have worked with these student over the last 3 years are extremely frustrated trying to balance converage of required curriculum with time needed by the students for mastery. We (math teachers, incase you haven’t guessed) are ignored at the county level when we request that the curriculum be adjusted so that we have time to cover essential topics well. We are told that there will be no change until there is data that the present pacing guide does not work. This means that students have to receive a less than adequate math education until the district realizes there is a problem. We, in the classroom, already know there is a problem. Talk to people at Silvan and Huntington and they will tell you that the Modified Block has been a great boon to their business. There are some schools that do slavishly follow the planning guide from the math office. There are others (among them us) that leave out topics that are less vital in order to give enough time to those topics that are essential. You can probably guess which method works best, but without the support of our building administration we would not be able to do what we as teachers are trained to do. If we are to continue with the Modified Block there must be a revision of curriculum so that we are no longer expected to cover the same material that we could when there were only 7 classes and classes met every (or almost every) day. The curriculum has not changed since 1992 – we still use the same textbook series inspite of requests to change the books from the teachers to the county). The Central Office did not listen to our concerns when studying or implementing the Modified Block and they continue to ignore the teachers now. There is no respect for our experience and competence, and no trust that we have the best interests of our students at heart.
2. The Central Office does not have the courage necessary to support the administrators and teachers. Mention the word “Lawyer” and the teacher or principal will instantly be overruled. I had a student this year who earned an A, B,A,B with a C on the midtern and E on the final. The father (a lawyer) demanded tha the 4th quarter grade (88%) be changed and (for the 3rd time in this student’s career) I was told that there was nothing we could do – that the grade would be changed to an A at the Board. It was also demanded that she be given a retake on the final exam since I was absent on exam day (due to the death of my mother…) and since the year grade would still be a B with the final exam an E (or even a D). The issue is not that the student deserved any of these grade changes or a test retake – it is that Dad wants a valedictorian. I do not expect this student to pass the AP Test. The B was a fair indication of her work ethic even more than her math ability. Why should someone at the Board level be more able to give a fair grade than the classroom teacher? We have also had grades changed so that the student can play sports. If more of the parents in the county knew how afraid the Board is of them we could avoid all issues and give everyone an A from the start…
3. A new program called “Everyday Math” has been implemented at the elementary level. The Secondary math teachers have requested repeatedly that we be given Inservice on this program so that we will know what our future students are learning. This has not happened. I chanced to be at a gathering where one of the children was asked to show how she is learning division and multiplication. Imagine my horror when I could not figure out what she was doing. Couple this with our high school curriculum that includes long division and multiplication of polynomials and we will have to take non-existant time to teach the basic skills that have not been learned in elementary school. Another reason I’m retiring before those students get to high school! What was wrong with the multiplication and long division that have been done for hundreds of years!! Certainly that was not as much “fun” as games and guessing, but it did exercise our minds.
4. The Board of Ed has always seemed adversarial to the teachers. Instead of supporting us and arguing for increases in salary that are very much deserved, or taking the part of the educators in other areas they always seem to be against us. We ought to be working together for the best of the children in this county. I wish you the best in working in the “Good Old Boy” system that you will find at the Board of Education. I hope they will listen to you as they do not to the professionals they have hired to teach the children.
I wish Dr. Tomback luck.
Dr. Tomback has an excellent reputation and It will be interesting to see if he brings a new perspective to the required 9th grade course, Living in a Contemporary World. Even though administrators have promised changes to the course and, in the past, the curriculum and the name have changed, LICW continues to be scorned by teachers and students. When HCPS designed the block schedule with its eight periods, all freshmen had classes to fill seven periods, but all needed one more course to fill an open period, the key eighth period. Finally, Living in a Contemporary World was organized and added to 9th grade requirements. It is a filler class designed to benefit the schedule. Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers consider the class a serious learning opportunity. We welcome fresh ideas for this frustrating situation.
vietnam vet says
Well I hope he bring’s something with him. Starting at $190,000. a year he could start by giveing $ 90,000 back.