Part II of The Dagger’s Q&A with newly appointed Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan begins with updates on concerns raised by parents over the years, and ends with Canavan’s hopes for the future. Included is a potential breakthrough on a longstanding problem, a snow-related promise and a rejection of “gotcha”.
For many years now, hundreds of applicants interested in vocational/technical education have been turned away from Harford Technical High School due to a lack of space. What are your plans, if any, for students who may not be interested in attending college right after high school. How will their needs be met?
“Well, that definitely has been an issue and we’re starting to address it. In the early summer, I met with [Principal] Chaz Hagan and Joe Schmitz [HCPS executive director for middle and high schools] and we talked about this.
The reality is we’re not poised to get another votech school in some other area of the county, and we have to start to think about how can we avail opportunities [for] kids to take courses that are offered only at [Harford Tech]. Because basically, when there’s no money, you can’t say,’ let’s create these labs at other schools’… the infrastructure’s not there, the space may not be there…
So the first thing that we did was…we form[ed] a comprehensive committee made up of citizenry, of people from Harford Tech and… central office… Right now we’re in very preliminary discussions regarding partnerships with Harford Community College…And looking at the program offerings at Harford Tech and how could we possibly open them up to students that may not have been accepted [into Harford Tech]…”
So some kids would go to Harford Tech for part of the day?
“…That’s something that’s being discussed. The other piece that’s being discussed is…Harford Community College does offer a lot of coursework that possibly our kids could avail themselves of [while they’re in high school].
An example might be, they could attend a comprehensive high school for their content area classes – English, math social studies, etc. – and then attend [Harford Tech] or attend Harford Community College for the coursework they might interested in. It could be [Computer Aided Design], it could be carpentry, it could be electricity. …This really is in very pre-discussion stages, there is nothing that is definitive about this, [but], you know, we’re excited about it…”
Do you have a timeline for implementation?
“I really don’t…but I really want to tip my hat to Harford Community College. They really are very good to us and partner beautifully with us. They have gone out of their way to really help our kids out.”
Everyday Math has been controversial in the parent community for some time. Is it a fit with the Common Core – is EM going to endure?
“…It is a fit because it’s a problem-solving modality, and at this juncture, I would say there really aren’t any discussions to eliminate Everyday Math. However, once we start to get a handle on these PARCC assessments, because obviously instruction and assessment go hand in hand… were going to have to review everything that we do…”
Do you plan on expanding magnet programs, either by adding new programs in other high schools or at the middle or elementary school level?
“We really don’t have any immediate plans.”
Do you plan any immediate changes to gifted education in HCPS?
“There are no immediate plans for gifted education. We are going to be, next year, taking a look at the model to make sure that the model is really servicing kids in the way that it should. And we’re going to put together a comprehensive group of teachers, and parents and administrators to take a look at that.”
What is the status of the study on the North Harford Zone?
“The status is that we will be putting together a group of people to take a look at that. We made that promise publically and we are definitely going to keep that promise. We will make sure that we have parents in that group from the North Harford area, and not [from the North Harford area]…”
“It will definitely be in place for the first snowfall next year. We’re going to work on that and have a presentation for the board in a timely fashion…”
Transportation cuts caused public outcry earlier this school year, and a consulting firm has since recommended new routing software to improve efficiencies. Assuming no increase in funding, is the money available to buy that software?
“We have a software package that we’re looking at now that was purchased a few years ago. We’re going to see whether or not that can help us out. If it does not, we have funds available to fund a package.”
Is it possible that more efficient routes could save enough money to roll back some of the cuts?
“We have no idea because we have to go through the process, and then we would know the answer.”
Flat funding for the budget has been the norm over the past several years and teachers haven’t had a raise in 4 of the past 5 years. If funding is flat again for next year, what will your priorities be for budget cuts – understanding that the board makes the cuts – but you make recommendations about priorities for cuts, among them positions and raises.
“I think I’m going to answer this question in a different way. We want to do everything that we can to maintain the positions that we have and to maintain the class sizes that we have. We want to do everything that we can to compensate all of the employees in some way, shape, or form.
I have no indication right now of what the funding is going to be. I am an optimist to the nth degree. Although I do not believe that our cost of doing business budget is going to be funded, and frankly, we never did believe that. It was a statement along with the priority list to help people to understand the circumstances under which we operate.”
That cost of doing business budget included adding back some teaching positions to bring class sizes back down to the level of last school year. Do you think that class sizes right now are at a tipping point?
“No, I don’t think so… There are larger class sizes than people are used to but not at a point where it is in any way, shape, or form detrimental to the learning of students…We try very, very hard to keep [class sizes] reasonable.
But I have to say… I’m just hopeful about the funding of the budget, let’s just leave it at that.”
What about new initiatives? You’ve been around for 40 years, you’ve probably said to yourself at least once, if I were in charge, this is what I would do. Is there anything that you would like to talk about that you’re planning in the near future?
“…with everything that’s been thrust upon us, I think it would be presumptuous.
This is what I want. I really do want children to thrive under the new standards and I want teachers to really realize what their strength are under the new teacher evaluation. And I want principals and assistant principals to feel the same way and other employees that work in the system.
I do not want any of this to appear to be a ‘gotcha’, that we’re gonna point out, ‘these are your weaknesses’… Let’s celebrate who you are and what you bring to the table. And then let’s talk about how it can be better for you. Because I think a lot of people don’t realize what strengths they have and I think a lot of people sometimes feel stigmatized when a weakness is pointed out. I don’t care if it’s an 11-year-old or a 54-year-old.
But if it’s done in the right way, and you’re working together to build the capacity of a person, whether it’s a child or an adult, people welcome that. I mean, I certainly do.”
After serving one year as interim superintendent, you’ll start a four-year contract as superintendent in July. Fast forward four years, what do you hope to have brought to Harford County as a result of your leadership?
“I hope that my legacy at the end of four years is to work in this community with people to develop an understanding along with others…that we’re all in this thing together. This is about a quality of life for this community.
Education is a big piece, safety is a big piece, beautification is a big piece, that we’re all working together to create a high quality of life in this county. I think I would want people to know that we’re the real deal here. And we really do believe that working together is gonna make a very big difference for everybody in this county.”
Part I of the interview can be found here.