Please enjoy the first in a series of reflections upon my years as Superintendent. This week, as I begin my third term as Superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, it amazes me that 8 years have passed so quickly! In this blog, I reminisce about my first term and how much we as a system have accomplished.
When I arrived in Frederick County Public Schools in July 2011, the Board had several key goals for me: improve the perceptions of FCPS, address low teacher morale, and develop plans to implement new state and federal mandates. Our system had been significantly impacted by 3 years of “Maintenance of Effort” funding that led to the challenges the Board asked me to address.
In my first term, we fought hard to advocate for funding. The business community joined us in seeking more support for FCPS. I remember our “Rally Around the Promise” event and Chamber of Commerce members attending the County Commissioner’s budget hearing to seek funding to support the promise of public education. Unfortunately, Maintenance of Effort funding continued 4 more years. Yet, the amazing FCPS staff continued to deliver outstanding results for our students and community.
The FCPS Communications team also worked to elevate our presence on social media in order to engage the community and share the many positive stories of FCPS. I remember the Cabinet meetings in which we debated whether to use Facebook—seems crazy now, but we were one of the few systems heading in that direction. My first Tweet was reviewed by my family, who shared surprise that I was using capital letters and punctuation. It was probably a year before I figured out the hashtag thing! FCPS and our staff have come far in our use of social media to engage our community.
The Board of Education had to make many tough budget decisions during my first term. One of the most difficult was the decision to increase class size in order to fund a long-overdue raise for staff. The Board and our employee associations agreed to restructure pay scales in order to address competitiveness, particularly for our beginning teachers. It took the 4 years of my second term to get those scales implemented—and it was only possible because of support from our new County Executive and County Council.
In 2011, we faced Race to the Top mandates, even though FCPS had not signed on to the grant. Our biggest battle at that time was ensuring that we could maintain our Teacher Evaluation Model, which we had collaboratively developed with the Frederick County Teachers Association. Our model respected teachers as professionals and allowed them to establish Student Learning Objectives relevant to their own classes. It also avoided the statistical perils of the value-added model then endorsed by the state. I vividly remember sitting in the Governor’s conference room with some of his staff and the State Superintendent asking us to adopt the state evaluation model, but we held firm and now have a model that I believe is one of the best in the state!
One of the biggest challenges during my first term was the accelerated timeline for transitioning to the new Maryland College and Career Ready standards and the new assessment. We essentially had 3 years to make the substantive changes from kindergarten to grade 12. Once again, our staff did a phenomenal job planning and implementing this transition. It was during this time that I first heard the words, “FCPS is leading the state.”
During my first term, one thing was always very clear—the staff in our school system are exceptional! When you have a strong team, anything is possible! And FCPS has always benefitted from an incredibly strong team!