DallasDance

Dallas Dance is anxious to know whether he’ll get another four years at the helm of Baltimore County Public Schools.

The schools superintendent asked the school board to let him know by the end of November whether his contract would be renewed when it expires June 30. By law, however, the board cannot sign a contract with Dance before Feb. 1.

“For me it was about reassuring the county,” the 34-year-old administrator told the AFRO. “Even though the board doesn’t have to sign a contract until February, I think it is important to send a message to the community about whether they will have to move in a different direction or not.”

Dance said he is proud of the course the school district has taken under his leadership.

When he came to the job in 2012 as a fresh-eyed 31-year-old transplant from Houston, where he served as one of three chief school officers in the Houston Independent School District, Dance said his first test was figuring out how to build on the legacy of former long-time superintendent, Joe Hairston.

“Just trying to figure out how to take a good school district and make it better” was a key challenge, said the educator, who earned doctorate and master’s degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University.

Even more difficult, however, was the work involved in building relationships with the community and getting different stakeholders to coalesce around a shared plan.

“Relationships is key to success in this position,” Dance said. “When I first came there were a lot of communication and trust issues.”

The superintendent’s critics, for example, point to his seemingly unilateral decision to change the high schools’ schedule from seven to eight periods back in 2013.

Others point to the dustup that occurred when it was discovered Dance was being paid as a consultant and trainer for SUPES Academy, an Illinois-based firm that was contracted by BCPS to provide training to its principals. Dance has himself acknowledged the misstep (he later resigned from the job).

The superintendent said his administration has worked hard to move past those barriers, however, and he is most proud of what they have done in terms of making connections with parents, businesses, lawmakers, etc. Laying that groundwork has translated into more support—monetarily and otherwise—for the district.

Such was the case with Blueprint 2.0, a five-year strategic plan spearheaded by Dance that is focused on improving academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness.

Under the plan, for example, Dance set a goal of boosting digital learning by putting individual computers into each student’s hands and of ensuring all BCPS students are fluent in a second language

Other initiatives have also begun to have an impact, such as a computer tracking system that helps to flag students in need which has helped to boost graduation rates, including those of Blacks and other minorities. According to the Maryland Report Card, in 2011, the four-year cohort average graduation rate for BCPS high-schoolers was 82 percent and 80 percent for Black students. In 2014, the average graduation rate increased to 88 percent for all students and 87 percent for Black students, earning BCPS the designation of a national “District of Distinction” by District Administration magazine.

Dance added that a significant percentage of Baltimore County schools are consistently named among the nation’s top-ranked institutions and several are Maryland and national blue ribbon schools.

As a result of the advances spearheaded by Dance, BCPS was accepted into the League of Innovative Schools, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a $1.5 million grant to BCPS, according to the district’s website. Additionally, Dance was selected by President Barack Obama as one of 10 national “Connected Educator Champions of Change” in 2014 and was appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans and to the executive committee of the American Association of School Administrators.

Dance said if he is given another term as superintendent, he wants to build on what his administration has already achieved and to put more emphasis on issues such as the gender achievement gap and on equity.

“We have not had enough conversations about how adult decisions affect students,” Dance said, highlighting issues such as disparate funding and unequal equal access to highly-trained teachers and high-quality courses, such as AP classes, in certain schools.

In order to continue making those improvement, however, the school board will have to make a decision on his contract, which he said is currently still being negotiated.

“Stability in leadership is important in any organization when you’re trying to get certain things done,” concluded.

zprince@afro.com