Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance didn’t plan on being an educator.

S. Dallas Dance, Baltimore County Superintendent, says he is racing to better prepare public school students for the challenges of the future. (Courtesy photo)

He went to college planning to study law, but once he discovered his talent tutoring other students, he shifted to studying education.

Dance earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Virginia Union University and went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in educational administration and leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.

His educational career path led to him working as an administrator in the Henrico County Public Schools district of Richmond, Va., as well as Chesterfield and Louisa County Public Schools in Virginia. It was while he was serving as chief officer of the Houston Independent School District in 2012 that he was named as the new Baltimore County Schools superintendent at only 30 years old.

Dance recently faced opposition over his reported income as an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond, and that he set up a limited liability corporation. An ethics panel called for Dance to adjust his financial disclosure forms, which he agreed to do, noting that there was not a clear place on his financial disclosure forms for him to previously do so. The school board ultimately voted to continue is contract.

When he first joined the Baltimore County school system, he succeeded Joe Hairston, under whom Baltimore County Schools saw significant growth with 50 percent of the county’s high schools ranking in the top seventh percentile nationwide at the time.

Dance came in with a plan to build upon that foundation by increasing student’s skills in science, technology and math as well as showing students how to apply the lessons their learning to the real world. He took on the challenge of engaging kids to take ownership for their education.

“When we start thinking about the role we play as educators, we have to make sure that we engage them to the point they understand that here and now matters so much if you’re really going to impact what the future looks like,” Dance told the AFRO earlier this year.

This line of thinking led Dance to spearhead the development of “Blueprint 2.0,” a five-year strategic plan aiming to improve academics, safety, communication, and organizational effectiveness. This plan made high school graduation a system-wide priority, and as a result, the graduation rate rose to 87.8 percent for the 2015 graduating class, an increase of four percentage points since he began his tenure. He additionally introduced a Passport Schools program to implement world language instruction for elementary students.

Because of his successes, Dance has been nominated for the LifeChanger of the Year award, and has been honored by the Center for Digital Education with the Top 30 Technologists, Transformers, and Trailblazers Award, as well as the Community Builder Award from the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training. He was appointed to former President Barack Obama’s Commission for Educational Excellence for African Americans, and was also named a Connected Educator Champion of Change. His list of awards and accolades goes on and on.

Dance has also been moving education forward with the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) initiative, which aims to create an accessible digital learning environment for all students while emphasizing personalized instruction and critical thinking skills.

“We were not a district in crisis by any measure,” Ryan Imbriale, executive director of the district’s Department of Innovative Learning, told The Journal in an interview. “But we had reached a point where we felt we had to step back and ask, ‘What do our students, our community and our partners need from this school district? What do we need to do to create learner centered environments and make sure that our students have access to the tools and resources?’ In real terms that meant ensuring that every student, eventually, would have access to a device in their hands in the classroom.”

Through S.T.A.T., Microsoft designated BCPS as its first “Showcase” school system for innovative digital teaching and learning. In December, the school district unveiled a Mobile Innovation Lab, a mobile classroom converted from a school bus. The lab emphasizes bringing “Makerspaces” and a hands-on learning experience while teaching children about coding, robotics, programming and circuitry.

“While technology alone won’t improve learning outcomes, I know from experience that it has the power – when implemented and used effectively – to create more vibrant, interactive learning environments; achieve improvements throughout the education system; and prepare students for a lifetime of success,” Dance said in a blog post. “It’s my hope that the success of S.T.A.T. inspires schools around the country to embrace technology and transform education.”