Although Dr. S. Dallas Dance’s office sits high on a hill at the Baltimore County Public Schools headquarters on North Charles Street, there can be no mistake: This superintendent is grounded in what is necessary to move the county and its diverse student population forward. Earlier this summer, Dr. Dance sat down with the Baltimore Jewish Times to reflect on his first school year with Baltimore County.
JT: What attracted you to Baltimore County?
Dance: The diversity in population and in the community. It really is a melting pot, and that’s the best environment for students to grown and learn.
When you were announced as the new superintendent, many people were shocked and a bit skeptical. After all, you are only 31 years old.
It’s never the age of a person that determines anything; it’s their character and skills. Looking at our nation’s history and the challenges we have faced, we’ve had a lot of people at really young ages accomplish really incredible things.
What did you learn about yourself during your first year?
Professionally, I’ve grown, making sure that I have a consistent message … that it is people, not programs, who are going to move our county forward.
Why did you visit every school?
Every single year I will visit every single school. Period. The reality is, I don’t know what’s happening unless I’m there. It keeps me grounded. I can’t do my job in an office, I can only do it by going to schools.
What is your impression of the Jewish community in Baltimore?
It’s the diverse population that attracted me. I live in the Pikesville community, many of my neighbors are Jewish, and I am always outside having conversations with them. We are all people, and regardless of our religious orientations, we can have conversations around how we can move our county forward.
The Jewish community has an array of services and agencies open to everyone with The
Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Have you found any Jewish partners?
It was important for us this year to build very solid relationships in and around our community. I was able to visit many of our churches and synagogues. We built those relationships as we were
developing our strategic plan, so now we have a five-year road map, and we have a structure in place through our office of communications that deals with community outreach. We are in a really good place to say … how the various community organizations can work with us on how we can reach our goals.
Where do you want the school system to be in 10 years?
I see a school system that has a portfolio of options for all of our families and a school system in which adults will be facilitating in classrooms and not just be the primary teachers. But I posed this question: How do we … provide an array of options to our community so we are not just one-size-fits-all? There are students throughout the nation who are gifted but bored. So how do we personalize their learning so they are learning at their own pace, so we are not slowing anyone down? When folks move to Baltimore County, they are not moving here just because it’s a great place to live, but also because there’s a school system that provides a portfolio of
options to every single kid.
What keeps you motivated?
When I’m in this office, which I rarely am, I always like to make sure there are pictures of my son around. When I go to schools, I see my son [in the students], because what I’ve always said is that the day I stop making decisions as if I were making them on behalf of my own child, that is the day I need to get out of education.
Never, never, never, never give up. We have a vision for where we want to see education in our county, and … we can never, ever give it up. The moment we take our eyes off our vision, then we have thrown in all the cards, which is something we will never do.
Justin Hayet is a JT intern