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Following a lengthy closed meeting Thursday evening, the Harford County Board of Education approved a number of personnel changes sought by Superintendent Robert Tomback.

Included in those changes are new principals for Fallston, Aberdeen and Joppatowne high schools and the promotion of the current principal at Fallston.

Thursday’s actions also finalized the demotions of the current Aberdeen and Joppatowne principals, Thomas Szerensits and Macon Tucker Jr., while also enabling Tomback to bring in someone from Baltimore County to head Fallston, one of the highest profile jobs in the 39,000-student Harford school system.

The closed session at the school system headquarters in Bel Air lasted nearly two hours, after which the board convened in a public session at 10 p.m. and acted on Tomback’s list of promotions.

A majority of the seven-member board had refused to vote on those promotions at the previous board meeting Monday, as some members said they wanted more time to consider the list.

Sources close to the board said Tomback’s plan to bring in an outsider for the Fallston job was a major point of contention and, when he refused to back off, it set the stage for an extraordinary confrontation with four of the seven board members that carried into Monday’s meeting and throughout the week.

During Thursday’s special board meeting, which started 45 minutes late because of the long closed session beforehand, board members voted 5-2 to approve the principal and assistant principal promotions requested by Tomback.

Board members Robert Frisch and Donald Osman, among the four who had tabled the original promotions Monday, were the only two to vote against the motion.

Michael O’Brien, currently an instructional facilitator at Edgewood High School, was approved as principal for Aberdeen High School replacing Szerensits, whose demotion has angered many students and parents, and prompted picketing in front of the school earlier this month.

C. Milton Wright High School Assistant Principal Pamela Zeigler will transfer to the principal post at Joppatowne High School replacing Tucker.

Fallston High School Principal Joseph Schmitz was promoted to executive director of high school performance replacing David Volrath, who has announced his retirement effective July.

Volrath is a longtime educator who came up through the ranks of the Harford system, starting out as a teacher.

Richard Jester, principal at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Baltimore County, will become principal at Fallston.

Another Baltimore County appointee is Kevin Ensor, who was approved as the supervisor of school counseling. Ensor is currently director of college counseling at Hereford High School.

After being given the choice earlier by Tomback to either accept demotions, retire or be fired, Szerensits and Tucker agreed to be reassigned as assistant principals at the high school level, with Szerensits moving to Bel Air High and Tucker to Patterson Mill High.

Though Tomback had announced those two changes Monday, he later agreed to hold them until the board acted on his requested replacements.

In addition to those promotions and the final approval of the promotional candidate pools released Monday night that also had been on hold by the board, the board approved four other personnel changes Thursday:

- William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School Assistant Principal Benjamin Richardson was promoted to principal at William S. James Elementary School;

- Deerfield Elementary School Assistant Principal Christopher Yancone was promoted to principal at Riverside Elementary School;

- Youth’s Benefit Elementary School mentor Audrey Vohs was promoted to assistant principal at Emmorton Elementary School; and,

- Special education facilitator for Joppatowne and Havre de Grace elementary schools Tara Dedeaux was transferred to the instructional facilitator post at Edgewood and Red Pump elementary schools.

Comments

Some board members openly talked about their concerns about the direction of school leadership during the public session Thursday, as did one member of the public, Mary Kate Keesling.

Keesling, who said she served on a committee with the PTA years ago during the search for a new superintendent, said one of that panel’s recommendations was for the school system leadership to include the community in decision-making, especially in regards to major principal changes.

Keesling also recommended that at least one female administrator be assigned to each high school because having only males administrators has led to awkward dress code encounters with female students, as well as an inability to check girls bathrooms during breaks, in particular during Patterson Mill’s 50-minute lunch break.

Board Vice President Leonard Wheeler took a few moments at the close of the meeting to express frustration with how the board is being involved, especially in terms of asking questions during the decision-making process.  

“As a board member, I will say to you, I believe there are some serious flaws in the process, from my perspective,” Wheeler said. “As a board member I can assure this community and staff that where corrections need to be made, they will be made, and this board is going to be of one accord doing that.”

Frisch, one of the two who voted against the promotions, also voiced his concerns with the board and the perception of leadership within it.

“Leadership built on fear, intimidation or punishment is not leadership at all,” he said. “That type of leadership is nothing more than an exercise of power built on a foundation of quicksand.”

Successful leadership, he continued, nurtures employees and allows them to express themselves “free from fear of retaliation.”

“In the absence of the freedom to express differing opinions, organizations suffer a loss of creative thinking, sinking morale and the departure of superior quality employees who recognize they have no future in that organization,” Frisch said.

Earlier in the meeting, Frisch had attempted to offer an amendment to the approval of promotions, but President Mark Wolkow, who said it was not the correct time during the voting process, stopped him.

Frisch made no further attempts to alter the decision.

Board leadership

Both Frisch and Wheeler are known to be eyeing the board presidency when Wolkow steps down June 30 at the conclusion of his school term.

Though he was eligible for reappointment by the governor, Wolkow said his work commitments would not make it possible to keep serving.

In addition to Wolkow, Osman is leaving June 30 when his term expires, as is board member Thomas Evans, whose term will also end.

The board will also expand from seven to nine members July 1 under the 2009 state legislation that created a board made up of six elected and three appointed members.

Board members typically choose their president annually around July 1.

All transfers, promotions and appointments that were approved Thursday take effect July 1, according to Manager of Communications Teri Kranefeld.

Pools approved

The promotional pools approved Thursday include candidates who have undergone the interview process and have been identified as ready for promotion if a vacancy arises.

Elementary school candidates are Gregory Lane, of Edgewood Elementary School, for instructional facilitator; Karen Briguglio, of Deerfield Elementary School, and BangTam Miller, of Jarrettsville and Hickory elementary schools, for assistant principal 10 months and three candidates for the mentor pool, including Harley Main, of North Bend Elementary School; Janet Oldewurtel, of Fountain Green Elementary School; and Holly Wiggett, of Edgewood Elementary School.

Middle school candidates are Patrice Brown, of Edgewood Middle School, for principal; Stacey Bryan, of Aberdeen High School, as instructional facilitator; three candidates for assistant principal 12 months, including Letine Hall, of Southampton Middle School, Rachel Lind, of North Harford Middle School, and Laurie Namey of Edgewood Middle School; four candidates for assistant principal 10 months, including Clifford Coulter, of Edgewood Middle School, Erin O’Hara, of Southampton Middle School, Wendy Steo, of Edgewood Middle School, Angela Taddia, of Havre de Grace Middle School; and Elizabeth Beser, of Edgewood Middle School, as mentor.

High school candidates are Erica Harris, of Bel Air High School, as assistant principal 12 months; and two candidates for assistant principal 10 months, including Drew Hoagland, of Havre de Grace High School, and Gary Wasielewski, the model department chairperson at the Center for Educational Opportunity.

 

 

 


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