Baltimore County’s Interim School Superintendent Verletta White was walking the halls of Dumbarton Middle School last week. She was there for a half day program that helps sixth graders figure out which end is up in their new school.
At one point, White tried to help a student work his locker combination. At another time she was told by a couple of students that their bus didn’t show up.
"It’s a practice for the bus drivers too today," White said. "So we can get that worked out."
Wherever she went, White ran into someone she knew. Like the librarian, Aimee Hutchison, who six years ago taught White’s daughter sixth grade English at Hereford Middle.
"She was lovely," Hutchison told White. "How is she doing?"
White responded, "She’s fine. She’s a senior. She’s a senior!"
And this is one way White differs from former school superintendent Dallas Dance. While Dance came to Baltimore County via Virginia and Houston, White is home grown. She attended Baltimore County schools and started teaching in the county schools in 1995. She served as a principal, an assistant superintendent, and most recently as the county’s chief academic officer.
Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said teachers and principals know White and like her.
"They really are looking to her to make sure that things are kind of smoothed out a little and implementation is slowed down to a point where we can get things right," she said.
Beytin is referring to initiatives started during Dance’s tenure, such as laptops for all students, as well as new curriculum and grading policies. Dance was praised as an innovator, but his critics said he threw too much at teachers too fast.
White said it’s time to let teachers perfect their craft.
"We hit the ground running a few years ago, and now we’re making sure we’re continuing along those lines, making sure teachers have time to implement what we’ve already started," White said.
More than 113,000 students return to the classroom today in Baltimore County. But for thousands of families the start of school is less about policy and more about getting the basics.
At a back to school event at the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center in Dundalk, hundreds of parents and children got in two lines, one for school supplies and the other for fresh produce. There were boxes of carrots, onions, cabbages, potatoes, melons and corn, provided by the Maryland Food Bank.
Thomas Fennoy, a volunteer, said some parents need help with more than backpacks and notebooks.
"They also need the proper nutrition to help their children to learn more and be better students," Fennoy said. 45 percent of the county’s students are eligible for free or reduced price meals.
Back at Dumbarton Middle, Principal Susan Harris is basking in the glow of a $8 million renovation, including new equipment, furniture, and yes, air conditioning.
"The renovation changes everything," Harris said.
There are now 13 schools without central air in the county, down from 90 a few years ago. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said next school year there will be just three schools without AC.
When asked if the political feud with the governor over how to best air condition the schools is over, Kamenetz said, the set-to, on Governor Larry Hogan’s part, "was just theatrical."
"There was no attempt to understand the magnitude of the issue and the best way to invest tax dollars," said Kamenetz, who has been eyeing a run for governor next year.
Governor Hogan wanted Kamenetz to use window units to more quickly cool the schools.