By Sean Perry
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Despite being denied a permanent position, Interim Superintendent Verletta White told Baltimore County parents, students and community leaders Monday that “safety is my number one priority.”
White hosted an open forum at West Towson Elementary, encouraging questions from the audience and communicating information about a new five-year strategic plan to improve the schools. A few more than 30 people sat in the school’s gymnasium for the hour-long meeting.
“Safety is my number one priority,” said White as she pointed to the “four pillars” being academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness. “The first thing you want to know is that they are safe, that they aren’t going to be bullied in any way.”
The school system’s past plan, “Blueprint 2.0: Our Way Forward,” ends this year.
The Baltimore County school board voted last month to appoint White as superintendent to succeed Dallas Dance, who resigned and recently pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury for lying on financial disclosure forms. He was sentenced last month to six months in prison.
Maryland schools superintendent Karen Salmon blocked the appointment of White, explaining that the school board’s ethics panel found that White violated ethics rules by failing to disclose the fact that she was paid for consulting work. Salmon said in a letter to the Baltimore County school board chairman, Edward J. Gilliss, that she would be open to approving White for a second interim term. Officials are waiting for an audit of the county school system’s contracting process and the results would determine Salmon’s willingness to approve a full, four-year term for White.
At the town hall meeting, White detailed the county school system’s strategic plan, explaining some essential things about moving forward. One goal is to implement logical consequences for student wrongdoings while teaching acceptable behavior, she said.
A community member voiced concern that her daughter is not learning in the classroom some of the basic skills needed for the future.
“She doesn’t know how to work between platforms of different software to make a project she is working on easier,” said the community member. “How is she going to be successful as it goes down the road not being able to type and know keyboard skills.”
White responded that county schools should standardize the basic skills curriculum at all their buildings.
“It’s not just, like I said before, about the ABCs 123s,” said White. “We have to make sure that we are investing in and teaching our students how to read, how to write, how to think.”
Another community member discussed the transparency of the school board.
“In terms of anything to hide, I think I’ve been overly transparent,” White said. “That’s just kind of who I am. So that there isn’t a mystery, there is no question, there isn’t anything to hide, we have put the cards out on the table.”
White and Dance were paid consultants for Education Research & Development Institute. Some board members, state legislators and parents have voiced concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars in technology contracts awarded during Dance’s tenure.
White pointed to an independent annual audit she called for last Sept. 26 and explained how its control is on the school board.
“We have not found any evidence of any wrongdoing,” said White.
Christina Byers, a community superintendent for Baltimore County schools, stressed the importance for the school system to have open forums.
“It’s great because we have someone who is acting as a note taker so that as we have plans to move forward we have that input,” said Byers. “I know that our new interim superintendent is going to be moving us forward.”
White’s “learning and listening tour” includes two more stops: at Randallstown High School on May 14; and, Catonsville High School on May 24. Both begin at 6 p.m.