Meet the super candidates: Townsend, Hughes, Hanlin

Finalists for superintendent of Wicomico County schools have been interviewing for the top position and meeting with members of the school board and the community.

This week the candidates —  Dr. Cathy J. Townsend, Dr. Lorenzo L. Hughes and Dr. Donna C. Hanlin  — met with panels composed of support staff, retirees, business leaders, teachers, parents, community leaders, Central Office administrators, principals and media.

At the sessions, representatives from the Maryland Association of Boards of Educations gathered information and will relay it to board of education members, who are expected to make a final selection soon.


Dr. Cathy J. Townsend

For Dr. Cathy J. Townsend, the educational slogan is, “It’s a new day.”


To the candidate for Wicomico County schools’ new superintendent, one of three finalists, that dawning means close examination of all factors, including frequency of testing, maintaining discipline and teacher satisfaction.

“There are times when our people feel defeated,” Townsend  told members of the media Monday.

“We need to look at ensuring that everybody in our school district feels empowered to be a leader. We need to look at the qualities of leadership and talk about what leadership looks like. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, to educate a child, it really does,” from teachers to administrators to food service providers, to bus drivers to custodians, she said.

Townsend, currently assistant superintendent for administrative services for Wicomico schools, spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week meeting with panels, visiting schools and having lunch with students.

On the various panels were support staff, retirees, business leaders, teachers, parents, community leaders, Central Office administrators, principals and media.

In her travels Monday, she enjoyed a turkey sandwich and potato chips with students at lunchtime and toured schools including West Salisbury Elementary. Plans to soon replace the aging structure are “very exciting,” she said.

When she was a girl, she attended Glenn Avenue Elementary, the sister school of West Salisbury Elementary, with the same interior design.

Among Townsend’s priorities is determining if there is too much testing. “I think we have to look very closely at it. How much testing is too much? If you’re getting the same data from two or three of the same tests, then maybe that much testing is too much,” Townsend said.

“We need open and honest conversations about how we’re testing and how much we’re testing. We need a plan,” she said.

Excellent reading ability is important to her, she said, calling the skill “the ticket for everyone to be successful in life.”

“No matter what you do, even to do math, you have to be able to read, for word problems,” she said.

During her career, Townsend has taught elementary and high school math. She worked as assistant principal and principal of Salisbury Middle School. She was school climate coordinator and supervisor of safe schools.

Townsend was principal of Delmar Middle and High School and director of special education for Delmar School District.

Townsend served as assistant superintendent for administrative services for the Wicomico board of education since July 2011. She oversees several administrative departments including Facilities Construction and Planning; Facilities Operations, Maintenance and Energy; Finance; Food Service; Human Resources; Technology; and Transportation.

A native of Wicomico County and graduate of Wicomico Senior High School in 1973, she received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and psychology at Salisbury State College in 1977 and masters of education degree from Salisbury University in 1997.

In 2011 she earned her doctoral degree in Innovation and Leadership from Wilmington University.

She taught math teacher in Worcester County  Schools from 1979 to 1981, then taught math at  Wicomico Senior High School from 1983 to 1985.

She worked as a regulatory analyst for Downes Associates Engineering Consultants in Salisbury from 1985 to 1992.

Once her children were of school age she returned to the classroom and taught in North Salisbury Elementary Magnet Program from 1992 to 1997.

Her career in education administration began with her appointment as assistant principal of Pittsville Elementary and Middle School from 1997 to 1999, then as assistant principal and principal of Salisbury Middle School from 1999 to 2006.

She was principal of Delmar Middle and High School and director of special education from 2006 to 2009.

She was school climate coordinator from 2009 to 2010 and supervisor of safe schools until 2011, then assistant superintendent for Administrative Services.

She said she and her husband, C.J., enjoy their children, children’s spouses and six grandchildren.


Dr. Lorenzo Hughes

As education officials grapple with discipline problems and disrespect in schools, one of the candidates for superintendent is focused on a plan – and it isn’t immediately sending offenders to the principal’s office.


“We have to work with students to teach them to make better decisions,” Dr. Lorenzo Hughes told the Salisbury Independent.

“Unfortunately, the reality is a lot of students come from a place where it’s OK to use profanity and unacceptable language, and to engage in physical actions to make their points. Our kids are bombarded with negative messages. It’s a sad state of affairs when we can’t watch the presidential debate without seeing instability,” said Hughes, who is assistant superintendent for instruction for Dorchester County schools.

The former assistant principal and principal of Wicomico High School, Hughes believes it’s important to identify why student referrals are being written and students are being directed to the principal or eventually suspended, to look at the origin while building “meaningful relationships with our students.”

Referrals aren’t always needed, Hughes said. Teachers should be asking how they can teach effectively and build positive relationships with students. In Dorchester County, where he is currently employed, there are behavior modification programs and professional development programs for teachers.

Suspensions don’t teach misbehaving students how to start behaving, disrupting class or acting in anger.

“When they’re suspended, they go away for awhile but eventually they come back. Suspension is not always the best strategy to help them deal with situations. We should provide what they need so that,  if necessary, they can ask to excused to see a counselor, maybe taught to stop and count to 10 before speaking,” he said.

Of course, there are times when rushing a student out of the room, to the principal, is warranted, but it should be a last resort, Hughes said.

“It’s about building relationships. With a disruptive kid, for those situations, you need behavioral training … As a school system, it’s imperative for us to teach that. Social skills must be taught along with reading, writing and arithmetic, he said.

During interviews with the three candidates for superintendent, excessive testing has been discussed.

Hughes said school systems are hoping to gain more local control over testing. While long periods of it aren’t necessary, there should be ways to assess students and determine if they are learning.

“There can be simple tests, but the teacher, after every lesson, needs to know, and the student has to demonstrate to the teacher, that he has learned that day,” Hughes said.

This week Hughes and the other two candidates, Dr. Cathy J. Townsend and Dr. Donna C. Hanlin, toured schools, met with panels including board of education employees, visited schools and talked to students.

“Some of the students said disciple problems make it challenging for them to learn. One asked me to improve school lunches, and I said, of course, there are guidelines about what must be served in schools. Some of them emphatically said that yes, I do want to come here and be the superintendent. What they did say about the school system was about the teachers, that we have outstanding teachers,” he said.

Others said they want to see an expansion of the career technology program.

If he’s chosen as superintendent, Hughes said, he believes he can “effectively affect positive change.”

“There are some real challenges. It’s enticing to come back and face that challenge and make Wicomico County public schools a world-class school district,” he said.

He wants residents considering moving to Salisbury to admire the excellent school system and be confident “we are turning out graduates that can do nothing but make the next generation better.”

Hughes, appointed principal of Wicomico High School in 2005, worked in the county when the Maryland State Department of Education had deemed Wicomico High School “in need of local attention” for its low graduation rate and high dropout rate.

According to information provided by the board of education, Hughes proclaimed a new mission for the school: “Wicomico High School will be the premier high school within two years or less as indicated by an increase in academic achievement and a decrease in disruptive behavior.”

The average grade point average for all students increased from 2.09 in 2005 to 2.34 in 2009. For African American students, the increase was from 1.76 to 2.06, increasing the graduation rate for African American students by 20.3 percent from 2004 to 2009.

There was an upturn in scholarships from $787,772 in 2006 to $1.9 million in 2010; decreasing discipline referrals by 25 percent and decreasing suspensions by 21 percent.

Now, in his role as chief academic officer, Hughes provides innovative leadership, direction and management for the instructional programs from kindergarten to 12th grade including special education and alternative education.

Information provided by the board of education stated Hughes has “distinguished himself as a decisive and visionary instructional leader with a laser-like focus on student achievement.”

His professional career began as a teacher at a youth psychiatric residential hospital. He then taught English and language arts in Talbot County.

He piloted Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement through Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and served on the school improvement team. He advised co-curricular programs to provide academic intervention and enrichment.

After teaching at both Easton Middle and High schools, he was promoted to assistant principal at Easton High School. There, he assisted with school operations, evaluated teacher performance and supervised student services.

He chaired the Student Services Team, Crisis Team and Individualized Education Plan meetings. He was assistant principal at Wicomico High School, where he supervised student enrollment, coordinated the school testing programs, supervised the athletic budget and personnel and served on the Secondary Education Advisory Council.

The senior member of the Superintendent’s Executive Leadership Team, Hughes develops, executes and assesses instructional priorities, interprets policies for staff, students and community and is responsible for instructional improvement, long-range planning, budget development and community relations.

His accomplishments include securing several million dollars in grants to augment instructional and student services programs including the Race to the Top grant for $1,044,678; improving graduation rate; eliminating the graduation gap between African American and white students; and initiating a partnership with Discovery Education and leading a district wide digital conversion.

Hughes earned a bachelor of arts degree in English Education from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, master of education degree in School Leadership and Instruction from Wilmington College and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

He believes “leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”


Dr. Donna C. Hanlin

A strong supporter of collaboration, Dr. Donna C. Hanlin, believes in including students, teachers, administrators and the public in plans for a better school system.


This year, lack of discipline has been a concern in local schools, coupled with teachers feeling unsupported. Hanlin, co-chairwoman and director of assessment and accountability for the Department of Education at Shepherd University, is familiar with the concerns.

“You have to have a solid, positive school climate where students and the staff can feel safe and achieve, and where teachers can feel comfortable teaching and be successful in their craft,” Hanlin told the Salisbury Independent this week.

On  Wednesday, she toured schools and met with panels.

“You have to come at that from several vantage points. Do teachers and students feel valued and respected? Do students feel they are able to have relationships, one-on-one, with strong adults who support them? Is there an engaging curriculum? Can students feel successful and see the relevance of what they are doing in school?” Hanlin said.

“There have to be systems in place. We have to make sure a code of conduct is in place that is clear and appropriate and strictly enforced,” she said.

Hanlin, one of three finalist candidates for superintendent of Wicomico County schools, is adamant about involving students when tackling problems.

“The students are the ones that are in schools and they have a lot of potential in terms of adding value and influencing peers in a positive way,” she said.

What’s necessary, she said, is professional development for staff, basing school programs on sound data and having appropriate levels of intervention for “that small percentage of students who are creating the majority, or vast majority, of discipline issues,” she said. Intervention systems must be in place and include suspensions and, if necessary, placement in the alternative school.

Unless the community is involved, plans won’t succeed, she said.

As superintendent, Hanlin said she would be in the community talking to organizations, faith-based groups, students, teachers and other groups in and outside the school system.

“Our school system is so complex, but the students come first,” she said.

For teachers she would use the same, collaborative approach.

“My dissertation is in the area of emotional intelligence. It’s on the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership practices of principles. It’s all about the connection of how we use relationships and work with people to bring them along to a common goal. That would be true of any group,” she said.

A native of Salisbury who graduated from James M. Bennett High School, Hanlin taught master’s and doctorate level courses in instructional design, assessment and accountability at Frostburg University.

There,she was strongly impacted by teachers who told her it was good day when they didn’t leave school in tears at the end of the day.

“I didn’t have any idea what was happening to teachers. It took me back to my classroom roots and the day-to -things teachers do,” she said.

Among their biggest challenges is required testing, a practice Hanlin said has drained morale and been “corrosive to public education.”

It’s inappropriate to assess teachers and students with repeated testing, she said. She wants teachers and principals to be encouraged to take risks and be innovative. As superintendent, she would visit classrooms and observe the talent, passion and creativity of teachers.

Formerly a school counselor in Wicomico County, Hanlin served as assistant principal at Wicomico Middle and Bennett High. She was principal of Bennett and director of secondary education.

Hanlin was associate superintendent and chief academic officer for Washington County Public Schools.

Biographical information provided by the board of education characterized her as an educator with a broad background of teaching and leadership experience spanning pre-kindergarten to higher education.

She began her career teaching in Wicomico schools, where she helped design the elementary guidance program for the school system and served as an elementary and middle school counselor.

After 26 years in Wicomico schools, she moved to Hagerstown. In Washington County schools, she was supervisor of special education, director of elementary education, assistant superintendent and associate superintendent and chief academic officer.

Hanlin has reduced achievement gaps, increased graduation rates, improved school climate and implemented instructional practices.

She was appointed by the governor to the Maryland Educator Effectiveness Council, by the state superintendent to the Maryland Instructional Technology Advisory Council and by the Washington County Board of County Commissioners to the School Building and Design Advisory Committee.

She believes development of the whole child begins with a strong foundation in early childhood and continues when students learn to think critically, work together to solve problems and explore interests.

Hanlin said she believes in the strength of teachers and principals, the importance of risk-taking and empowerment and involvement of the community.

A graduate of Purdue University, she earned a master’s degree in education from Salisbury University and doctorate in education leadership from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She and her husband, David, have four children, Michael, Cameron, Jessica and Ellery.


As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.
Facebook Comment