As the county schools' new human relations coordinator, Jacqueline Brown is responsible for achieving the schools' top goal this year: improving the human relations climate.
It's a task she believes that she is more than ready to tackle.
"It's a matter of hitting the ground triple-running," she said of her new responsibilities that encompass a greater vigilance of hate-bias incidents.
Before joining Howard County schools, Ms. Brown was an associate professor of counseling psychology at Bowie State University.
She was also director of the Kellogg Foundation-funded Violence Prevention Education Project at the university.
Ms. Brown replaces Kathleen Griffin, the school system's human relations director for 17 years, who resigned in April as part of an early retirement program.
Howard County schools have been criticized for refusing to handle hate and bias incidents.
The Maryland Commission on Human Relations released a report last month, following a four-month study into the schools' handling racial, religious and ethnic intolerance.
The commission said county schools took a "head in the sand" approach to dealing with racial incidents, and claimed some problems were ignored because principals and teachers were uncomfortable dealing with them.
The report also concluded that dozens of racial incidents in recent years have gone unreported in the schools, in part because it was assumed that students don't understand their actions and are simply repeating what they learn at home.
Ms. Brown said her first priority is making the goal of improving the human relations climate "demonstrable, systematic, and accountable."
"This goal shouldn't be pie-in-the-sky," she said, her hands floating above her head. "This is always a goal in process."
Since she arrived in Howard County more than two weeks ago, Ms. Brown has been listening to the concerns of school staff members and community groups, such as the Howard County Police Department.
"It's a partnership between external and internal resources to bring about a human relations program," she said.
The school system already has many of the tools it will need to accomplish its goal, said Ms. Brown, citing the multicultural curriculum as an example.
"This system has a lot of stuff out there and we need to bring them together," she said.
Even more important to the success of the goal, she said, is the system's willingness to change.
As proof, she points to Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's three-year program to combat racism and prejudice in county schools.
The program calls for all employees, including principals, teachers, custodians and secretaries, to participate in a series of workshops designed to eradicate racism and prejudice in county schools.
"I have never seen a school system more ready to move forward than this one," said Ms. Brown, who will be responsible for shaping the program which could begin as soon as next month.
One of Ms. Brown's first steps will be to install human relations teams in high schools and middle schools.
These teams would implement human relations policies that would ultimately help students survive in a heterogenous world, she said.
"People skills are vital to success in the cosmopolitan arena," Ms. Brown said. "The world is getting smaller, not larger."
Ms. Brown said the goal is right in line with her own philosophy on public education.
"I believe it's a mandate of public education to teach public living skills," said Ms. Brown, who said many parents are unwilling to teach their children such skills.
"I don't see this as punitive," Ms. Brown said of the human relations goal. "This is something we owe the kids."