Devotion lures educator to post

Support: Sandra Erickson returns to the schools as chief of administration and instruction.

September 17, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Twenty years ago, after being asked to start a gifted and talented program for Howard County schools, Sandra Erickson figured she'd complete the task and return to the classroom.

But numerous promotions later, Erickson now oversees curriculum implementation for Howard's nearly 48,000 students as chief of administration and school instruction.

"I never went back," said Erickson, 51, from her office at Howard school system headquarters. "I kept being promoted to different administrative positions. I never thought I'd be here."

After a yearlong stint as an assistant state superintendent and then a yearlong hiatus to spend more time with her family, Erickson was lured back to Howard County by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who restructured his top staff this year. In her new post - considered one of the most important in the school system - she hopes to provide resources and support for teachers, staff and principals.

"The reason I was intrigued by this role is because I believe in instruction," she said. "I'm excited about the opportunity to [put] resources into the teachers' hands and help them any way we can. My philosophy is we need to have everyone at the table."

With last month's resignation of Chief Academic Officer Kimberly A. Statham, Erickson has assumed, at least temporarily, the role of overseeing curriculum development as well.

"She holds a crucial position within the school system," said Cousin, who has known Erickson since 1987. "Her responsibilities are pretty awesome because they deal with administration of the schools, and curriculum and instruction, which is our core mission."

Erickson grew up in Pasadena and lives in Ellicott City with her husband and children. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in elementary education in 1974.

Influenced by her grandmother, an orphaned Italian immigrant who was raised by nuns in Baltimore, Erickson said she knew early that she wanted to be a teacher.

Her grandmother "was loved and nurtured by her teachers," said Erickson, who was the first in her family to go to college. "She thought it was the teachers who make the difference."

Her first job took her to Charles County, where she taught fourth grade for two years. Erickson moved to Howard schools in 1977, where she taught fourth and fifth grades at then-Dasher Green Elementary School until 1984.

That year, after earning a master's degree in education with an emphasis on gifted and talented programs from the Johns Hopkins University, school administrators asked Erickson to lead the school system's efforts to start such a program.

In 1991, she became coordinator of staff development, and from 1993 to 2001, Erickson was an associate superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction.

She left Howard County to work with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to lay the framework for the voluntary state curriculum and design state guidelines for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"It was a great time," Erickson said. "I learned so much working with Nancy Grasmick."

Grasmick said Erickson is an asset to Howard schools - as an administrator and an educator.

"She has a deep commitment to the success of every child," Grasmick said. "She's very knowledgeable, not only about instruction, but about the learner. There's a lot of people [who are] knowledgeable about instruction and curriculum but not knowledgeable about how that relates to the learner."

After a year at the State Department of Education, Erickson took time off to spend time with her family and contemplated retirement. That didn't last long when Cousin asked her to return.

"He was building an administrative team, and thought I could be helpful, given my background," she said. "I have absolutely tremendous respect for him."

In her role, Erickson has a direct line to the county's 69 schools. Principals report to four administrative directors, who report to her.

Whereas previously two directors oversaw school-based administrators, Erickson pushed for the recent hiring of two additional people, dividing supervision into elementary and secondary schools.

"Principals will have a more prominent voice in this administration," she said.

Part of that effort includes creating a principal advisory council so that their concerns and ideas are integrated into the central office's decision-making, Erickson said.

Along with reaching out to teachers and principals, Erickson's goals include being more responsive to the concerns of parents and the community.

Erickson's office has begun reviewing and revising a number of policies related to issues that were highlighted amid a series of controversies in the past academic year.

They include developing procedural guidelines for parents in handling concerns that can't be resolved at the schools and creating a handbook spelling out administrative processes in implementing policies and procedures.

As for teaching again, Erickson said she is considering it.

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