Building a reputation as leader, hard worker

Kaufman is new school board chairman


Joshua Kaufman had his share of critics when he was appointed to the Howard County Board of Education as a relative unknown two years ago.

Since then, Kaufman has built a reputation as a hard worker and vocal leader while ascending the ranks -- most recently as the newly elected chairman -- of the panel that governs the state's top-rated school system.

"I appreciate the confidence the board has given me," Kaufman said Thursday night shortly after the board unanimously voted him chairman.

How quickly things change.

Kaufman, 34, was appointed to the board in 2003 by County Executive James N. Robey to fill a seat vacated by Virginia W. Charles, who resigned with three years left in her term. He was unanimously confirmed by the County Council as a board member Oct. 7, 2003.

The appointment surprised many school board members and education activists, who had not heard of Kaufman.

Some questioned his ability to fulfill board obligations because his job as a democracy specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington was an hour away.

But Kaufman has silenced those critics by taking an active role on the board and making his presence known.

For example, Kaufman was instrumental in a new financial management system, adding money in the school system budget this year to hire an internal auditor and hiring an ombudsman.

"I still might have some [critics] out there," Kaufman said. But he said he has earned the respect of his fellow board members and other key district officials by doing a good job and being a good listener.

Diane Mikulis, who was elected vice chairman of the board Thursday, said Kaufman is diligent in reviewing all of the board material before discussion.

"He asks very good questions," said Mikulis, who has worked with Kaufman for the past year. "I think he brings a different perspective. He hasn't been heavily involved, his child just started school. He brings a fresh perspective."

Mikulis is working with Kaufman to hire an internal auditor -- a new position in the school system.

"It was very important to him to get the board office in shape," Mikulis said.

Kaufman, who has two children -- a first-grader at Rockburn Elementary School and a 3-year-old -- approached Robey about the board position in 2003.

"I recognized how important the schools were to Howard County, and I wanted to contribute to that," Kaufman said.

Raymond Brown, chief operating officer for the school system, said Kaufman brings great leadership qualities.

"He's very thoughtful, deliberate and very strategic in his thinking," Brown said. "He cares a lot about students and makes sure what we do is in the best interest of kids. He's also very interested in making sure we make the most of taxpayers' dollars."

Kaufman replaces Courtney Watson, who served as chairman for the past two years. Watson has announced that she is running for the County Council.

She describes Kaufman as a quick study with a lot of leadership.

"He's the one we want to move it [the board] forward," Watson said.

Kaufman holds a master's degree in international affairs from George Washington University in the District of Columbia and a bachelor's degree in politics from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

The Los Angeles native has lived in Howard County for 10 years with his wife, Jessica. The family lives in Elkridge.

Balancing his career, family, new duties on the board and campaigning for a second term with the board will keep Kaufman busy next year. He plans to start fundraising as soon as next month.

"That is going to be the hardest part," Kaufman said about his full plate. "I will have to learn how to juggle."

Kaufman said he plans to delegate responsibility on the board. He added that he feels comfortable sharing responsibility because the board is experienced.

How does his wife feel about the added responsibilities?

"I think she's excited," Kaufman said. "But the nights I'm not home, she's less excited."

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