Ombudsman on board

Schools' new liaison brings extensive experience in mediation, social work

November 11, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,SUN REPORTER

Rosemarie Dennison, the former head of the school board's Community Advisory Council, hopes to apply years of experience in mediation and social work and an extensive knowledge of school policy to her new job as ombudsman for Howard County schools. "I have a strong background in working with people," Dennison said. "I feel that I have a good set of skills that will be useful for this position."

Dennison, 52, fills a vacancy left by Robin Shell, who resigned in June after working for 2 1/2 years as the system's first ombudsman.

Dennison brings a variety of work experiences to the position. She has been a social worker with the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services in Family Preservation Services and Child Protective Services, an interviewer with the Aspen Institute and a senior policy planner with the Arbitron Co.

She is a licensed graduate social worker with a master's degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in social work, community organization and social administration, with a concentration on families and children. She also is certified in basic mediation and divorce mediation.

Dennison has chaired the Hammond Elementary School Health and Safety Committee and Howard's Elementary Educational Specifications Committee, and she was a representative to the PTA Council of Howard County from Hammond Elementary.

"I felt like between my social work experience, policy, community experience -- all of those require good intercommunication skills," Dennison said. "I am practiced at maintaining confidentiality."

Dennison, a Laurel resident whose son is enrolled in the school system, will work 24 hours a week and earn $30,240 a year. She began the job Tuesday.

Dennison has served as the chairman of the Community Advisory Council since 2006. She joined the council, formerly known as the Citizens Advisory Committee, in 2004.

"It was very bittersweet," she said of her resignation from the council. "I feel like there was some momentum going. It's been a very rewarding experience. [But] an opportunity like this only comes along once in a lifetime."

She said, "I hope that I can help parents and community members work through the concerns and the problems that they encounter in the school system. I want them to feel that they are heard."

Dennison was chosen from among 26 applicants. A three-member committee of board members -- Patricia Gordon, Ellen Flynn Giles and Sandra H. French -- whittled the field to five finalists. Six board members narrowed the field to three, and then chose Dennison.

The ombudsman job is one of three positions directly chosen by the school board. The other two are the superintendent and the internal auditor.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the board reviewed a revised job description for the position of ombudsman, which for the first time will include an official performance evaluation.

Board members sounded pleased when they introduced Dennison at Thursday's meeting.

"We're really excited to have Rose on board," Chairman Diane Mikulis said. "We are really thrilled to have you with us," she told Dennison.

Dennison's mediation experience and understanding of school policy distinguished her from the other applicants for the job, according to French.

"Her social work background showed compassion for people with different needs," French said. "I personally found a depth of understanding in her writing sample. I thought these things qualified her."

Candidates had to complete an application and submit a resume, letter of interest, copies of all transcripts, three references and a professional writing sample.

The board created the position after the 2003-2004 school year, which included two grade-changing controversies and the departure of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. Some believed that having an ombudsman could have eased tension during that period.

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