Baltimore County’s next superintendent wants academic change. District leaders say she’s capable.

Published 5/18/2023 5:37 p.m. EDT, Updated 5/18/2023 6:32 p.m. EDT

Myriam Yarbrough will be the next superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.

Myriam Yarbrough made one thing clear after it was announced she’d be the next superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools: She’s determined to improve academic achievement and work with students, parents and educators to do so. Leaders throughout the system, and the county, want the same and believe she’s capable of meeting her goal.

The school board announced its selection of Yarbrough, the current deputy superintendent, Tuesday night. She went up against candidates who not only had experience as superintendent of a district, but as state-level education leaders. Still, she prevailed. She was the only one of the four finalists who knew the system. It’s where she started her career in 1996 as a chemistry teacher.

“It is my intention to work together with you, the community, our staff, all stakeholders and our students first and foremost to get back to the top of the state and the nation,” she said. “You have my word.”

Yarbrough said in an interview that she has plenty of thoughts on how to get there, but isn’t ready to share them yet. She did say, however, that the work has already started, with teachers, principals and central office staff reviewing instructional practices.

This past year, Baltimore County test scores ranked 17th out of 24 Maryland school districts for English grades 3-8, 18th for English grade 10 and Algebra I, and 16th for math grades 3-8.

The current superintendent, Darryl Williams — who chose not to seek another term — was criticized for low test scores. He became superintendent in 2019 after serving as an associate superintendent in Montgomery County Public Schools, where Yarbrough was working at the time. In 2020, Yarbrough joined Williams in Baltimore County and held a few roles in short period. She was chief of the system’s Division of Organizational Effectiveness, the executive director of secondary schools in the west zone and the director of school performance. By December 2021, she was second in command of the system as deputy superintendent.

Diane Morris, the acting chief of school support in Montgomery County, described Yarbrough as “a class act” who was knowledgeable about teaching, learning and coaching high-functioning teams. The two went through an administrator training program together in 2010 and both became principals that year. Yarbrough was the principal of Francis Scott Key Middle School and then Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County, where she received the Edward Shirley Award for excellence in educational administration and supervision.

Yarbrough was “respected by colleagues” and was always willing to share ideas and help develop other staff, according to Morris. She said Montgomery’s school system is better off because of Yarbrough, and Morris couldn’t be happier that Yarbrough will lead Baltimore County schools.

“I just think she’s the right person to move the school system forward,” Morris said.

Yarbrough wants this job because she believes in the system’s potential. Although she worked alongside Williams, Yarbrough made clear she is an individual.

“I am my own person with my own leadership style,” she said.

She brings people to the table, creates safe spaces for conversations and works with staff to solve problems. “That is what people can expect,” Yarbrough said.

The support for Yarbrough was apparent Tuesday night as the Towson boardroom erupted in applause when her selection was announced. Danita Tolson, president of the Baltimore County NAACP branch, said Yarbrough is going to need that support to be an effective leader.

“She can’t do this by herself,” she said. “It’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

As superintendent, Yarbrough will inherit challenges Williams was tasked with fixing. One of them is dealing with a teacher shortage affecting districts across the country.

Cindy Sexton, president of the teachers union, said recruiting and retaining educators are teachers’ biggest concerns. But she also wants the new superintendent to address discipline and safety, issues that take educators’ focus away from instruction.

The union president would also like Yarbrough to be transparent about the budget, breaking down specific costs as is done in the county executive’s budget.

“If we look at where the money is going, can we say this dollar is going to improve student outcomes?” she said.

Yarbrough regularly meets with the teachers union. They don’t always agree, Sexton said, but she helps them solve problems.

Billy Burke, president of the principals union, said his organization wants Yarbrough to address work-life balance, staffing and student performance.

Teacher retention is also a priority of the Office of Professional Employees, which represents professional, technical and supervisory positions within the school system. Its leader, Nick Argyros, said he thinks Yarbrough is capable of accomplishing that, as well as increasing student achievement.

Yarbrough’s appointment must be approved by the state superintendent before it’s official, and a contract must be in place by July 1.

Julie Henn, one of the county school board’s longest-serving members, said Yarbrough has demonstrated strong operational leadership in recent years, especially in dealing with the transportation issues the system faced last summer and at the beginning of the school year.

“I look forward to working with her to bring about the changes necessary to ensure that all BCPS students countywide achieve proficiency in reading and math,” she said in a text message. “This must be our laser focus moving forward.”

County Council President Julian Jones said he likes how Yarbrough is hands-on, dedicated and committed to doing the right thing.

“I trust her when she says she has a plan” to improve student achievement, Jones said.

He also trusts that she won’t make any drastic changes to district leadership. One improvement he’d like to see, however, is in communication.

“More communication with all the stakeholders, I think, will take her a long way, and I think it will help her in terms of bringing about the changes she wants to make.”

Donna Sibley, head of the school system’s area advisory councils, said the council was concerned about who the board would pick because they wanted someone who already knew the system. There wouldn’t be a lot of time for the new person to learn about it by the time they took over the job.

“We do hope that she continues the values of education excellence that Baltimore County traditionally had been known for,” she said.

She’d like Yarbrough to be accessible and transparent with stakeholders. Sibley said she’s hopeful Yarbrough can meet her goal but knows it won’t happen right away.

“I don’t think people realize how much time it’s going to take to actually recover from everything we’ve been through,” Sibley said.

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