When you're busy running a school system that's effusively happy with you, you don't spend much time on the computer updating your curriculum vitae.
So when, after 15 years as superintendent in Howard, Michael E. Hickey, 61, applied for the Naomi Price Hentz Distinguished Professorship in Educational Leadership at Towson University, he was at a loss to gin up a vitae, which in its most detailed form is supposed to include every speech, every article, every consulting job of a person's career. "I didn't keep that kind of information," Hickey said recently, "because I never thought I needed it." The article citations he managed to dig up; the rest he glossed over in a catchall phrase about having consulted and delivered speeches "in 28 states."
Even with the abridgement, the achievements of the state's longest-serving current superintendent filled 12 pages. As if Towson needed the proof.
Dennis Hinkle, the dean of Towson's School of Education--which graduates 750 teachers a year, more than any other school in Maryland--said he knew that Hickey was "a wonderful guy" because they have served together on a state commission trying to improve the relationship between teaching colleges and school systems. And he knew Hickey's reputation: that he was superintendent of the year both in Minnesota and in Maryland, that he chaired several major statewide committees and that he ran one of the best school systems in the state.
"That's a powerful set of credentials," Hinkle said. "There was no question about the quality of his resume."
In Hickey's new job, which he starts full time next July, he will set up the Center for Leadership in Education, which will offer graduate degrees and training partnerships with school districts. Hickey envisions an institute that will be a nexus not only for principals and assistant principals, but also for school board members and teachers who want to improve their administrative and leadership skills.
"A lot of what we try to get teachers to do day in and day out"--whether running a classroom or reforming the ways schools work, as more teachers are being asked to do--"involves leadership skills," Hickey said. "We just expect them to learn on the job or by osmosis or something. Those are skills that not only can but should be taught."
In addition to providing formal course work, he said, he and other Towson faculty could travel to school systems to assist in professional development or train a system's own people to go back home and teach the skills.
The center might also help Towson link up with other institutes of higher education, including the University of Maryland and University of Delaware, and offer an Internet clearinghouse for information on education leadership.
The possibilities are numerous, and still wide open--a big part of what attracted Hickey to the job.
"It was either higher ed, or private sector, or another superintendency," he said.
He got--still gets--weekly calls and letters from other districts, asking him to please consider leading them. But that's not what he wanted: "Why would I leave here if I wanted another superintendent job?"
He wanted to keep working with the subject matter that is his passion, and feed his entrepreneurial appetite. In both those senses, Hickey said, "this was in many ways the best of all possible worlds."
Hickey also will stand in front of the blackboard at Towson, for three graduate courses a year. Classroom teaching is not new to him--he started out as a Seattle schoolteacher 25 years ago and has taught finance, strategic planning, human resources development and "change processes" for the last decade in the University of Maryland's doctoral program in school administration.
He calls himself "a pretty demanding teacher, but fair."
Darla Strouse, director of corporate partnerships at the Maryland State Department of Education and a doctoral student at Maryland, says that's an accurate assessment. She also said that his real-world experience and appreciation of others' observations serve him and his students well: "He's very, very effective at trying to get everyone in the class to bring their perspective and experiences in."
And then there's the fact that he is so hugely respected--almost awed--in the education community. "With Dr. Hickey," Strouse said, "it's not, 'I have to prove myself,' it's, 'I hope his high opinion of me remains.' "
Hickey has already begun brainstorming for his new job, and Towson is paying him $1,000 a month to do so while he finishes his time in Howard. But he insists his two feet are still planted firmly inside the door at school headquarters on Route 108.
"I really do want to give full value to the school system," he said, "and I have important things I want to do." The main three: He wants to develop a transition plan for his replacement, who will be named next February. He wants to follow through with his proposal to overhaul at least one poor-performing "focus school" from the ground up. And he wants to significantly bring up the test scores of minority and disadvantaged students. Nobody, anywhere has figured out exactly how to close the achievement gap, so Hickey has set out on a colossal task, in his so-called lame-duck year.
"Even if I can just show some progress," he said hopefully. "I'd sure like to see a jump of 10 points."
CAPTION: Michael E. Hickey calls his new job "the best of all possible worlds."
CAPTION: Hickey will set up Towson's Center for Leadership in Education.