How family ties and work at Montgomery Co. shape the goals of Frederick County’s new superintendent
Cheryl Dyson looks to family values and the Montgomery County experience as she prepares to lead Frederick County Public Schools.
After a 15-year-old student was shot and injured in a bathroom at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, Cheryl Dyson contacted the school principal.
Dyson, the associate superintendent of Maryland’s largest school system, was still on leave after his mother died at the time. Still, she couldn’t understand how the school administration felt — her instincts were telling her to check in.
Slated to become director of Frederick County Public Schools on July 1, Dyson plans to use her desire to build relationships while acclimating to her new role. School board president Brad Young said last month that Dyson was a “shining star” during the interview process. She is the first African-American superintendent in the county’s history.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to show little girls and little boys that if you work really hard you can achieve great things and you don’t achieve those things in isolation,” Dyson said. “It takes a combination of hard work, really strong relationship building, flexibility and openness to learning.”
Dyson spent 22 years in the Montgomery County school system, most recently as a zone associate superintendent overseeing 70 schools. All of her experiences helped shape her vision as a leader, she said, but she noted that the five years she was principal of Strathmore Elementary School in Silver Spring were critical to her development.
In addition to community events, the school held “Dream Big Work Hard Saturdays,” where parents and students discussed school improvement goals and strategies.
Overseeing many schools in Montgomery County, Dyson said, helped her figure out the best ways to collaborate, like when she planned a lunch with the principals to touch base. But she plans to meet and listen to Frederick stakeholders to assess community needs.
“I don’t plan on doing FCPS Montgomery County, but I think there are many skills, strategies, and resources that I learned and gained in MCPS that can help FCPS,” Dyson said.
During her first weeks as superintendent, Dyson said she plans to assess data on absenteeism and suspensions. She is particularly curious about which students are suspended and which schools they attend, information she said she thought about throughout the application process.
Ensuring students have access to mental health resources and opportunities to reinforce concepts taught during the school year during the summer months are also high on Dyson’s agenda.
“I’m going to do a lot of listening and a lot of learning,” said Dyson, who also said she was “always a teacher. I’m still a student.”
The search for a new superintendent in the county came after the departure of former superintendent Terry Alban. This followed a settlement with the Department of Justice regarding the school system’s isolation and restraint practices.
The county, Dyson said, has ended isolations and is committed to following guidelines. A professional development series is also in the works, she said.
“[I] I want to assure parents that we are committed to the success of our students in special education and that our interventions are tailored to student needs so that when you look at Individual Education Plans, we can start to see growth” , said Dyson.
At the school board meeting where she was nominated, Dyson broke down in tears as she spoke about her mother, who died in January. Dyson, one of four children but the only daughter, said she often watches TV with her mother on the phone.
Her mother attended every promotion, she said, and proudly attended board meetings.
These family values, like love, faith and encouragement, Dyson said, helped her meet the challenges of leadership roles.
“That’s why I think I’m so passionate about working in education,” Dyson said. “The people I work with, I care about deeply. It’s that kind of care that gets you through COVID, or gets you through yet another difficulty in a school.