DCPS superintendent thankful on last day of school

Dr. Henry V. Wagner set to retire at end of month

CAMBRIDGE — Dr. Henry V. Wagner Jr.’s last day as superintendent of Dorchester County Public Schools is fast approaching.

In December, Dr. Wagner announced his intention to retire at the end of June. On June 8, the final day for the vast majority of students in Dorchester, Dr. Wagner sat down with the Banner for an interview. Earlier that day, he visited Cambridge-South Dorchester High School and Choptank Elementary.

“Today is bittersweet. It is a day that I knew would be coming at some point in my career,” Dr. Wagner said June 8. “It’s not my last day of employment, but it is my last day of having children in the schools. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to help them do for themselves, but always yearning, wishing we could have done more. I think that’s almost a universal sentiment for people who work with students.”

A native of Baltimore, Dr. Wagner became assistant superintendent for instruction with DCPS in July 2007. He joined DCPS with more than 30 years of experience in education and educational leadership. He was named superintendent in July 2010.

In his past, Dr. Wagner has been a social studies teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal. He has worked in elementary, middle and high schools. He graduated summa cum laude in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Secondary Education from Loyola College of Baltimore. He obtained master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University in 1980 and 1988, and obtained his Doctor of Education degree from Wilmington University in 2011.

Through the years, Dr. Wagner has grown and learned as an educational leader.

“Originally as a leader, I thought I needed to have all the answers. That would almost fit more into an autocratic sort of model,” Dr. Wagner said and then laughed. “I’m talking about 30 years ago. What I’ve come to realize is the power of the collective assets and the potential of synergy.”

Dr. Wagner now employs the methods detailed in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

He has purchased copies of the book for many members of his staff. The first three habits are considered private victories: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first. The next three habits are public: think win-win, seek first to understand then be understood, and synergize. The seventh habit is to sharpen the saw: one should use new assets not usually used while seeking personal renewal.

To Dr. Wagner, communication, collaboration and synergy are very important.

“I get discouraged when I look at how we do business anymore in this country,” Dr. Wagner said. “In terms of civility, in terms of collegiality, there just doesn’t seem to be much, and we don’t get as much done.”

However, Dr. Wagner views the DCPS successes under his tenure as a result of a team and community effort.

Soon after becoming superintendent, Dr. Wagner introduced the DCPS faculty council concept, which he said won quick approval. He has also established elementary, middle and high school task forces consisting of teachers, parents, administrators, supervisors, and representatives from Dorchester Educators. To address student behavior, achievement and other concerns, Dr. Wagner has worked with his Superintendent’s Community Forum, administrative council, and local school discipline committees.

“With collaboration and effective communication, you create synergy. When people synergize, they combine their energies, and their talents and their assets, to the extent that the overall outcome exceeds the sum of the component parts,” Dr. Wagner said. “If you empower people … and give people authorship, they’re going to have ownership. It’s a longer process. It’s messier, but the finished product is something everybody owns, as opposed to things being imposed on people.”

Dr. Wagner’s methods have shown results.

Four years ago, he said, the graduation achievement gap between black and white students was 16 percent. That gap has closed to 0.4 percent. The overall graduation percentage has risen from the mid-70s to the mid-80s.

Dr. Wagner calls this year’s graduates, “The Six Million Dollar Class!” 2017 graduates from C-SD and North Dorchester High School have been offered a combined $6.2 million in scholarships among 242 graduating students. This represents a 21 percent increase over the $5.1 million in scholarships obtained in 2016, even though there are an estimated 15 fewer students than the Class of 2016. In 2011 and 2012, students received $2.4 million and $2.9 million in scholarships respectively.

Dr. Wagner attributes these successes to many initiatives, employees, the students themselves, and the community.

“I view it as a mosaic, and each of the little pieces of tile in the mosaic help to create the big picture,” Dr. Wagner said. “I wouldn’t want to have to attribute the success to anyone, or even several of the things we do. But there has been a deliberate effort to reach individual students to figure out if they’re not on course, why are they not on course. We’ve put positions in place, and created programs and sought grant opportunities and just in general, tried to tailor our response to the individual student as best as we can. And I think that’s been a major element in closing that gap, but at the same time, the entire tide rising.”

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
In this Banner file photo, Dr. Henry V. Wagner Jr. speaks at the September groundbreaking ceremony for the new North Dorchester High School. Dr. Wagner is set to retire at the end of the month.

The tide is certainly rising in North Dorchester, where the new NDHS is being built. In September, during the official groundbreaking ceremony, the cost of the new high school was estimated at $48.8 million. Dr. Wagner’s second term as superintendent began in 2014, and securing resources and funding for the new high school became one of his top priorities.

He said the new high school’s construction is a result of collaboration, communication and synergy.

“I give (County Manager) Jeremy Goldman, and the county council, a lot of credit for the ways that they’ve been able to come up with the needed capital match to the state money,” he said. “The train has left the station. That school is going to get built. We had to convince the state authorities, and I give credit to Comptroller (Peter) Franchot. He’s been a very supportive friend on the Board of Public Works. I got to give credit to Ricky Travers, Don Satterfield and Tom Bradshaw (county councilmen). Those three have consistently voted for the funding.”

The new school is set to open for the 2019-2020 school year, and Dr. Wagner’s legacy will be set in stone on a plaque at the new facility.

“I hope to be invited back,” for the official ceremony to open the new school, he said. “It’s been a thrill to be a part of this community, to work with this community on behalf of the children. I have such respect and admiration for the citizens of Dorchester County, and especially the kids. They are resilient, and resourceful, and the things that we have in place as grown ups for them wouldn’t work if they weren’t willing to make them work. They appreciate the benefits of diversity better than adults do, more easily, more quickly. They are our hope, and they are our future.”

In the immediate future, Dr. Wagner plans to take it easy. He is serving in an adjunct capacity at Wilmington University, and he hopes to expand that work as well, perhaps at another university. He is also considering working as a consultant, and plans to stay on the Eastern Shore.

“I want to catch my breath for a while,” Dr. Wagner said. “The last summer I had off was 1967. That was a heck of a long time ago. I want to catch my breath and take stock of things, but I don’t intend to be idle. That’s for sure.”

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