Cynthia McCabe, Superintendent, Carroll County Public Schools: Getting Back to the Basics

by Kym Byrnes, photography by Nikola Tzenov

Cynthia McCabe has spent 28 years in public education and the last 21 in Carroll County public schools. While she didn’t start her career with the intention of one day managing an entire school system, she says she is ready for the challenge. Originally an elementary school teacher in Howard County, McCabe has worked her way up from the classroom to resource specialist to principal. In 2007, she became the elementary supervisor for Carroll County Public Schools, then the director, and, in 2019, took the role of chief of schools. This past June, she took the reins as the superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools. The first woman to hold the position, McCabe said there is much work to be done to get our students on track after several years of COVID struggles. Her plan to get there? Get back to the basics of learning and teaching.

Where did you grow up, and what did you want to be when you were young?

I grew up on the southeast side of Baltimore County, near the Baltimore City line. I went to Towson State, and when I graduated, I moved to Ellicott City and got a job teaching in Howard County in an elementary school. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher. At one point I wanted to be an interior designer, at one point a lawyer — it wasn’t until after my first year of college that I decided on teaching.

Do you miss teaching in the classroom?

Sometimes I miss being in the classroom with my students because that was my first love in the field, and I love teaching, and I love that relationship that you develop with your students. But I do find, in all leadership roles I’ve held, that there’s still a lot of teaching involved. It might not be teaching young people, but it still involves teaching and learning. I’ve also taught at the college level through the years so that has met that need for teaching as well.

What about the superintendent position made you think this was a good fit for you?

The fact that I’ve spent 21 years out of a 28-year career in Carroll County — I feel like I understand this school system and community. I see where we’ve been and where we need to go.

Cynthia McCabe is the first female superintendent for Carroll County Public Schools.

What are you most excited about?

I’m excited about helping our schools and teachers get back to the basics of teaching and learning. I think COVID threw us all for a loop for three years and everyone is looking forward to a normal school year and being able to just focus on education.

What are some challenges right now in education in general?

General challenges to the field right now include attracting great candidates for all positions, addressing teacher burnout from the pandemic, and making sure our students are on grade level and that they’ve made up learning losses that occurred during COVID.

What are some specific challenges you’ll be facing immediately right here in Carroll County?

All of the general issues I just mentioned are issues we face in Carroll County as well. As I hit the ground running to kick off the school year, we’ll be looking hard at the Maryland blueprint and its expectations. That blueprint has a lot of changes that need to happen within the field, and we need to make those changes and ensure financially we are able to afford the changes that it wants to see. (Editor’s Note: The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is legislation passed in 2021 that aims to “transform the State’s education and early childhood systems with sweeping policy changes and an unprecedented investment of State and local resources,” according to the Maryland State Department of Education.)

What are you doing when you’re not working?

I’m finishing my dissertation [in Walden University’s Ed.D. program] and when I’m not doing that, I enjoy reading and trying to catch up on sleep.

What does your dream vacation look like?

A dream vacation for me includes a pool and a beach and a book and no schedule.

Do you think education has been politicized, and do you think it has impacted the work teachers and administrators are trying to do?

Yes, I think it has been politicized by some, and my hope is that our teachers and students are able to learn in a nonpolitical environment in our schools.

Do you remember any of your teachers whose impact has stuck with you?

I had a middle school teacher who made learning fun for us, and that’s when I really fell in love with teaching and learning and started to understand what a classroom could feel like and be like. Then in high school, I had a teacher who told me that I should go to college, and that’s the first time that I actually thought about attending college, so that really changed the trajectory of my life.

What are you laser-focused on?

My goal is to make sure that our students are college- and career-ready, and in order to do that, I want to be able to raise student achievement — that’s my main goal.

How does it feel to be the first female superintendent of public schools in Carroll County?

It is certainly an honor to be the first female superintendent. However, the responsibilities and the challenges you face in this position remain the same for any superintendent, whether male or female.