Howard County School Superintendent Diagnosed With Lymphoma
Sydney L. Cousin had been on indefinite medical leave since early January.
Sydney L. Cousin, the Howard County schools superintendent, is suffering from Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer, according to school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
Cousin, who is in his mid-60s, had been on indefinite medical leave since early January. He has asked the school board for medical leave through March 1.
"Obviously his return will be based on approval from his doctor," Caplan said.
Members of his administrative team have assumed Cousin's daily responsibilities during his absence: Theresa Alban, the school system's chief operating officer; Raymond Brown, the chief finance officer; and Linda Wise, the chief academic officer; with Mamie Perkins, the chief of staff, leading them.
Perkins is also the new assistant superintendent as of Wednesday, Feb. 2, assuming a position that has been vacant since June 2010, according to The Howard County Times.
Cousin has been with the Howard County Public School System since 1987, when he was hired as its director of school construction and planning. Prior to that he had been a junior high history teacher in Baltimore for three years beginning in 1967, and then had worked in other roles for the Baltimore city government and city school system.
Cousin was employed in several administrative positions in the Howard County school system, leaving in July 2003 but returning just eight months later, in March 2004, to become interim superintendent. That "interim" tag was soon dropped. He is now in his second four-year term as superintendent.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma refers to several types of cancers that affect a patient’s immune system, often the lymph nodes and the spleen, according to the National Institute of Health. The disease can take many different courses, spreading fairly slowly, or aggressively moving through a patient’s body.
Treatments vary depending on the specific type of disease, but they can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant and blood transfusion. According to the National Institute of Health, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is slightly more common in men than women.
"He thanks everyone for their patience, prayers and his privacy during this difficult time," Caplan said.
The Answer Man
Before he was superintendent, he was the “Answer Man.”
That’s how parents described Cousin, then-associate superintendent and chief of facilities, in a February 2004 Washington Post article.
That year, Cousin was named superintendent of Howard County Schools, less than six months after taking on the job in an interim capacity.
Both parents and staff knew Cousin as the man to go to with their questions about construction and facilities projects; he answered parents’ queries, and made the ultimate decisions about what projects would and would not be funded, according to the report.
“I know the people and the schools, the principals, people in central office, and they know me,” Cousin told the Post.
State Delegate Guy Guzzone, county council chairman at the time, told the paper Cousin was the school official “you knew you could deal with,” and, at the same time, the one “you would ultimately have to work out a deal with.”
In March 2004, after the school board declined to renew the former superintendent’s contract, Cousin took the job – ostensibly just until late June, by which time the board was to have found a new, permanent superintendent.
But by early June, the school board changed its plans. “There was just more and more evidence … that Sydney Cousin was the right person for Howard County,” board member Joshua M. Kaufman said in a June 8, 2004, interview with The Washington Post.
His ability to navigate administrators, faculty and parents may have been honed, in part, by his life before ascending to the head of the Howard County Public School System.
In 1973, when Cousin moved to Columbia, he was told his son should start off in the lowest-level classes since he was coming from a Baltimore school. Cousin, however, said in a June 24, 2004, interview with The Washington Post that he interpreted the suggestion that his son – who scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests – be put in low-level classes as based on race.
“That was my introduction to Howard County Public Schools,” he told the Post.
Cousin was the first black superintendent in Howard County, but he did not often discuss race.
“When white parents say they don’t see racism, I accept it and believe that. When black parents say they see racism, I accept that and believe it, too,” he said in the June 2004 Post interview.
“As a black person, you have to learn to live in two worlds.”