Staff Focus: Dr. Cherise Hunter, Policy Manager
Posted: May 14th, 2018
Whether it’s ensuring all children receive an equitable education or finding a new slow cooker recipe her children will enjoy, HCPSS Policy Manager Dr. Cherise Hunter is always looking to improve the world around her–at work, in the community and at home. As someone who’s introspective and purpose-driven, Hunter has mindfully pursued a career path from special education to policy management that honors her drive to seek change at the systemic level.
A couple moments in high school really stuck with Hunter, inspiring her to dedicate her life’s work to making a positive impact. First, she remembers reading an eye-opening news story about a teenager who was killed for his jacket. Hunter explained, “I began to consider what things are happening that create negative outcomes for others. What can I do to help social challenges?”
Additionally, during her senior year, Hunter served as a student assistant for a special education classroom, which at the time saw little inclusion. She was stunned that until her assignment she didn’t know these classmates attended her school. Hunter said, “I realized I wanted to work with youth and help them improve their skills.”
Hunter set off for college at University of Maryland, College Park, ready to study criminal justice, so she could support individuals as they worked toward a better future. After a summer undergraduate internship at the Maryland State Department of Education, she learned however that “I found my place in education” and switched to studying special education with a focus on “transition,” helping youth achieve goals after high school. She taught in HCPSS for five years, before deciding she wanted to learn how to support historically excluded youth at the policy level.
Hunter went on to earn a Ph.D. in special education with a focus on policy studies, leading her to a federal career analyzing and evaluating policies related to outcomes for youth with disabilities. She was a senior research analyst for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy for eight years before returning to her professional home of HCPSS last year. In her current role, Hunter manages the development of the Superintendent’s policy proposals for presentation to the Board of Education.
Hunter said, “I feel like I have come full circle. I left to learn more about how policies can be implemented with fidelity, and I’m taking what I learned from my research studies at the macro level to go back to education.”
“Cherise brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role where she is passionate about how our policies will impact the lives of students for the better,” HCPSS Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Affairs Karalee Turner-Little said. “She sees policy come alive and gets excited about the possibilities that shaping policy has for leaders and educators at all levels of the organization.”
With HCPSS approaching 100 policies, Hunter enjoys working with colleagues across all departments, influencing how the education system works from every angle. She’s appreciative that “we’re very inclusive and make an effort to have all voices at the table during the policy development process.” Furthermore, as someone coming from the federal level, she appreciates how HCPSS policies can be connected to issues in the greater society, for example, with policies on sexual discrimination and foreign born students currently in the works this year.
Hunter is especially looking forward to co-chairing the review of Policy 2020 Policy Development and Adoption next school year as an opportunity to further improve processes systematically. “Policy is not just words on a page. Words drive action. We need to get it right,” Hunter said.