Michael E. Hickey, who led Howard County Public Schools for 16 years, died Sunday of Parkinson’s disease and other complications at Chestnut Grove Assisted Living. The Columbia resident was 84 years old.

“He was a significant force behind our tremendous school system and helped dictate the quality of life here,” former Howard County Superintendent Ken Ulman said. “He has dedicated his career to his students and their families. And families have moved to Howard County to educate their children because of his work.

He led a district of 42,000 students that grew by 24 schools, became more ethnically diverse, and was one of the most successful college jurisdictions in Maryland.

Born in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, he was an Eagle Scout.

He took piano lessons for six years from Sister Euthalia and attended a Roman Catholic seminary for a year, but found girls more interesting.

At St. Patrick’s High School, he played football and ran track. He was kicked out of college – he said he partied too much – and joined the Marines hoping to be a pilot, but ended up in the infantry because of a hearing problem .

He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, taught high school English for two years, then returned to his alma mater, where he earned a master’s degree and then a doctorate with honors in 1969.

He taught in a Seattle suburb for $4,900 a year, he said in an interview with The Sun. He remembered that he didn’t like the principal he worked for and thought something was wrong with the schools if someone like that principal could get a job.

“Then I met an education teacher who said to me, ‘If you really want education to change, why don’t you have the courage to stay and change it?'” he said. he told The Sun in 1999.

Dr. Hickey was recruited as a special assistant to the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and led a team to voluntarily desegregate schools. At age 34, he was appointed deputy superintendent of the system.

He served as Superintendent of St. Louis Park Public Schools in Minnesota from 1976 until 1984, when he was appointed Superintendent of the Howard County Public School System. He held the position until June 30, 2000.

“I feel like I should do something to recognize [the residents], because I had 16 wonderful years here,” Dr. Hickey said when he left his post in Howard County. “It’s a great place to work.”

Colleagues said he didn’t watch TV and when others slept, his brain worked.

“He was a visionary leader,” said retired Howard County teacher and administrator Penny Zimring. “He was really interested in his staff. When I had a serious problem, I called him and he said, ‘Be in my office tomorrow morning at 7:30.’ People loved him. »

Robert O. Glascock, retired assistant superintendent of Howard County Schools, said, “He had a wonderful gift for remembering people’s names. Thanks to this, he was able to create wonderful relationships with teachers, students, parents and business people.

“He had a strategic vision of where the county should go. He saw Howard County was on the cusp of huge population growth and planned accordingly,” Mr Glascock said.

An editorial in the Baltimore Sun said of him:[He] has the longest tenure of any superintendent in a school system in Maryland…He himself has had quite a bit of education over the past 15 years – not just on managing the fastest growing system of Maryland, but also on how to manage the policy of ensuring an adequate budget for Howard Schools.

The editorial praised how he led a system that raised test scores for African-American and low-income students.

When he left the Howard County system, he said he was relieved there were “no more nightly meetings.”

When a painter portrayed him, the portrait depicted him without a jacket, leaning against his desk, papers in hand, a pager hanging from a belt buckle, and a twinkle in his eye.

He joined the faculty at Towson University the following day as Naomi Price Hentz Professor of Educational Practice and Director of the Center for Leadership in Education. He worked until 2018.

He was a fan of federal No Child Left Behind legislation and what he called Maryland’s “Cutting Edge School Improvement Program”.

“One of the things we needed was a commitment to a standards-based approach to education and a requirement to be accountable for every student who met those standards,” he said.

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He conducted summer leadership institutes and traveled statewide and to school districts in Chicago, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

The most troubled schools, he said in 2007, are in cities. “We are losing the battle there,” he said, noting frequent turnover of principals, principals and teachers.

He said his goal was to help teachers “understand how teaching and learning need to change within this standards-based approach.”

Dr. Hickey was an avid cyclist and loved to travel.

He was a fan of Washington Husky football, Walla Walla wines, hanging out with his grandsons, and grilling outdoors on the weekends.

He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Nichole Thomas, artist and former director of the Columbia Festival of the Arts; three sons, Michael E. Hickey Jr. of Seattle, Kevin P. Hickey of Brainerd, Minnesota, and Sean T. Hickey of Chelan, Washington; one brother, Patrick Hickey of Bethesda; one sister, Mary Hunt of St. Paul, Minnesota; and three grandsons. His son Timothy F. Hickey died in 2006.

A celebration of life will be held at 4 p.m. on September 15 at the Harry H. Witzke Family Funeral Home at 4112 Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City.

For memory

This article has been updated to correct Michael Hickey’s date of death. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.