Sunday, February 7, 2016

What's in a Name?

Alluring: powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating; seductive.

From Twitter:

Williamsburg Homes: The Estates at Clarksville offer alluring estate homes on 3 acre homesites in Howard County.

The use of the word alluring in the context just doesn't make sense to me. Adjectives I'll allow: big, large, spacious, perhaps stately or majestic. But alluring? I'm just not feeling it. Do a Google image search of the word alluring.

My results--photo after photo of attractive women in sexualized poses, revealing clothing, come-hither gazes aimed at the viewer. Look at the house. Now look at them. Now, back to the house.

Does this make sense to you?

I know that creative use of adjectives is a part of the realtor's toolbox. But this one just seems a bit hilarious to me. People looking to buy a house may want one that feels like home to them. Or they may be looking to impress, to use a house for entertaining or even business functions. They may be looking for a bigger house due to a growing family or multi-generational living arrangements.

But how many people looking for a house want to be seduced? By a house? The next step after that will be the judgers who come along calling your house a tart, or promiscuous, disreputable, or downright "distracting". Sex sells, or so they say, but perhaps my problem is merely that I don't see anything remotely sexy about this house.

Realtors out there should feel free chime in and share the psychology of home buying if that would explain the use of this particular word. I'm willing to be enlightened. Right now I'm shaking my head.




Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Friend of Education

This is me yesterday afternoon, turning in a completed nomination packet for the Howard County Friends of Education Award. Here is a small part of what this packet contained:

I nominate Vicky Comer Cutromeo to receive the Friends of Education Award. As the parent of a student at Glenwood Middle School, she became concerned by continuing reports of staff and student illness. Despite being an active volunteer and supporter in the school community, she found she was unable to get the information she needed about conditions in the school and health issues connected to untreated mold growth at Glenwood.

She founded the Mold in Howard County Schools - Information for Parents Facebook group as a means of creating a clearinghouse of information to help parents, students, teachers, and staff around this issue.


Goal 1 -- concerns an excellent environment for students. Ms. Cutroneo has worked daily to uncover the connection between unhealthy building conditions and ongoing student illness. Sick children cannot thrive and learn.

Goal 2 -- concerns staff and supporting them so they may be successful. Ms. Cutroneo has served as a sounding board for faculty and staff seeking information about conditions in their schools and chronic health concerns which impair them as they seek to support students at the highest levels. Sick teachers and staff cannot thrive and provide the educational leadership required by Goal 1.

Goal 3 -- concerns working cooperatively with families. Ms. Cutroneo has created an online community for parents to share concerns, gather evidence, and connect with other parents whose children have become ill due to mold. Her Facebook group is a safe place for parents to express themselves and be listened to. She has treated parents with the respect they deserve as partners in the education of their children.

Goal 4 -- concerns supporting schools through world class practices. Ms. Cutromeo has campaigned tirelessly to advocate for Transparency and Responsiveness in our school system. She has gathered and analyzed a mountain of evidence to show that, where school buildings have been allowed to fall into disrepair, a world class education is not possible. She is a champion for improved maintenance of the school buildings where our children, our most valuable community assets, spend their days.


I cannot claim to have thought up this plan of action by myself. The idea was posted on Howard Public Ed and it immediately struck me as brilliant. So, I ran with it.

With things being the way they are these days, it seems highly unlikely that hcpss will bestow this award upon Ms. Cutromeo. In fact, I doubt they'll even go so far as to give her a ceremonial bookmark for participation. But that's okay. She's really busy embarking on her next community service project.

She's running for the Board of Education.


Friday, February 5, 2016

These Doors Are Shut

A lot of Howard County parents turned out for an open meeting of the Board of Education yesterday, only to discover that the event was by invitation only. And they weren't on the guest list.Here's the invitation.

Subject: Board meeting
Sorry for the late notice but we need to attend today's meeting. Board is voting on Superintendent's contract renewal and important we show support. Requesting all AM's and any staff available attend and arrive at 3:30.

So how did that work, exactly? The following are comments from people who were there:
  • I got there at 3:00. Plenty of parking. Thought the room would be empty. Filled with Central Office staff.
  • I'm a parent, I brought my kids and was there before 3:30. I was escorted to a side room where a noisy ice machine fought for dominance with a tiny TV.
  • Very few people in chairs have coats so they're clearly staff from within the building here to fill the room so public can't fit in.
  • A central office employee told friend that he wished he could give her his seat but he wasn't allowed to and he was forced to be there
  • Standing ovation from administrators and central office staff after vote renewal. Half didn't have coats and clearly worked in the building. There was a central office employee standing against the wall who led the applause. She should have had one of those electronic applause signs they use in TV studios! Public was essentially forced to stand in the cafe hall and in the front hall. Completely orchestrated.
  • Just came to School Board meeting to watch the discussion about the contract vote. HCPSS filled the room with administration and CO staff (work for Foose) so public couldn't fit in. System staff trying to stop people at the front desk. The lengths to which these people will go to keep the public out of this process is beyond belief.
  • once inside I realized that EVERYONE was wearing hcpss credentials around their necks! I approached a staff member I recognized and asked to switch....and he/she said they couldn't because their boss told them they had to attend....
  • Our education tax dollars paid for Board of Education employees to sit in a room for an hour, clap on cue and keep seats filled so parents like me couldn't attend.
  • The whole thing was staged to keep the public out and control the message.
  • There were African American community members who wanted to enter and ask for a delay in the vote until racial issues were dealt with more specifically. Vaillancourt expressed her dismay that they were thwarted.

From Voices of Parents and Stakeholder in HCPSS:

In her remarks, Cindy Vaillancourt said she had been approached by a community member to ask for time for people to request that the vote be postponed. No such action was permitted.

Board Chair Christine O'Connor issued an edict that Board members would have a chance for discussion about the contract after the vote was taken. Cindy made a motion that they have discussion before the vote, but that was voted down 5-2.

The room full of central office employees issued a well orchestrated round of applause for Dr. Foose when her contract was approved by a roll call vote of 5-2, with Cindy and Bess Altwerger voting against.

They allowed for Board discussion after the vote. Well, that's new and different. I thought you were required to have discussion before the vote.

The best description I read of what it feels like to be a parent in the Howard County School System comes in this quote:

I had two different gentlemen with board of Education badges tell me in NO uncertain terms that the room was full. I tried to open the doors that separated the back room from the main hall. Another man with a badge yanked them shut, looked at me and said, "these doors are STAYING shut."

And that's today's news, ladies and gentlemen: the doors are shut.

Are they staying shut? Well, that's up to you.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Representation: FAIL

I almost wrote Senator Kasemeyer one of my impassioned advocacy letters. I had already written to the delegation as a whole, and additionally signed on to the HCEA letter campaign to make a better board of education, but I thought maybe, if I laid out the case well enough, I could make a difference. But then time got away from me.

I guess I'm glad I didn't. Word on the street is that he doesn't read his emails.

Yesterday Senator Kasemeyer used his vote to block Delegate Atterbeary's bill to improve how we elect members of the Board of Education. Not, I am told, because he was philosophically opposed to it, but because he had given his word to someone that he would vote against it.

I'd love to know who or what was more important than supporting the needs of constituents he was elected to serve.

I found this tweet posted awhile back by my friend Abby Hendrix:

Ed Kasemeyer asks Dems to get involved. @mddems @HoCoDemParty

Well, Senator, I am a Democrat and I am involved. And if you took a moment to listen, really listen, to the people who reached out to you asking for help, you'd find similar stories. While not all of us are Democrats, we all share a passion for our children's education. You'd find people who have volunteered, donated time, goods, and money. You'd find people who have served on committees, given testimony, advocated for causes, worked to find common ground, campaigned for better candidates--all in the service of improving our schools.

We are not lazy whiners looking for a quick fix. We reached out to members of the Howard County Delegation only after exhausting all other avenues of redress. Don't tell me to get involved, Senator Kasemeyer. I have been there.

Yesterday was your turn to get involved, and to put your money where your mouth is. But you didn't.

I don't know if we will ever know why you did what you did yesterday. But we know what you did: you turned your back on the citizens of Howard County.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dueling Hashtags

In response to the recently broadcast racist video, Mount Hebron students wanted to stage a protest, which they have just successfully done. But they faced huge pressure from the school system to back down. Rather than partner with the students, the school system put together a competing event and suggested to the overall community that their event was the preferred one, citing "safety issues" and "loss of valuable class time."

They even created their own hashtag. While students were promoting #HoCoStudentWalkOut and #StopTheSilenceStartTheConversation, hcpss was promoting #HCPSScommUNITY. For Example:

From Bridgeway Community Church: #HCPSScommUNITY town hall meeting Feb 2 from 4p to 6p. See you there #HoCoMd

I responded: I hope Bridgeway members with be supporting #HoCoStudentWalkOut as well.

Bridgeway had bridge builders listening to student leaders on campus at Hebron yesterday and will continue to be present throughout the week. We believe comprehension starts with conversation and we will be hosting a town hall. Hope you can attend.

Wait, what?

I have absolutely nothing against Bridgeway Community Church. But when did they become the official, approved, establishment church of the Howard County Public School System? As a friend said,

Do we really have NO ONE in the system who is trained to facilitate such discussions? If that is the case, that explains some of this. Where are the programs that help schools build inclusive communities? This is not a progressive community response.

This feels inappropriate to me. Is this a violation of the separation of church and state?

I have nothing but good things to say about Bridgeway Community Church. The evidence is pretty clear that their relationship with the school system has been for the purpose of being a good neighbor to the community. And their pastor, Dr. David Anderson, is well known in the field of race relations. As a friend suggested:

I have no religious affiliation, and pretty much consider myself a non-believer, but I keep in mind that David Anderson, the pastor at Bridgeway, is a renowned speaker, particularly on racial issues and inclusiveness. He's world-class and happens to a member of the HoCo community. He'd be at least one of the guys I'd reach out to in this kind of situation.

All of this is true. I do not dispute it one bit. But once you invite representatives of a particular (Christian) church into a school and give them access to students that other denominations/community representative will not get, you have crossed a line, and I think that line is an important one. You now have a school system which has demonstrated a clear preference for one religious institution over others, and you have a church which has (perhaps unwittingly) aligned itself with the goals of a secular institution.

In all of this, I think that Bridgeway stands to lose the most. They have been called in to echo the voice of the school system and have lost a valuable opportunity to be a voice for the students. The students are smart. They can see what is going on. There's not much to prevent them from walking away from this experience thinking that Bridgeway is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Howard County School System.

Ponder this thought from a friend of mine:

I fully appreciate the good folks and work of our religious communities, but they should not be the face of a governmental agency. They can do their good work with their congregations, they can share their talents with the community at large, but the very tolerance and inclusiveness we seek is diminished when government favors one or another religious community.

This is not a post of condemnation. This is a post meant to ask a question: is this an appropriate response? Is this institutional partnership healthy, or misguided? Who is being put first here? Who is included, who is excluded?

Okay, a lot of questions. The first one would be: what do you think?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

To Team or Not to Team

I've said it before. Something happened to me during the last election. I cared too much, I believed too much, and I let the results crush me. I haven't felt the same about politics since. I watched the frenzy about The Iowa caucuses last night with no particular enthusiam.

I see good things about both Clinton and Sanders but I just don't want to work myself into a state over it. This doesn't mean I don't have strong convictions. I absolutely know what I support and don't support, and, in my case, I will definitely vote for the Democratic nominee in November. But right now I just don't have my heart in it.

And another thing. I don't want to be one of those hocolocals who write nasty things about Republicans just because they are Republicans. I remember what that looked like when Ken Ulman was County Executive and not a single post on his Facebook page was ever free from partisan insults and sneers. It was ugly then and it is still ugly. As I said earlier this year, I evaluate public officials on job performance, not whether or not I "like" them.

So that also means I won't automatically "like" all things Democrat, you know, "just because." I don't deny that I am a lifelong Democrat, and I don't claim to be purely impartial. But I'm not excited about "doing it for the team." That's just not speaking to me right now. If there's an issue that means a lot to me, or an individual who has forged a good working relationship with me, that's when I'll be willing to extend myself. Issues and relationships matter.

That leads me to the people I've had the best ongoing working relationship with around community issues, the Mold in Howard County Schools - Information for Parents group, most notably Vicky Comer Cutroneo. Never in a million years did I think I would have anything in common with people from Western Howard County. How wrong I was.

Vicky and the parents who work with her have proven time and again their intelligence, diligence, thoroughness, empathy, and determination. While our lives are very different, and, I suspect, our political parties different, what we share is what matters: a deep belief in the highest quality of education for our kids and the best, safest, healthiest environment for children, teachers, and staff.

And that's something I can get excited about.



Monday, February 1, 2016

The Kids Are Alright

It's just a banner week in the land of World Class Education, folks.

  • Hate speech broadcast by a Mount Hebron student.
  • Graduates of Wilde Lake and Hammond arrested in connection with a murder case.

These are individual and unrelated incidents. There are many ways in which they should not be lumped together, but they come at as almost as a single event. They tell us nothing about any kind of trend. But still, we think.

We feel a sense of overwhelming dread. What is wrong with our community that we are raising children like this? And so it is absolutely normal to want to look around and draw some reassurance from the young people in our community of whom we are justly proud.

I'm proud of students at Mount Hebron High School who are planning a peaceful protest within their school community. They are standing together against racism, rightly affirming that it has no place in a learning community. There's quite a bit of pressure against them to back down and not "make a fuss." Their goal is to bear witness to what happened, look at it, discuss it, listen to one another, learn from one another.

I salute them.

And another thing. Saturday night I helped to chaperone a teen party held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center. It was quite the reaffirming experience for me, seeing teens from all over Howard County getting to relax, hang out, be themselves. There were some jeans, some party dresses, some leather jackets, some glittery shoes, some headbands with cat ears.

As you might imagine, the party was a mix of music, snacks and drinks, augmented by a light-up disco ball and bubble machine. The biggest problem of the evening was encouraging the shy people who were hanging out around the edges to take a risk and join in. The most outlandish behavior? Well, that would be a toss-up between the kid who took all the leftover solo cups and made them into an enormous arch and walked around the room with them, and the kids who figured out they could do a little helium singing while we were cleaning up and popping balloons.

All in all, a pretty great experience for one of the first LGTBQ and Allies teen events in Howard County. Planned by teens, run by teens. Made possible through teen fundraising. Publicized by teens on social media. Great kids.

I salute them, too.

When I say, "we need to sit with" the issues that are troubling us right now, I don't mean to negate the beautiful young people we have in our midst. I just ask that, in our rush to "put this behind us" or "get back to normal" we don't refuse to look beyond the comfortable and examine what is making us so deeply uncomfortable. We need to do that, not just for our own good, but for the good of our kids.

They need us to be that brave. Let's not let them down.