Friday, May 26, 2017

Making Good Choices

Teachers at my school often ask students to think about whether they are making good choices. As I look at recent events in the Howard County Schools, this expression is on my mind.

Was the BOE making good choices when they chose Dr. Martirano to step in upon the resignation of Dr. Foose? 

Yes, I believe they were. They were acting to preserve as much normalcy as possible in a time which would undoubtedly bring great change and unpheaval. They chose a candidate with a proven track record. It looks very much to me that they were looking for values as much as an impressive résumé: putting students first, a passion for equity, an open and responsive nature.

Is Dr. Martirano making good choices?'s too early to tell. Certainly his beginnings are promising. His willingness to meet with stakeholders and to listen as much as he talks bodes well for a good relationship with the community. The topics that he speaks most about are ones that resonate with me as well: birth-through-five initiatives, providing the best education for students that aren't college-bound, equity, restorative practices, honoring and respecting teachers.

If he is who he says he is, we are in extremely good hands. Dr. Martirano exudes a refreshing sense of humanity and empathy which has been sorely needed in our local discussions about education. But  he has plenty on his plate and much of it is not easy. I think it will soon become apparent whether he knows how to do what he is pledging to do and if he truly means what he says. I am inclined to believe the best of him. But after the painfully demoralizing tenure of the last Superintendent, some folks may be a bit wary of giving their trust just yet.

Did the County Executive make a good choice in his selection for the empty spot on the BOE?

If you look at this as fulfilling the basic requirements, then I guess you can't fault him. He gets to make a political appointment, and, by golly, that's exactly what he did. By all accounts he had over thirty candidates to choose from. He chose a political ally. Ananta Hejeebu looks good on paper and of course we all hope he does a brilliant job because, quite frankly, so much is at stake.

But there were a number of applicants that were far more qualified and who have demonstrated ability in working with stakeholders on important educational issues. I am hearing this objection both from Republicans and Democrats, by the way. And the most disappointment (disgust? outrage?) is coming from special education parents who have been consistently involved in advocating for special needs students and programs.

So, did he make a good choice? I'd have to say he made a small, strategic choice. I guess the best you could say is that he didn't break any rules.

But he could have made a excellent choice--for our schools and for our children. Perhaps this is a great example of why we elect BOE members. It appears that the community has higher standards than a politician.

In sum: overall things are looking good. Some things, however, make me scratch my head.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainy Day Blues

The weather. I'm under it.

Sending you to this post by HoCoHouseHon.


I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts about the new Superintendent and the County Executive's pick for BOE.

Stay dry if you can.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

High Alert

Lt. Richard Collins III was killed by a radical extremist.

Can we say that?

In the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Manchester, England I am still trying to wrap my brain around the horrific killing far closer to home. The University of Maryland is experiencing a wave of racist ugliness. Since the presidential election episodes of this sort of domestic terror have exploded across the country.

Let's call it what it is.

This is terrorism. It is radical extremism. We need to set our warning systems to the highest level to protect potential victims. But are we? Has University of Maryland leadership truly engaged with the African American community and acted on their concerns? I'm seeing some discussions on Twitter that lead me to believe that institutional response has been disappointing to the student community.

No meaningful education can take place in an environment where students feel that they are more likely to be harassed, intimidated, and even killed merely for the color of their skin. And if this kind of racist violence causes students of color to stay away, it calls into question the fundamental legitimacy of UMD as an institution of higher learning.

If some are excluded, all are affected.

I don't question the sincerity of those who grieve for the victims in Manchester. But it is every bit as appropriate to grieve for Richard Collins and for his empty chair at the Bowie State graduation ceremony. That empty chair represents all the gifts and potential lost. A place where this young man should have been safe was not.

If taking a hard look at that motivates us to do something in our own communities, it will be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This is not a community post. This is personal.

If you have a chance to go and say goodbye to someone: go. Just go. If you believe the invitation to visit is sincere, then go.

I didn't.

I didn't want to interfere, I didn't want to intrude. I didn't want to impose some need of my own for closure into someone else's pain and suffering,

I thought I was doing the right thing. The selfless thing. The noble thing, even.

But maybe I was just afraid.

How do you say goodbye to someone for whom you have felt both love and fear, and anger, despair, yet still kinship: a distant kind of familial obligation? How do you reach across years and years of separation? All that you know is that the reasons why everything happened the way it did are blurred and ambiguous. You feel no wisdom. You feel you have nothing new to offer.

It was another lifetime. We were different people. That's what people say, right?

I was so sure I was doing the right thing. Now I'm grieving for the chance I didn't take.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Elevating the Conversation

There's a new podcast in town. Have you listened to Elevate Maryland ?  Hosted by local bloggers and community activists Candace Dodson-Reed and Tom Coale, it has already completed four episodes. Yes, you can find it on iTunes.

Each episode focuses around a guest. So far the show has hosted:

Former County Executive Ken Ulman
State Comptroller Peter Franchot
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano

The hosts do an excellent job in balancing the right kinds of questions for their guests with the right amount of time to listen and let their guests be themselves. In addition, the "unsung hero" of the show is Ilana Bitner of HoCoMoJo, who handles the recording, editing, and production duties.

The show is taped at Joe's Place Deli. Have you ever eaten there? It's awesome: delicious food, friendly and cozy atmosphere.

If you are trying to get a good sense of the new Superintendent, I highly recommend the latest episode. A teaser: it is possible to complete an entire interview without mentioning testing, test scores, data, "college and career ready", or "world class education".

I've learned something from each episode. It's thoughtful, informative, and fun. And it's off to a good start.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If You Build It

I keep going back to Wine in the Woods even though I don't really drink wine. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a taste of merlot now and again, but life experience has taught me that wine equals migraines. As I watch people wander through the woods with a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other, I have to suppress a shudder when I imagine the likely consequences. But that's just me.

I keep returning to our annual rite of Spring because of this.

I continue to be excited about Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. Despite being a card-carrying introvert, I'm happy to turn up annually to talk to perfect strangers about the Inner Arbor Trust. Wine in the Woods is a great time to do this. You're not trapping people in a room to lecture them. You're not making a do-or-die presentation for funds.

You're sharing enthusiasm.

This year's experience was especially sweet for me because we had more than architects' drawings and computer-generated renderings to talk about. We could simply gesture to the left of our booth to the Chrysalis, where musicians were playing and happy festival-goers were spread out on the grass like brightly-colored wildflowers.

The park is not some lofty pipe-dream. It is here, it is happening, and more is on the way.

Talking to people at Wine in the Woods is a sort of evangelism. While more people than ever already know about the Chrysalis, there are still plenty who don't know about plans for the park at all. Some don't understand that the park is separate from Merriweather Post Pavillion. Some think that the construction by Howard Hughes along Broken Land Parkway is on park property. (It isn't.)

So you talk to one person, and they walk away with more knowledge than they had before. And they tell their friends. Little by little the word is spread. Many people I talked with understood that the park is a part of the overall resurgence in Downtown Columbia to create a vibrant core for our community. Yes, people were telling me this year, things like:

  • I really think this is a continuation of Rouse's dream.
  • I like everything they're doing to make this whole area more walkable.
  • This is a part of what makes Columbia a number one place to live.
  • I want to know what else is happening at the Chrysalis this summer.
  • The Butterfly building is going to be so cool. Will it be available for rentals?

If you are going to Wine in the Woods today, stop by the Inner Arbor Trust booth and say hello. You can get a free bracelet and a list of upcoming events. Or, for a small donation, you can get a Chrysalis  poster or a nifty Chrysalis tote bag.

Better than that, you can enjoy some great conversation.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

And Another Thing

As soon as I clicked "publish" yesterday I realized I had omitted the announcement by Byron MacFarlane that he will be running for a seat on the County Council. My apologies for this oversight.

In light of this news, here's a short piece I wrote about Mr. MacFarlane in 2014. I look forward to catching up with him in the near future to hear what's on his mind as his campaign begins.

Taking the Time (October, 2014)

Yesterday I bumped into Byron MacFarlane at a holiday potluck I attended with my daughter. I'm sure you won't be suprised to learn that she immediately ditched me to hang out with her friends, so I was eating dinner more or less on my own. I had set aside my plate and gotten out my crocheting when he came in the room, spotted me, and came over to say hello.

In case you don't know, Byron is the Register of Wills in Howard County. I haven't ever needed to see him in his official capacity. I know him solely from conversations at social events. Like this one. I feel a bit of kinship with him as my father and grandfather's name were Byron, and it is such a rare name that there's almost a burden attached to it.

But that's another story altogether.

We talked about crocheting (something good to do with your hands if you're shy), the recent election, local people we admire, and his second swearing-in and how it felt to be beginning a second term in office. It struck me that his focus was on how important it is to treat your staff right, to show support and loyalty. He sounds like he'd be a great boss.

Soon he was off to join a table of his friends. The evening moved from dinner to a beautiful choral concert, and I had time to reflect on our conversation. I have experienced plenty of "drive-by" conversations with candidates and electeds over the last several years. After a while you get a good sense of who is really "with you" and who is scanning over your shoulder for more important people.

Mr. MacFarlane took the time to sit down and communicate on a very human level with someone from whom he likely had nothing to gain. That may not seem remarkable to you. But last night, alone at a social function with my crocheting, I found it to be a lovely gift.

I am thinking a lot about starting conversations these days. I highly recommend this post from the Rev'd Heather Kirk-Davidoff. She states:

We need an excuse to connect, a reason to invite someone to sit down for a moment and talk with us, a reason to open our door and ask someone to step inside.

As Pastor Chad Kline at Abiding Savior Lutheran would say, "Can I get an Amen?"


Reminder: Flea Market this morning at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. Proceeds go to HCPSS Lunch Program to pay down student lunch debt.

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