Sunday, September 15, 2019

All in All

A few more thoughts about yesterday.

Some friends reached out to me to recount positive things happening around town: the Wilde Lake Family Picnic, the Monarchs and More Children’s event at the Chrysalis. A look around Twitter also showed businesses coming back on Ellicott City’s Main Street: Miss Fit and the Forget-Me-Not Factory. All in all, more of our community is thriving than not. We’re not completely a lost cause.

It’s interesting to note that, while the County Seat is Ellicott City, the protest event about Howard County Schools redistricting was held in Downtown Columbia. It’s an acknowledgement that the upstart community, around only since the late sixties, has become the center of the County. Yet somehow the entire point of Columbia - - better communities through racial, ethnic, and economic integration - - seems to have been lost on the protestors.

I saw so many posts on social media yesterday about the Wilde Lake High School band that I began to imagine what might happen if the musicians (from a school that many of the opposition have smeared) intersected with the protestors. Nothing would have made me happier today than a serendipitous confrontation between the anti-redistricting crowd and the Wilde Lake High School Band in which the band prevailed gloriously and the protestors dispersed in confusion.

Didn’t happen. But in my imagination it was excellent.

One more thing. It would be wise to keep an eye out for folks who appear to be using all this community controversy in an effort to raise their own personal visibility. Yes, sadly, there will always be those who just hope to profit from the exposure. If the walk had not existed it might have been necessary for them to invent it. For the photo ops.

I don’t think those photos are going to hold up well over time.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Day in the Life of a Community

At ten am today in Owen Brown there will be a celebration of the life of Jane Dembner. 

At 12 pm there will be an “Opposition Walk” in Downtown Columbia to protest the Superintendent ‘s plan for redistricting.

The painful irony of the juxtaposition of these two events is not lost on me.

The Columbia that Ms. Dembner believed in and worked for was welcoming and inclusive. She cared about community that was for everyone. Her vision wasn’t simply pools, parks, and pathways. Her Columbia, and, in relationship, Howard County, was a place where attitudes could be changed and  fair and affordable housing welcomed those who needed it.

I thought of Jane when we opened our school year with this book, All Are Welcome. Some samplings from the text by Alexandra Penfold:

No matter how you start your day./ What you wear when you play./ Or if you come from far away./ All are welcome here.

Then, further along:

You have a place here. / You have a space here. / You are welcome here.

And, most of all:

We’re part of a community/ Our strength is our diversity./ A shelter from adversity

All are welcome here.

Whatever is happening “at the Mall” today is most definitely not a message of inclusion. Whether motivated by outright racism, polite suburban “don’t say it out loud” racism, or a sense of affluent entitlement, it is a rejection of what community really means. It is an unwillingness to zoom out and see the bigger picture. 

The responsibility of schools is to meet the needs of the larger community. Today’s event shows how desperately some people want to think small, live small, be small. I take a dim view of the habit some people have of saying that Jim Rouse is rolling over in his grave. But honestly, folks, today he may actually be wincing.

Where will I be today?

Celebrating Jane. Grateful for her life. Grateful for her family and friends and colleagues with whom she did so many good things.

We’re part of a community/ Our strength is our diversity./ A shelter from adversity

All are welcome here.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Who Knew?

The change was made without fanfare, posted quietly to Boarddocs and noticed quite by accident by OMCA Board Chair Jonathan Edelson. The replacement school for Talbott Springs Elementary had been moved from first priority to somewhere on down the line. So was a major capital project for Hammond High School. The response from the public indicates that this announcement was completely unexpected.

Who knew? 

Not the County Council, if various statements of dismay are to be believed. I haven’t seen any official comments from members of the Howard Country delegation to the Maryland State legislature. I wonder if they knew. What about the County Executive?

Local and State Government officials are not in the habit, nor should they be, of micromanaging hcpss affairs. But the construction of a new school is different. It requires the coordination of local and state funding and therefore would require ongoing communication and collaboration. At least, that is what I had assumed.

So, to my mind, if the school system had arrived at the conclusion that monies just weren’t there for these two projects, it would have been done in collaboration with state and local government. And I’m not getting the feeling that this is the case. (Obviously I will correct if it turns out I am wrong.)

And what about the AAC, who were tasked with giving direction to the Superintendent’s redistricting efforts? It would have been crucial for them to know whether these projects were going to be realized or not in weighing various options. Did they know? 

I don’t think so.

So, who knew? Well, the Superintendent, obviously. The BOE. And Central Office staff, I guess. Board Member Vicky Cutroneo posted this article from HoCoTimes shortly after news broke about the change. 

Top construction projects for Howard schools to be funded, but officials voice concern for future needs, Jess Nocera

Hmm. That article was written in May.

“We told you in May but you weren’t listening”?

While I appreciate the background information from Ms. Cutroneo, I don’t think this lets the school system off the hook for making such an enormously impactful change in a way that left community members feeling blindsided and disrespected.

So at this point I still have more questions than answers. My most pressing questions are about how the school system works in collaboration with local and state government and what kind of transparency is required. There’s simply got to be more to this story.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Panic at the Supermarket

We all need some distraction from local cares and woes.  I present here, for your amusement and edification, a local story about a snake.


Sell the car immediately

Omg omg omg. Burn the car now.

Call 911 and walk home.

Call Animal control?

Fire. Fire should work.

It’s a baby snake y’all lol.



Keep us posted!!

Burn it.

Oh hell no!

Make sure it isn’t venomous, then grab it near the head (so it can’t twist and bite you)

Have you done this before?

Lol, I worked at a state park in college, so I have picked up a snake or two (and even fed some!)

That's some Steve Irwin sort of experience right there.

I would have tried to grab its tail and slide it out of the car.

Lol! I’ve learned not to grab the tail through experience!!

Grab right behind the head and toss it out of the car.

Set the whole car on fire! It’ll definitely be covered like Cheryl’s she-shed.

No, not the she-shed!

It’s the snake’s car now.

I agree!!

SHUT YOUR FACE, seriously?!?!?  Walk home.

Maybe snakes like TastyKakes.

Should I bring my cat over?  He killed a baby snake in our basement once.

Give it the keys!!

Wheres the mom and dad?

Don’t do that to me. I might find them tomorrow!!!

Get someone brave at Wegmans to grab it for you!

I need a status report, STAT!

Oh Lord...only you!

(Snake is removed)

I’m alive as is the car.

omggggg you are brave!!!!

You’re so brave!!! I would have just started crying and freaking out!!!

I was holding my breath....proud of you for removing it.

Throw the whole car away!


I thought we lived in such a nice area... Little did I know stuff like this could happen!  #Shooketh

I had a snake on my desk once when I worked in Harford County. It was hiding under my keyboard...

Call Samuel Jackson.

You are unbelievably brave!

Sis, I’m so sorry to hear that you absolutely have to purchase a new car.

Can of gasoline, burn the whole thing down.


Burn it down.

Whelp that is his car now did you ask permission to disturb him?

Burn it downnnnn lol

Burn it.

Aww it was a cute baby.

It looks like a little king snake, shoulda kept it for your yard, they can eat the poisonous ones.

I’m sorry for your loss. The car must be burned.


How did that even get in there!? 

What kind of snake was it

I would absolutely die. Like my whole entire being would simply deflate. 

So what the heck did you do?!?!

WTH! How did it get there?

Wish I saw this earlier I would’ve came to get it out for you .. snakes are misunderstood and won’t hurt you unless they feel threatened

It’s pretty.

Call  in  a  sub.    You  can't  get  to  work  with  a  snake  in  the  car.

It’s a sign of good luck!! 

Set the car on fire 

Oh hell no! You are super mom!

i would be dead from a heart attack.

Omg I’m so glad your okay hon.

Damn so sorry I’m just seeing this, I would have saved you. It was probably just a little garden snake.

We were just there a few hours before you!! Ahhhhhhh!


Two things: yes, I got permission. And why does everyone think the default solution to snakes is burning things? 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


(First posted on September 11, 2015)

Full Circle

Fourteen years ago I was watching children play on the playground. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Then another teacher came over and said, "did you hear?" 

The rest of the day is a blur--dismissing children early, going to find my own daughter at the School for the Arts, where I learned she had led her class in prayer, at the request of a teacher. In a public school, they prayed. And in my little Episcopal school around the corner we played, had snack, waited for parents to come, and wondered if the world was ending.

My youngest was a baby in home daycare and I worried I might never see her again. My husband left work to get her and the plan was we would all meet up at home. Something as simple as that seemed in question. Everything was
wrong. The world was upside down and a beautiful blue sky might open up at any minute with death and destruction.

We made it. Of course we made it. Our experience of the day, as terrifying as it was, was only as distant observers. We could turn our gaze away from the horrifying television coverage without the pang of knowing someone. 

How incredibly lucky we were.

Today I will be watching children play on a different playground. I will try to give my attention to them fully, be present in the moment. Memories of this day will sit like a demon on my shoulder but I'll do my best to ignore them. 

We go on. Because we can. And we have learned to see blessings in ordinary things.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Urgency Not So Fierce?

Just when you thought redistricting season couldn’t get any worse, from Oakland Mills Village Board Chair Jonathan Edelson:

Superintendent Proposes Replacement of Talbott Springs Elementary School
DEFERRED until at least 2026 from 2021.
Dear Neighbors and Friends of Oakland Mills,
Today we discovered very disturbing news while browsing the Board of Education's website to learn about the agenda for tomorrow's BOE meeting. The construction of a new Talbott Springs ES was the top priority in Dr. Martirano's (HCPSS School Superintendent) FY 2021 Capital Budget and FY 2022 - 2026 Capital Improvement Planuntil today.

Talbott Springs ES, UNTIL TODAY, was the #1 priority capital improvement project for all HCPSS school with construction to begin in 2021 and expected occupancy in 2022.  TODAY, Dr. Martirano provided an updated Capital Improvement Plan that  recommends to DEFERRING funding for TSES new construction until 2026 and greatly de-prioritizing this project.  The  # 1 priority for construction of a new Talbott Springs ES, which was intact as recently as this September 5 capital plan, has been removed and the project now listed as future funding.  Dr. Martirano will present this plan to the Board of Education at  
5:00 p.m. tomorrow, September 10, so we need immediate action
CALL FOR ACTION:  Please email the Howard County Board of Education at; HCPSS Superintent Martirano,; and
COPY the email to  
County Executive Calvin Ball,; Howard County Councilmembers,; Senator Guy Guzzone,; Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary,; Delegate Shane Pendergrass,; and Delegate Jen Terrasa,
Please email your message. Make it simple and to the point:
"Funding for construction to replace Talbott Springs Elementary School must remain as the TOP PRIORITY project 2021 and there be no deferral in funding.  

This project is long overdue and has been "on again/off again" for years. TSES is one of the County's most overcrowded schools and rated among the worst facility in the school system.  To have a facility with failing systems, noisy classrooms, and inadequate space is unacceptable.  It is unconscionable to defer another seven or eight years when you have the land available, the design plans, and the commitment of the school and broader community to the effort to move forward now." 
Please take a moment to review the letter sent today from the Oakland Mills Board of Directors:  
Attached is the HCPSS Superintendent's Capital Funding Budget showing Talbott Springs as the #1 priority on a chart dated Sept. 5, 2019 and further down in the document removed from current FY 2021 funding and recommended for deferral until 2026:


I have a lot of questions about this, and I’ll be back tomorrow to ask them. In the meantime, send a letter if this is something you care about. Time is of the essence here; the Board meets today.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Thinking Small

Truly the best thing I read online yesterday was the local, on-the-scene reporting of a colleague of my husband’s who had discovered a snake in her car. It had excitement, fear, humor, you name it. It was right up there with the HoCo goat story, in my opinion.

Probably the best thing about it was that it wasn’t about redistricting.

Frankly, if I had permission to bring you the snake episode in its entirety, I would, because it’s a story in which there is a problem, a request for help, and a response from friends. Granted, some of the suggestions - - “You will now need a new car” - - were tongue-in-cheek, but, overall, it was enjoyable because everyone was rooting for the protagonist.

This is not going to morph into any kind of lecture about how we all need to be kinder to each other, or about how redistricting is showing us at our worst. I’m simply exhausted by it all. I need reminders  of the small stories that show our humanity.

A friend had a getaway at the beach that restored her soul. A free concert at the Chrysalis by the Maryland Winds entertained community members. My husband and I enjoyed our first meal from new local restaurant Cazbar. Members of the local Buy Nothing group shared with each other all weekend long.

Give me the small stories, folks. The big ones are crushing me.