Here are my notes from Wednesday's Board of Education Candidate's Forum at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills. I chose to cover the first part of the evening, where candidates were allotted five minutes to focus on an issue of most interest to them. It had been suggested that they pick one of the topics from the questions submitted in advance. Some did; some did not.
Bess Altwerger-- has worked as a teacher of teachers. Has first hand experience of current educational trends and what is happening in the classroom. Her remarks were confident and focused. She addressed 1. Improving equity based on need 2. Less emphasis on high-stakes testing 3. Economic disparity between students. Was outspoken in her support for the quality of teachers through the county.
Mike Smith--began his remarks with a disclaimer that he was a completely independent candidate who answered to no one, who had no alliances that could influence him. (Note to self: Ann DeLacy?) Then stated that he entered race with no preconceived notions, no causes, no agenda. (No background knowledge?) Took several jabs at Bess Altwerger, including something she hadn't even said. Thinks Common Core is the answer. Says data supports classrooms of thirty five children if run efficiently. Didn't address any particular question. Ran over time, even with reminders.
Allen Dyer--Chose 1st question: "overcoming achievement gap" socio-economic problems. Focused on land use. Spread the lower income housing throughout the county. Desegregate the neighborhoods, smooth distribution of economic groups. Council and executive can address this. Board must get out in front of this issue. Spoke against building "high rises" of poverty (does HoCo even have plans for that?) This is a long term solution, a short term solution would be busing. He's against that, says "Bus the teachers around to where they are most needed." Railed against number of "FARM students". Says class size should be smaller in lower income areas. "The affluent kids can handle all that testing. It's what their parents talk about around the dinner table."
Christine O'Connor: Pleasant, self-deprecating opening, portrayed herself as a nervous teacher in front of a large group of adults. Has fourteen years of PTA experience. Adressed question 4 by trying to relate FARM students and PTA membership. Numbers she used didn't prove anything and even she seemed surprised by this. She suggested PTA revenue sharing within feeds to address disparity of PTA funds. Described how Superintendent Foose recruited her to develop the PTA Parent Portal. (Note to readers, this is what is mentioned by Ann DeLacy here, "...our Superintendent has learned to circumvent the PTACHC leadership by going directly to the local PTA Presidents. ")
Zaneb Beams--Addresses health and wellness question. Uses Telehealth (being introduced in the Model Schools Initiative) as an example of something she has knowledge and experience with as a pediatrician and can help parents understand as it is implemented. Praises the goals of Telehealth, remarks that it is in its embryonic stages. Talks about nutrition, physical fitness, creative ways to increase physical activity. Delivers impassioned plea, "We don't have FARM students, we have children who need help with food." (Spontaneous applause) Concludes by saying that scores are not what make us who we are; dreaming and doing are what matters in the long run. (Again, spontaneous applause.)
Cynthia Vaillancourt--Describes what she is proud of from her years on Board. Happy that we are now honestly addressing issues of equity rather than being in denial. Addresses health and wellness question. Suggests that intent can be good, but execution can be at cross purposes with the goal. Argues for common sense: Lucky Charms and other sweetened cereals on offer are not a healthy breakfast for our students. Speaks to the issue of returning high school start times to a reasonable hour, says we are beyond the point of study, we should be working on how to implement. Says it's important to help community understand what is at stake as we make these changes.
Sandra French--the calm voice of a first grade teacher. Tells us why none of what others are saying is actually possible. Repeatedly says, "we can ask the superintendent, we can ask the staff, we can form a task force, we can examine data." Suggests that people from the community come to them with solutions but they (Board) can't even address that unless they first decide to form a task force to see if it is really a problem. And all that stuff costs money! Seems to suggest that as individual board members have no power, the passions and concerns and qualifications they bring to the board are irrelevant. Describes "this is how we do things." Never addresses whether that works or not. I don't think she spoke to any of the actual questions.
Dan Furman: began by telling about himself --Wilde Lake High School grad, Student Member of BOE, studied Poli Sci, law degree. Practiced Ed. Law, hcpss Council, currently working in Annapolis as a part of the Howard County Delegation. Adressed question 3--parity. Trying to provide all students with equity of opportunity. "We owe that to them." Says we must go directly to the operating budget to address this. Notes that he learned to read an operating budget at age 16, so it doesn't take an advanced degree in finance to understand it. Calls for greater transparency in the operating budget process. Concludes that equity of opportunity means valuing people over numbers.