Thursday, May 5, 2016


First up this morning, this strikingly to-the-point piece by Valerie Strauss about Teacher Appreciation Week, "It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Why some teachers don’t exactly appreciate it." It brought to mind this piece I wrote last year during this week, "Heroes? Maybe. Super? Let's Talk". I think it's worth revisiting today.

In particular:

None of this is a criticism of parents who give of their time, resources, and talents to celebrate teachers. They are awesome!

But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable. The powers that be know this. That is why we read so many statements that attempt to chip away the faith of parents in their children's teachers, and in the teaching profession.

And that is why the schools approve of appreciating teachers one week a year and having the parents do it. Truly, it makes both groups into servant classes and those who are in charge continue to be in charge. It is an intricate dance which maintains the status quo. And somewhere an admin is checking off a box which reads, " teachers will feel appreciated" without having done anything to support that.

The continuing course of events centered around the Howard County Public Schools makes this all the more relevant. "If parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable."

Budget surveys may be rigged, the hcpss Director of Communications may block community members on Twitter, and Central Office may try to keep stakeholders out of Board Meetings, but teachers and parents are persisting and persevering to have their voices be heard.

That's the best news we've got this week.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Reviews Are In!

Yesterday the school system pushed out its infamous "Cut or Keep" survey, and it was every bit as problematic as community members had suspected that it would be. An immediate concern was how much personal information respondents were required to enter. (What ever happened to guaranteeing anonymity?) Local blogger Jason Booms, whose professional field of expertise includes surveys/opinion research, wrote this piece expressing his concerns. In short, from the outset the survey appears both misleading and, frankly, mediocre.

As anticipated, the school system included choosing cuts to teachers' salaries as a possibility, when these agreements have already been negotiated and cannot by law be tampered with. In addition, the area of teachers' salaries has been fully funded by the County Executive. Neither of these facts is conveyed by the survey, leading HCEA leadership to suggest that respondents use the "report abuse" button to report illegal activity: unfair labor practices.

That suggestion must have had quite an effect, as the survey was briefly taken down altogether. When it came back up the only change that had been made was that the "report abuse" button had been removed.


If people don't like how you are treating them, your first step should definitely be to take away their right to protest. Almost like disbanding the Citizens Operating Budget Review Committee, isn't it? When you don't like what the committee says after analyzing the budget, just disband the committee. Silence the opposition.

This isn't only a dispute between the teachers' union and the school system. This isn't only a political game between the school system and the County Executive. It's not as simple as that. It's what happens when you have an entity as large as the school system which has ceased to operate in collaboration with anyone.

Here are some comments from community members:

If you are requesting more money than you have gotten previously, and the full amount is not granted, that is not a cut, and the use of that word absolutely agitates me.

If you are going to "cut" a budget (that is actually getting an increase) then you need to look at the whole budget.

The survey is impossible to complete. you have to choose all CUT in order to meet 50,000,000. otherwise it would not let you save or submit.

This is like trying to balance a family budget by saying I either need to cut heat or water but no one is touching Netflix. This is $50 million out of what, $800+ million? How about we get a crack at cutting stuff out of that part of the budget?

So we all had our ideas about how twisted and biased this survey would be and they, as usual, went beyond the worst fears.

In short: don't take the survey. Write the County Council with your hcpss budget concerns. You might want to copy in the County Executive as well.

Is hcpss is looking for things to cut, I would suggest that they #cutthesurvey .






Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thank a Teacher

Ah...Teacher Appreciation Week. This year we're observing it in Howard County by honoring the essence of the art of teaching by scheduling PARCC testing, AP testing, and, just for good measure, the SAT on Saturday. I'm sure they'll feel truly appreciated.Yesterday the Superintendent, or someone in her army of public relations professionals, posted the following on Twitter:
As I pondered the irony of this, a rather unusual thing happened. This response popped up:

@SuperHCPSS how about by not threatening furloughs if budget isn't approved?

Well, that's to the point, I thought. And then, another response:

@SuperHCPSS thank a teacher: take a paycut & they can have better healthcare.

Wow. These were from two separate individuals. And then, for the next half hour, the tweets kept coming, from three different, distinct accounts.

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher - perhaps give up that fancy car and use that money so they don't have to buy school supplies out of pocket.

@SuperHCPSS - #thankateacher by not calling them greedy when they ask for a step increase (remember 2014?).

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher by respecting their skills and assessments over metrics and testing.

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher by respecting parents who advocate on their behalf.

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher by allowing them to speak, instead of issuing edicts calling free
speech on their time #insubordination.

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher by providing them environments of respect in their workplaces.

@SuperHCPSS #thankateacher by providing transparency and accountability of your actions 
to those you serve.

One characteristic all three tweeters share: they're all Howard County parents. (For clarification, I am not one of them, but you can verify that for yourself.)

Teacher Appreciation week is full of little gifts, kind notes, special events and meals put on by the PTA. And all of that is genuine on the part of parents and gratefully received by teachers. But these pointedly honest statements represent a new kind of teacher appreciation which, in my opinion, give this week a whole new meaning.

The Superintendent uses a catchy hashtag: teachers are #YourBestApp . I have no earthly idea what that means. I would suggest a different hashtag this year: #HoCoParentsHaveYourBack . Here's my tweet:

Thanks to my daughter's #HCPSS teachers who meet her where she is & inspire her to be her best. #ThankATeacher #HoCoParentsHaveYourBack

We appreciate teachers this week, every week, and especially on Election Day. I hope that next year's Teacher Appreciation Week is even better than this one.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Monday Mystery

My daily commute these days takes me through Burtonsville. I know, how horrifying, venturing out of the Bubble daily, but that's the way it is. After two months of making this particular journey I have a few questions:

Did you know there's an actual Roy Rogers there? I thought they had ceased to exist. In my opinion, they have the only fast-food roast beef sandwich worth eating (not to mention the Free Fixins Bar). And they're offering free food to Moms on Mother's Day. What's not to like?

Why can I not walk into Dunkin Donuts and order "a large iced coffee, just cream" without ordering a donut? This is getting to be a problem.

A bigger mystery: why are there two shopping centers within a stone's throw of one another and one of them is a ghost town? On one side of the road you have Burtonsville Crossing, largely vacant except for a Starbucks, and on the other you have Burtonsville Town Square, which is fully occupied and hopping with activity. What happened here?

Also, didn't there used to be a thriving Amish market out here someplace?

There's got to be a story to this and I suspect someone amongst my readers knows it. My particular interest is whether what happened in Burtonsville could happen in Columbia or anywhere in Howard County. Possibly there are some lessons to be learned from this? I'm curious.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Bigger Vision

The day after the Columbia elections is usually reserved for my "the hell with you all" post, as I lament abysmal turnout and the continued frenzy of one narrow band of residents to control everything in perpetuity. Not going to go there today. There's something more important to talk about. Something which is deeply rooted in the purpose of Columbia and bodes well for our future.

Yesterday, this happened:

Interfaith Youth Summit on Racial Justice – April 30, 2016

Featuring Artist and Activist Bree Newsome, Renowned African American and History Scholar Dr. Renee Harrison and Inspiring Youth Activist and Leader Makayla Gilliam-Price.

St John Baptist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia have joined forces to host the DMV Interfaith Youth Summit on Racial Justice from 9am-4pm @ St John Baptist Church in Columbia, Maryland.

As local high school students grow a grassroots movement supporting racial justice, we’ll have space to continue the conversations, deal with the beautiful and ugly history and keep the movement alive!

This all-day event, will bring together youth from different backgrounds across DC, MD and VA to have REAL conversations about RACE and opportunities to HEAL and be reconciled! We’ll walk through enslavement, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, reenact the sit-ins and discuss policies that have resulted in the current landscape of racial injustices. Youth will have an opportunity to share their experiences with racism in a setting where listening with intention and care is nurtured.

This experience will take place on multiple levels - listening and reflecting, speaking, art, music, movement and improv. By the end of the day, students will be empowered to ACT against racial injustice in their day-to-day lives and have amazing memories and new like-minded friends. This will be a life-changing experience for many!

If you want to know what this was all about, take a look at yesterday's posts on Twitter from Janelle Bruce @revjanekke_esq and Jade Fountain @fountain_jade .

As you might imagine, the desire to create this event had its roots in the racist video posted online by a Mount Hebron student and the school system's tone deaf response. It was an outgrowth in many ways to the voice of students saying "Stop the silence. Start a conversation." Members of St.John Baptist and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia have been active supporters of student voices throughout the Spring.

Some years ago, when the land on the corner of Tamar and 175 became the site of a new church for St. John Baptist, a number of vocal long-time residents registered their disapproval. "Columbia was never meant to have churches." "This goes against Rouse's Interfaith Center concept." That may be.

I think Mr. Rouse would have been pretty darned happy with what was going on there yesterday. Interfaith collaboration. Inter-racial, multi-cultural education and consciousness-raising. Long after CA elections are gone and the Pioneers' definition of Columbia is merely a footnote, the young people who gathered will be making our community, and our world, a better place.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Other Election

This one is for the people who live in Columbia: vote. If today is your village election, don't skip it. Participate. Don't just let it glide by.

If you live in Harper's Choice, I highly recommend Bob Fontaine for CA Rep.

If you live in Oakland Mills, you can read more here about my opinion on the amendments on the ballot. In short, let's not vote to diminish our right to vote.

Bill Woodcock (The 53) has a great piece here on CA elections, which harkens back to an insightful piece by Candace Montague. (From the Scratchpad of an Urban Bushwoman)

Really miss regular postings from Ms. Montague, by the way. Can you hear this, UB? We want you back in the blogosphere.

This morning I'm nursing a bit of a migraine after an impromptu get together at The Second Chance engineered by my husband. Merely saying "it was a wonderful evening" doesn't come close to describing it.

Elections are important. The reasons we work toward elections are more important. Keep your eyes and ears open because that work is ongoing.

But take a moment every now and then to raise a glass with friends.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Make My Day

You know what I would like? What I would really, really like? I'd like a day when I could get back to the regular business of this blog and not be compelled to write about the school system. Yeah, if we could have a day without power plays, hijinks and drama, that'd be great.


Last night at the Board of Ed meeting, HCPSS Finance Director Beverly Davis unveiled the newest response in the dispute over the school system budget: a survey. Yep, from the same people who brought you this survey which asked such loaded questions as "How well do you understand the benefits of standardized testing?" comes "Cut or Keep--you make the call!"

No, no, no. That's not how this works. For one thing, for a survey to be valid it must be crafted by people who have the professional expertise to do so. For another, not everything in the budget is equal. Salaries and benefits for teachers--which are arrived upon as the result of negotiation--are an obligation the school system is contractually bound to honor. It's extremely likely that a survey of this sort will present items without this explanation, giving the appearance of a false equivalency.

@lisaphilip: We're "informing the perceptions of the public" @SuperHCPSS said about budget survey. (What does that even mean?)

Local blogger Jason Booms, who lists his professional expertise on Twitter as opinion research and strategic communications counselor, posed this question:

@LAPhilip @HCPSS Who was the author of this instrument and what is their background in survey research?

Good question.

I have another one. Why aren't we hearing the report of the Citizens Operating Budget Review Committee? Oh. That's right, the Board of Ed disbanded it. Even though the OBRC consisted of a number of people who understood budgets and understood the school system, it was deemed to be unhelpful. And remember, the Superintendent was loathe to give a full accounting to the general public because she said "you need an advanced degree" to understand it.

But now predigested budget choices will be doled out to the general public and they don't even have to look at the actual budget. Now that's thoughtful.

There's a legitimate budget work session today at the George Howard Building. That's where the nitty gritty of the real numbers should be emerging. (Or at least Councilman Greg Fox hopes so.) So there's no need for this hastily-prepared survey. The school system and county government have before them the business of communication and negotiation. While it is somewhat unusual that we are at this particular impasse, this is what the business of government looks like.

Don't take the survey. Just don't. If you have opinions about school budget priorities, send an email to the county council and copy in the school board. That's the most effective way for your voice to be heard right now. The survey is, at best, a distraction from the real business at hand.

Besides, you already filled out a survey this week, an important one. On Tuesday.