Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Good Team

We get excited about village elections in Oakland Mills. We probable have the largest village board in Columbia, and we actually have nine people running for seven seats. Yes, friends, we have a contested election.

I want to put in a good word for these folks:

I asked Jonathan Edelson why they had chosen to run as a slate. His answer impressed me. 

Here are some highlights:

  • First and foremost, we all agreed we wanted to be positive about OM, highlight what's good and growing, and improve on it.
  • Second, we think we all bring unique areas of interest or expertise that form a good "whole" for the board.
  • Education is another thing we realized we're all pretty passionate about.
  • We make a good team. We don't agree on everything, but we agree on the big stuff.

I've served on the OM Village Board, and I've been extremely concerned in the last few years at the direction that certain members have taken. I don't agree with their priorities and I don't agree with the reprehensible way they have treated Village staff. I won't mention them by name here, but you can rest assured that I don't endorse them.

If you live in Oakland Mills, please vote this Saturday. Remind your friends to vote. We have an opportunity to build a more positive and collaborative board this year. Don't miss out.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

An Unexpected Gift

I went to the Howard County Schools Fine Arts Celebration of Columbia's 50th Birthday at Merriweather yesterday afternoon. I have to admit that I went with the mindset that this was an event that my kid was doing, and I was going to support her. We do that a lot as parents. We support concerts, games, shows, bake sales, car washes...We're parents. That's what we do.

But shortly after the program began it began to dawn on me. This program was a gift. These students had worked hard to prepare something that could be shared with the greater community. They gave a big chunk of their weekend to make it happen. (More than that, over the long haul of preparation.) It was so much more than my going to support them.

I was there, we all were there, to receive a gift. Their gift. The gift of young people who are passionate about what they do. The unexpected spontaneity of live performance. The joy on the faces of students who are given an opportunity to shine.

In a time when high school students are counseled by well-meaning guidance staff to drop that arts course in favor of adding more "real academics", it is heartening to see students introduce themselves by name and say, "I am a theatre student," or "I am a theatre tech student." When we are bombarded with a mind-numbing steam of test scores, the exuberance and persistence of these young people cuts through the noise.

Like the unseen characters in "Horton Hears a Who,"--

"We are here. We are here. We are here."

An event like this is conceived by adults and produced by adults. Sometimes when that happens, the voice of the students is muddied or lost. I think that this event let the students shine through. The combination of visual art, film, dance, musical performance, and theatre students as narrators put the focus on the gift of the arts. A gift meant to be shared.

Columbia is celebrating its 50th Birthday. What a great gift we have in these kids. What a blessing to share their gifts and passions in celebration of our community.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Empty Promises

I was on my way to have fasting blood work done when I spotted this vending machine.

"Calories Count," it proclaims. "Check Then Choose." Also, "Goodness Inside."

It struck me as humorous that on the long hallway to fasting bloodwork, even the vending machines are empty.

But why, I wonder?

The buildings where Labcorp is located have always been rather a mystery to me. Tucked out of sight around the corner from Thunder Hill Road, they have a ghost town feel to them. I know they re a part of the dear, departed Columbia Medical Plan. (I learned more about that at the Columbia 50th Storytelling Event.) A few redevelopment plans have been floated. None have gained much traction.

I have a feeling that there was a time when these buildings were the hub of much activity. Now even the vending machine is deserted.

A clarification: the buildings are in good condition and my visit to Labcorp was marked by courtesy and efficiency. One empty vending machine does not a ghost town make.

We've done quite a bit in Howard County to reduce our dependence on sweetened drinks. And we've had multiple arguments about what belongs in vending machines. So I guess when I saw this one it was weighed down by local symbolism. It may have been empty of goods, but it was full of  meaning.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Big Event

Today is a big day for Columbia, and it's a big day for me. I consider myself supremely fortunate to have been a part of this community at a time when a second wave of creation was unfolding. Caring about Columbia, and becoming involved in its future, has given me a connection to my home that I wouldn't have had otherwise (without being here at its inception.)

Here's a look back at where I was two years ago, to get you in the mood for today's big event. I hope I'll see you there.


From September 9, 2015:

Stop Everything/Start Everything

I often wonder what it was like to be here at the beginning of Columbia. It must have been an amazing time. You can visit Barbara Kellner at the Columbia Archives to get a taste, or travel in a specially designed vehicle if you get the chance, but otherwise, let's face it. We missed out. 

Until now. This Saturday the Inner Arbor Trust is holding the groundbreaking event for the Chrysalis, the first piece of Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. The Chrysalis will be an amphitheater that can be used for all sorts of community events. Think music at Wine in the Woods and more. Think all sorts of events we've never had in Symphony Woods before. Think people enjoying downtown Columbia.

It's the beginning of something amazing: a park that will define Columbia for the new century. This will be the heart of a welcoming, vibrant community that celebrates nature and the arts. 

You want to be there. And you want to be able to tell people, "I was there, you know." So click on the link to reserve your free tickets. It's going to be fun, there are going to be snacks from Seasons 52, and the bragging rights on this one are going to go on for-ev-er.

In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", Jason Robard's character Murray likes to go down to the docks to see off cruise ships. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things."

The experience of being there at the beginning of things. I've been waiting a long time for a taste of this.

I bet you have, too. Join me, won't you?

September 13, 2015:


  1. 1
    a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.
    synonyms:settlercolonist, colonizer, frontiersmanfrontierswoman,  explorer,  trailblazerbushwhacker
    "the pioneers of the Wild West"
  1. 1
    develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity).
    "he has pioneered a number of innovative techniques"

    synonyms:introducedevelopevolvelaunchinstigateinitiatespearheadinstituteestablishfound, be the father/mother of, originate, set in motion, create

Yesterday, at long last, I became a pioneer. Not the well-known Columbia Pioneer with the capital P, but an entirely new kind of pioneer. Lower-case, maybe, but every bit as proud. Look at that second definition above. It is Columbia as a verb. You'll see words like instigate, launch, spearhead, develop, set in motion. 

(Photo by Dave and Ilana Bittner, HoCoMoJo)

That's me with the bright green, Chrysalis-green umbrella, just right of center. Almost two hundred people showed up yesterday--in the rain--to participate in the ground-breaking event for the Chrysalis amphitheater. This is the beginning of Merriweather Park  in Symphony Woods. We have begun. 

You've heard about the Inner Arbor plan? Maybe you signed a petition to get an amazing park started for our community. Perhaps you've been to their website to see 
the plans. Or did you stop by the booth at Wine in the Woods? Yesterday speaker 
Michael McCall reminded us that progress has many parents. And in that moment I realized that I had become a pioneer.

I've been blogging about this park since at least January, 2013. I signed the petition, wrote letters to the editor, spoke at CA Board Meetings (multiple times), spoke at the Planning Board hearing. I volunteered at the Inner Arbor booth at Wine in the Woods. I say this not to boast, but to show the path by which I became a pioneer. And I didn't really even know it was happening.

If Columbia is to survive into the future, it must have second-wave pioneers. The fact that nearly two hundred people, including young children and teens, came out to celebrate the beginning of something new, says that there's a pretty healthy wave shaping up in our little town. We will not die. We will not be a footnote in the history of well-meaning planned communities.

Yesterday representatives from the State, County, and leaders from Columbia came together to make something happen. This was quintessential Village Green/Town²: where Columbia and Howard County intersect. County Executive Alan Kittleman spoke about bringing young people back to the park. County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty talked about the importance of art within our community and as a focal point in the park. The representative from the Howard Hughes Corporation described how the park will be part of a vibrant Downtown Columbia. 

In case you ever thought that the golden age of Columbia had come and gone and that you missed it, think again. It's never too late to become a pioneer. 

Catch the wave.

Friday, April 21, 2017


When I arrived at work yesterday, it was raining. I had a jacket in the car but I made the executive decision to use it to wrap my iPad to protect it from getting wet. So I was definitely getting rained on as I walked toward the building. Not the best way to start the day.

I must have had my head down as I walked because I was surprised when a figure appeared out of the rain with a large umbrella. It was my boss, the head of the Lower School. She had seen me trudging along getting soaked and came over to walk me in the building.

Would your boss do that?

It put me in a mind of an article I read this week about leadership.

The Power of Leadership Vulnerability

The author describes the importance of leaders being able to say I don't know and ask for help.

There’s a scientific basis for why vulnerability is an important leadership attribute: Humans are wired to help one another.

And, again:

“Asking for help is the sign of a secure leader-- one who engages everyone to reach goals,” writes Zak.

Think of our local learship: CA President Milton Matthews, County Executive Allan Kittleman, chair of the County Council Jonathan Weinstein, President of PTACHC Reg Avery, Chair of the BOE Cindy Vaillancourt, Superintendent of Schools Renee Foose. What kind of leaders are they? Are they willing to admit they don't know everything? Are they willing to genuinely ask for help to achieve shared goals?

I'd like to add one more thing: would they be willing to go out of their way on a rainy day to share an umbrella? 

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gifted and Talented

I listened to a story on NPR which had nothing to do with education, and, to me, it was all about education.

Go here to read about it and listen for yourself:

Two Decades Later, Success for a Man Who Imagined Turning His Life Around

The piece centers on reporter Robert Siegel return visit to meet with a man he had interviewed twenty-two years previously.

Steven Mallory came from a world of poverty where drug dealing seemed the only way out. He saw friends die or go to jail routinely. Listen to the piece in its entirety to understand how he made a decision to move away from that life and try to build a better one. But I ask you not to walk away from it with that "heartwarming story" feeling about a man who makes good by sheer dint of effort.

There's really so much more to it than that.

Robert Siegel talks about how Mallory's imagination set him apart from others he interviewed at the same time. He was able to imagine a life for himself that was different from his surroundings. And the story of the past twenty two years is a journey of dedicated effort to make that imagined life a reality.

To me this is a story about a young man who is gifted and talented. His exceptional imagination combined with the willingness to work are hallmarks of what makes GT students tick. And yet Steven Mallory's education plays no role in this story. That's probably because he didn't fit paper and pencil criteria for advanced classes. I can't say this with certainty because it isn't in the piece.

But, as I contemplate the piece about de facto segregation in Howard Schools, this radio piece haunts me. As a child, Steven Mallory would probably not have been identified for extra challenges or enrichment. No amount of additional paper and pencil testing would have "discovered" him. But I truly believe he had the potential to thrive in that kind of educational environment, had the door been opened to him.

That's a lot of hypotheticals, I know. But it's food for thought. Steven Mallory's peers were dying and going to prison around him. In one year he went to seventeen funerals. If this isn't a school-to-prison pipeline, I don't know what is. The educational system did not create the crushing poverty that he was raised in. His teachers were not necessarily bad teachers. But the system was not set up to "see" Steven Mallory.

It took imagination and hard work combined along with time and other factors for Mr. Mallory to succeed at achieving his goals. How are we going to use our imagination and focus our hard work to make our schools relevant to gifted and talented students that don't present as the typical GT kids?

I'm not done thinking about this. I hope you aren't, either.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Weekend of Wow

If we could just not have all the big events in Howard County on one weekend, yeah, that'd be great.

This coming weekend is an explosion of activity. You know how students wish that teachers would consult each other before assigning big tests and projects? Yeah, well this is like that. We've got so
much going on that you'd best be equipped with that magical device that Hermione uses in the second Harry Potter book.

Friday evening you can attend the Howard County Storytelling event, or you can pop in at River Hill High School for Guitarpalooza! The storytelling event will forcus on Columbia's 50th, and tickets are  $20.00. Guitarpalooza will feature an eclectic mix including plenty of Grateful Dead and pirate music. Admission is free.

Saturday: Chrysalis Dedication and opening concert. (Tickets for the concert are available at MerriweatherMusic.com .)

Also: Howard County Greenfest

Also: Ellicott City Spring Fest

Also: Earth Day at the Howard County Conservancy

Also: Breathe Deep Columbia event at the Lakefront

Sunday there's a free concert at Merriweather to celebrate Columbia's 50th put on by the Fine Arts programs of all of the Howard County High Schools.

It's free lawn seating, 4 to 6:30. Maybe after rushing around all day Saturday you can just chill on the grass for this one. You can watch a short promo here.

I don't think there's any doubt where I'll be on Saturday morning.

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