Friday, February 28, 2014


As promised, a platform for Higgledy Piggledy in Howard County:

  • We believe in having more candidates for election than residents.
  • We oppose the foolish adherence to consistency, "the hobgoblin of little minds."
  • We affirm the necessity of extremely long 4th of July parades during election years.
  • We demand the right for candidates to participate boisterously in the July 4th parades, even if they may have been eliminated during the Primary election on June 24th.
  • We stand for free exchange of ideas. We sit for discussion. We sleep during the recap.
  • We oppose and condemn good orderly behavior if there exists a possibility for fun, exhuberant behavior. (With malice toward none.)
  • Therefore, we urge all candidates in Howard County to consider our Higgledy Piggledy platform as the reasoned product of Higgledy Piggledy voters: not straight or narrow, but Higgledy Piggledy.
  • "Higgledy Piggledy in the streets! Higgledy Piggledy every d*** day!"

Enjoy your weekend. Who knows when serious discourse may return?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Geeking Out

So, Tuesday evening, this happened:

It came from online discussions with local political news enthusiasts who were geeking out about details of who had filed to run for office.

geek out (third-person singular simple present geeks out, present participle geeking out, simple past and past participle geeked out)

To enthuse about a narrow topic, not realizing that most people listening will fail to understand it.

To do geeky things; to act geeky; to speak of geeky things.

The conversation looked something like this:

"After looking at the HoCo and Maryland Board of Election websites when the deadline passed, it's clear: there are more candidates in this state than voters."

"Well House District 13 sure looks interesting. And I remember Atterbeary from 2010, when she ran in District 18. What else? Just two dozen Howard County Democratic Central Committee candidates, 13 Board of Education candidates and 10 Democratic HD 12 candidates. Going to be some long 4th of July parades in Howard County this year."


"The primary is June 24, so maybe the parades won't be quite so long?"

"You are, of course, correct. Unless there are long, drawn-out recounts in multiple elections (certification doesn't occur until July 7), in which case the parades could witness what could only be described as higgledy piggledy in the streets."

"Fingers crossed."

"Only *we* would have higgledy piggledy in the streets."

"I want higgedly piggedly every d*** day!!!"

So I thought we ought to have a logo. See above.

I share this with you because things have been pretty serious here on the blog lately, and I wanted you to know that some of these serious types in Howard County do have a sense of humor. And we're not afraid to use it. Next to the impromptu formation of the Higgledy Piggledy Party (HiPiHoCo?) the best news of the week was the appearance on Twitter of Ian Kennedy's Beard, @IKBeard . Check it out. I don't know how long it's going to last...


On a more serious note, please check out, sign, and share this petition by HCPSM member Ann Faust with Howard County Families Working Together to Keep Music and Arts in our Schools. Yes, it's a long name, but the petition is brief so take a minute to read it. Thanks.

And tomorrow? Why, the Higgledy Piggledy platform, of course.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Here Comes the Dread Argument of the Individual Case...Again

One cold morning this Winter I talked about "the dread argument of the individual case." Well, here we go again. Although this time it could be called "how personal connections make a difference."

Yesterday this letter came up in my Facebook feed.

I tend to be a very private person, but.....Today marks the 90th day for me on the 1A waiting list for a heart transplant. The "average " wait time for someone with my blood type is 83 days.

There is a shortage of donor hearts available, and my team has had a very dry spell in the availability of suitable donor hearts since August 2013.

If you and your loved ones are registered organ donors , thank you!

Please continue to encourage friends , family, neighbors, co-workers to register now .

And don't forget one VERY important thing: Please let those nearest and dearest to you KNOW your wishes should the time come . Many more lives could be saved IF the medical team knows!

Thank you!



We read a lot of human interest stories every day on social media. We see requests for charitable donations, tales of heartbreaking tragedies, pleas to click "share" and challenges to make a difference. This one is different.

It is from my friend.

We met in college, when he was a freshman and I was a junior. He was a phenomenal musician even before he got to college. I was rather intimidated by him, but over time we became friends. Years passed, we lost touch, then found each other again on Facebook. You know the story.

And then suddenly he disappeared. Little by little, posts appeared from very close friends that he had experienced a serious cardiac event, and more. He was fighting for his life in ICU. Amazingly, he pulled through.

He now lives every day with extra pounds of equipment known as a VAD. Keeping up with his daily experiences as he goes to rehab, doctors' appointments, changes batteries, tries to play the piano again, wraps everything in plastic to take a shower...has changed my perception of organ donation.I always believed in it, in the abstract.

But now, it's personal.

So I am sharing his letter with you to take his experience one step further. And maybe, somehow, one day closer to getting a new heart.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Groundhog Day

It's February. If you woke up this morning and discovered that Allen Dyer is running for the Board of Education, you might have been tempted to check your calendar.

To see what year it is.

Thanks to local Education reporter Sara Toth, background information on his run is here. Anything else you want to know ask Lisa B, Mrs S. She knows everything.

I'm a little concerned by the assertion that the board members should not see themselves as individuals, but rather as a part of a collective. I'm also concerned that board members have no incentive to be responsive to particular districts, because it is clear that some areas are mightily underrepresented on the board.

"Welcome to the hive mind. We represent some of the children in Howard County." *

How can we get excited about an election when it is set up in such a way that we don't feel that one person can make a difference? How can we make ourselves follow the race, turn out for candidate forums, read all the campaign materials when we know our part of the county will yet again be voiceless? County Executive Ken Ulman and his staff took a hard look at this and proposed some changes in an effort to address these very questions.

They weren't well received. The status quo remains more powerful than questions based on actual evidence.

So, about Groundhog Day. Our ancestors gathered evidence from the natural world to make decisions on when to harvest, when to plant. How woolly were the woolly worms that year? When did birds depart? How did the moon change, or light from the sun? So the origins of Groundhog Day were meaningful: planting, growing, eating, living. Modern Groundhog Day celebrations are far removed from reality. A man in a funny hat, television lights, a pre-selected groundhog--that's all we have left from a custom that was rooted in something akin to scientific observation.

And so it is with the Board of Education. We keep doing this thing over and over again, but it has wandered so far from the responsive, representational model that watching each race is not unlike watching Punxatawney Phil and his entourage. We want to believe we might gain something useful from the experience, but we don't really have faith in it.

Here are some people I think could make all the difference in the world on the Board of Education. To my knowledge, none of them are running. But they are my Dream Team, if you will. I know a lot more than four actually, but I am limiting myself to the seats available: Lisa Marini Schlossnagle, Alan Romack, Bill Santos, Ilana Bittner.

I hope that at least one of the people actually running possesses the qualities of service, cooperation, compassion, determination, and knowledge that these folks represent to me. Because you never know when that one particular person might make a difference.

Hope springs eternal.



*I want to be clear that I think that our board members work extremely hard, are trying to do what they think is best, and care a lot about their mission. However, I think it is time for a huge rethinking of what the board is responsible for, and how they respond to stakeholders.



Monday, February 24, 2014

February Scene

I came out of the house yesterday, saw something, and immediately wanted to photograph it for the blog. But that made me think about Dennis, and his many "Scene This Week In..." gems. I went back in the house and let myself be sad for awhile.

But here I am again with the same scene and the same desire to share.

This picture indicates how hungry the deer have been this winter.

This picture indicates the height of the deer.


I highly recommend Googling "Scene This Week WordBones." You can even search by month, which is how I got the snow scenes I linked to above. I also found this, which highlights a party for bloggers in 2008. So much has changed since then. But at least bloggers are still getting together. I'm looking forward to the upcoming event on Thursday.

We miss you, Dennis. We love you, Mama WordBones. Scenes may change but you are a part of us forever.






Sunday, February 23, 2014

Where the Money Goes

Last year I wrote this post about how I was feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't afford a ticket to the Howard County Library event, "Evening in the Stacks." I devised an ingenious plan to save up, little by little, so that I'd be ready this year.

And then I wasn't.

Yesterday morning I was beating myself up as I saw friends posting pictures and anecdotes of their preparations for the big event. And I wasn't going to the Royal Ball. Again.

It hasn't been the greatest year for me money-wise, because every time we have a delay I miss an entire morning of work. A snow day is a full day of work that I'll most likely never get to make up, because scheduling between sixteen schools is a nightmare. I have the kind of job where I get paid for exactly what I do: no more, no less. And, I do love snow days, but...

So I was going about my daily activities yesterday, thinking and thinking about where all the money goes. As I passed the table by the front door I saw a piece of mail hand-addressed to me. It was a thank-you note from Tom Coale.

Frequent readers of this blog know that Tom is a local blogger, the former CA rep from Dorsey Search, and a Democratic candidate for the state delegate seat in 9B. He's also my friend. I've never been all that excited about donating to the campaigns of political candidates, possibly because I have never had a lot of discretionary income to throw around.

Tom is different. Even though he isn't even running in my district, he has convinced me of the difference that one good person can make in transforming the conversation and working for change. If I believe that, I should support it.

As I read his note I realized that I did have the money to buy a ticket to "Evening in the Stacks". I just made a different choice with it this year. Little by little, that money went in small donations to a grassroots campaign that I truly believe in. Enough for a ticket and even a new outfit.

I'm sorry, Howard County Library. I know you are awesome and I did give small tips to two of the Celebrity Bartenders. But this year I did something a whole lot less glamorous. In the end I think it will benefit our state, our community, even our library system.

And I can stop kicking myself around the house and start saving for next year.




Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Local Blogger

So some local blogger referenced my piece on Wednesday about changes coming to arts education in Howard County. However, he didn't have the decency to name me or link to the article. More than that, he didn't let his audience know that I am a teacher, hcpss parent, and a music professional.

Well, you know...bloggers. What do they know?

The problem is that this blogger is an elected member of the Howard County Board of Education. So, as a professional courtesy, I am going to name him and link to his post.

This post by Brian Meshkin might give you a good feeling about what is going on in our local school system. And I must say it paints a rosy picture of Mr. Meshkin's diligence as a board member. The problem is that I happen to know that it contains errors and omissions which make it less than helpful in assessing the situation.

Do I think this local blogger did this knowingly? No, I don't. I think he just doesn't know. And I think there's a lot more of that going on than you might imagine, because there is an odd working environment out there on Route 108. I am going to hazard a guess that our elected board is a lot less informed about policy changes than we would like.

You know, it must be difficult to get any work done when there are parents and teachers who want to be a part of the process and tell you what they think. Wouldn't it just be easier if you could get everything accomplished without any interruptions?

There's just this little problem about stakeholders.

I want to be clear that I think that our board members work extremely hard, are trying to do what they think is best, and care a lot about their mission. However, I think it is time for a huge rethinking of what the board is responsible for, and how they respond to stakeholders. Take a look at the work of Robert J. Garmston on school improvement. Think horizontal, not vertical.

And to that local blogger who dismissed me so casually this week, I will share this piece of advice that a wise person gave to me: If you call out someone on your blog, even if you don't mention them by name, you're basically saying, "come at me, bro'!"

Deadline to file to run for the Board of Education is Tuesday.



Friday, February 21, 2014

A Call to Action

Today's word is "stakeholder".

stakeholder, n

1. a person or group owning a significant percentage of a company's shares

2. a person or group not owning shares in an enterprise but affected by or having an interest in its operations, such as the employees, customers, local community, etc (emphasis mine)

Let's talk about the local community which elects the Howard Board of Education. That's us. Adult voters who live in our county, whether they have children or not, have a vested interest in the education of the community's children. A high-quality education benefits everyone as children learn, grow, and become successful members of that community.

We elect the Board of Education. In turn, the Board of Education hires the Superintendent of Schools. Whose schools? Our schools. We elect the Board of Education, we pay taxes to support the school system, and many of us provide our most precious "assets": our children.

We are the stakeholders.

Decisions which involve significant change in how our children will be educated are our business. We have the right to expect that such decisions will be made without haste, secrecy, or unusual pressures on teachers, administrators, and students.

These decisions should be made in collaboration with the trained professionals who work with our students, and their voices should be respected in the process. These decisions should be communicated with the public. Let's not forget who else should be at the table: parents.

Because we are the stakeholders.

However, if we don't exercise our rights and responsibilities as citizens/stakeholders, then we really have no rights at all. And then it will seem more like the Board of Education serves at the pleasure of the Superintendent, and the community is little more than an afterthought. It is up to us, if we care enough, to communicate with our elected representatives at the Board of Education and tell them what we want them to do on our behalf.

We value education in Howard County. And we love our children, and care deeply about how they will learn and grow. So what do we want to empower our Board of Education to stand for? I would suggest transparency, collaboration, and respect for stakeholders. And by stakeholders I mean parents, teachers, administrators, staff. None of us can do this alone; we must work together.

It is our responsibility and if we abdicate it then our whole educational process, which is meant to be the active expression of our love and aspirations for our children, slips into a topsy turvy world where decisions always come from the top and the stakeholders are always at the bottom. Let's take a stand for a more horizontal process, where constituents are valued and included.

The deadline to file as a candidate for the Board of Education is Tuesday. Don't let this election pass you by.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Come Together...Right Now

Yesterday I exhorted readers to take action against a plan to cut arts education and eliminate differentiated instruction for instrumentalists at the elementary level. These actions would destroy the strong foundation Howard County provides its students, and would be felt both short term and long term throughout the school system. Excellence in arts education supports students across all content areas. After all, a violinist in elementary schools may very likely grow up to Olympic athlete.

Children who study music in school grow up to be musicians, and doctors, and scientists, and teachers, and inventors, and salespeople, and contractors, and...well, you get the picture. And do you know where all those musical people want to go?

Merriweather! Columbia awesomeness advocate and all-around energizer Ian Kennedy reminds us that significant improvements to Merriweather Post Pavillion were promised as a part of the Downtown Plan, and as yet, nothing is happening. Go like their Facebook page and participate in the support for the valuable community resource. Not all our students will become rock stars. They'll also be music tech experts running sound, lighting experts running the lightshow, ticket takers, vendors, grounds crew, and happy concert goers. Let's make sure Merriweather will be there for them.

Support for the arts in Howard County is at the center of what makes this place so wonderful. A case in point: James Rouse's desire to have an active park for the people and opportunities for enjoying the arts right at Columbia's core. I was excited to see news yesterday of further developments for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. I love the Merriground feature. It's visually appealing and I think would see a lot of use. It is also shows responsiveness by the team to community input. That is a very good sign.

Get up to date on the plan here:

@suncolumbia: Playground, acoustics added to .@InARTrust plans for Symphony Woods #HoCoMd

And as to those acoustic elements, they do look cool. But can't we please have a sensory playground like this? I know, I know. I have now officially become the Bob Moon of the sensory playground. But despite my quirky persistence, I'm happy with the plans for Merriweather Park and thrilled that it is moving forward.

Education in the arts. Venues for the arts. Celebrating the arts in our community.

Come together.




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Howard County Music Changing?

My whole family loves music and we are so grateful for the excellent music education our daughter is getting in Howard County. So I was surprised to learn that the new elementary school, Duckett's Lane, has been piloting a new scheduling model that it is being expanded to five more schools next year. I went to last night's meeting of Howard County Parents for School Music to learn more.

In order to introduce Departmentalization and World Language Instruction at the Elementary level, the following changes will be made:

1. Kindergarten-2nd grade general music will be cut by 15 minutes per week, a 25% reduction in instructional time. This also will apply to art classes.

2. 3rd-5th grade general music will be cut by 30 minutes per week, a 50% reduction in instructional time.

3. Small group instrumental instruction (known as pull-outs) will be terminated. All sessions will be large group.

I want to make this as concise as I can.

  • Data presented on Duckett's Lane model: None (still in first year)
  • Data presented about new program: None (no official announcement to stakeholders)
  • Data presented on how reduction of music and art affects students: None
  • Input sought from the Instructional Facilitator of Music in Howard County: None
  • Input Sought from affected principals: None
  • Input sought from Music and Art Teachers: None
  • Input sought from parents: None

These changes will affect every student in the targeted schools. They reduce Arts education and eliminate differentiated instruction for instrumental music. If this is being piloted at Duckett's Lane plus five more schools next year, what do you think will happen the year after that? And how do you think our entire Music program, throughout the County, at every level, will be affected by cuts at its foundation?

What you can do:

1. Spread the word. Tell other parents. Share this post, talk to your school PTA, join Howard County Parents for School Music. They have a Facebook Page, and you can follow them on Twitter: HoCoMusParents @hcpsm .The burden is on parents to shed light on this, since there has been no communication about these changes from the Superintendent's Office.

2. Write a letter.* Write to the Superintendent. Write to each member of the Board individually. (Write one letter; send to each individual email address) Tell them why music matters and why decisions affecting your children should be made including parents and the teachers whose professional expertise is pertinent to the decisions.

3. Go to a Board Meeting and speak in support of Music in Howard County, and in support of collaboration and communication with stakeholders. Be respectful, be brief, and be determined.

Whether your child is in Elementary, Middle or High School, this decision affects them and you. It impacts Arts education in the short and long term, and it sets a precedent for top-down changes without involvement from stakeholders.

Please speak out for your child and for all of our children.



*Check back later today for individual email addresses for all Board of Education members. They do not appear on the Board webpage.

Student Member:







Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It All Adds Up

I'm suffering from a bit of blog-lag after a week in San Antonio for a Music Educators' conference. Writing daily is a crazy act of faith and when I stop, even for a bit, everything seems to turn to cement. But two things appeared in my sights this morning and came together in such lovely synergy that I had to share.

First, this story on the usefulness of the SAT's. It appears that a student's high school grades are a more accurate predictor of college success than his or her scores on this standardized test. (Well, duh.) So we have a whole testing industry and a "prepare for the test" industry which use up a boatload of money and time and are very likely of little use.

Does this remind you of anything? Well, I'm not going to leave this up to the imagination. If this massive testing system which is used to evaluate college preparedness is less valuable than the student's actual high school record, the why on earth would we rely on high stakes testing to evaluate students at any other level? As a parent I am far more interested in my child's progress day-to-day and over the course of the year, as shown in her work and her school evaluations. It would seem from the results from the SAT study that I would be right to place my confidence there, rather than standardized test results.

Second, this page from NAFME. (National Association for Music Education) It asks us to "Look Beyond the Bubbles." I couldn't have seen it at a better time. Take a look at the chart headed, "a complete argument for music education". I am particularly interested in the section which examines the benefits of music education which reach "beyond the bubbles".

They are:

  • decision-making
  • grit
  • multiple ways of knowing
  • higher attendance and graduation rates
  • communication
  • filling gaps for students lagging behind
  • critical thinking
  • emotional awareness
  • reflective learning

Interesting. If we want our students to be "college and career ready" and ready for a life worth living, where do you think we should place our trust? Filling in bubbles? Or beyond the bubbles?


A shout-out to State Senate Majority Leader James N. Robey who responded to my recent email as follows : I support Senate Bill 165, entitled Education – Maryland School Assessment – Request for Waiver, as a cosponsor.

Meeting tonight of the Howard County Parents for School Music at 7:00pm, at Old Cedar Lane School, 5451 BEAVERKILL RD, COLUMBIA, MD 21044. Everyone is welcome!





Monday, February 10, 2014

Top Five

The top five items on my Facebook feed this morning are as follows:

  • PTA
  • potholes
  • problem-solving
  • pork pies
  • personality type

I'm seeing a pattern here.

Today's blog is brought to you by the letter P, and by the number 5.

Saturday evening Margo was at a party which left us with an unexpected opportunity for a dinner date. We didn't have a lot of time, so we chose from amongst the many fast-casual establishments nearby. After ticking off quite a few, we settled on Baja Fresh. Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: the parking lot at Dobbin Center.

No matter how many times I go there, I can't shake the feeling that there is something intrinsically wrong with how the parking is laid out in relation to the shops and restaurants. It is difficult to navigate in and out of the lot itself. It takes forever to maneuver around the lot, and the most desirable spaces are inevitably filled. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a soul-sucking experience, but deflating? Depressing?


Despite the expected commute from our parking place to our dinner, we had a delicious meal and enjoyed the chance for an impromptu "date". When we were finished eating, we realized we still had some time before we needed to pick up Margo. My husband, king of bargain hunters, wanted to pop into Ross. I did not.

"I tell you what," I suggested. "You go to Ross, and I'll go over to Panera and pick up some pastries for Sunday breakfast."

We were having a satisfying pedestrian experience at Dobbin Center. Parked car once, went to three easily accessible places. It almost felt like--gasp--walkability.

I'm looking forward to ongoing improvements in Columbia that will make it easier to park the car and have a pleasant pedestrian experience. But, for last Saturday night, going from pet peeves to pastries was pretty sweet.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

Score One for Awesome Columbia

Reprinting this post on real estate from last year. Look for an update at the end.



Real Estate

Lucy Van Pelt: I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.

Charlie Brown: What is it you want?

Lucy Van Pelt: Real estate.


I sat across from my daughter in the Nordstrom Cafe yesterday. We chatted over

perfectly seasoned chicken, grilled vegetables, fresh fruit, and peach iced tea. The occasional "ladies who lunch" experience is a treat for us, a mother-daughter splurge. We talked about writing, her upcoming job interview, and the House Hunt.

George and Alice got married in September. They didn't have any immediate plans to buy a house. They rent a spacious condo that meets their present needs. But then two things happened. George got a raise, and the housing market began to shift. Suddenly it looked as though they could afford a house, and that perhaps they had better act before prices went back up.

It's interesting to hear her take on the Columbia housing market. "Well, I know I want to live in Oakland Mills," she said. "The houses we've seen in other villages are smaller, more expensive, and they need so much work. You're paying for the village name, perception. The houses in Oakland Mills are bigger, more affordable, and in many cases the updating has already been done."

This made me smile. I've been saying to folks for quite awhile that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in Oakland Mills. Now my twenty-something daughter was relating her own personal experiences to me, and that's exactly what she was finding.

I read in a comment on Patch the other day that the only people who live in Oakland Mills have no choice or don't know any better. I'd put Alice up against that half-baked notion any day. She grew up in Baltimore City, so she knows a good neighborhood from a bad neighborhood. She has lived here, worked here, patronized businesses here. She's been doing her homework. This is not naivete.

Every week seems to have both good news and bad news for my village. A well-attended forum on education. A hideous violent crime. And this means opportunities for thoughtful people to ask questions and share ideas, while narrow-minded folks spew stereotypes and insults.

Thank heavens I get to sit face-to-face with the next generation of Columbia and hear a fresh point of view on a regular basis.


Update: They found the house they wanted. In Oakland Mills. One of the first things they did was to park their car and see how long it takes to walk to the Village Center. And then to our house.

I just love happy endings.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Conscientious Objectors

@AdamMendelson: MSA bill hearing summary: Educators, BOEs, local supes, students, & many legislators want to get this right...but MSDE wants to ignore them.

@heidlovesmath: @AdamMendelson so what can we do next?

@AdamMendelson: @heidlovesmath Call, write, or email your legislators. You can email them here:

@Teachbaltshaw: @AdamMendelson as a collective our voices should be stronger than that of MSDE. We must demand better. #edreform

@AdamMendelson: @Teachbaltshaw Couldn't agree more. Demand better & deserve better.


Adam Mendelson is the communications director for the Maryland State Education Association . I have been following him on Twitter since the evening of the Howard County Board of Education budget meeting. I found his live-tweeting of Wednesday's hearing in Annapolis on the topic of requesting a waiver for this year's MSA testing to be extremely informative.

So, as @heidilovesmath asks, what can we do next? "Call, write, or email your legislators." But, I'm guessing a lot of you have done that already. I have contacted Guy Guzzone, James Robey, and Martin O'Malley. (Big props to Guy Guzzone for responding within hours.)

After you do your best to work within the system, you begin to think outside the box. And so I ask you,

What if they had a test and nobody came?

You can't administer a test if you have no one to give it to. But it isn't as simple as that. I have to be honest and say that those of us who really care about this issue and feel motivated to influence the outcome are only a subset of the entire parent population in the state of Maryland. There is no way we could guarantee one hundred per cent participation, in fact, it's unlikely that more than fifty per cent would enlist in this cause as conscientious objectors.

Where does that leave us? Well, I'm going to take a leap here and suggest that the parents who oppose this year's MSA testing are: intelligent, involved, educated, well-informed. Most likely that means they are also doing pretty well financially, as it is extremely difficult to have the time to be involved and well-informed when you are working multiple jobs or struggling to have enough food to feed your family.

So, let's just pull out the kids of the intelligent, involved, educated, well-informed, financially stable parents. Remove them from the testing equation. How do you think that would affect Maryland scores overall?

Yes, I know I am making some assumptions here. But just think, if the students whose families come from the chunk of our society that is able to make choices were absent from testing, it would have a huge impact on test scores all over the state. It would also leave the drudgery of needless testing to the children of the poor, uneducated, non-English speaking parents. You know, the people who have no choice.

And that is really sickening. It shouldn't happen. But if the MDSE saw the writing on the wall that it could happen, would it make a difference in their decision? Would that kind of a public relations/test scores debacle frighten them enough to change their minds?

Anyone out there want to find out?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Untold Riches

If you are a parent, you know the drill. When you have a sick child who cannot go to school, you have more than one problem. First, of course, you have a sick child. Second, if you have a job, you have a conflict. Many of us have been the parent who wondered if the illness was borderline enough that a little over the counter medicine would get them through. Many of us have been the teacher shaking our heads at the parents who send the child to school sick.

It is complicated. So many jobs don't take into account sick children. American culture doesn't honor family needs. Period.

I have reached a point in my life where I can, if absolutely necessary, stay home with a sick child. I hate letting my schools and students down, but it is understood within the early childhood world that sometimes you have sick kids. I get paid only for the classes I teach, so my paycheck suffers.

But I now have enough financial stability, largely through marriage, to be able to take small cuts here and there for sick days. I make them up if at all possible. For many parents, being able to do this is an unimaginable luxury.

Should it be?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's Not About the Money

Some things make me so angry that I want to leap upon the blog page and send forth a lightning bolt of words to let everyone know. To set everybody straight. But anger like that gets so big that it prevents me from saying what I really want to say. I have taken a number of deep breaths this morning and I am going to try, bit by bit, to face what set me off and make sense of it.

This morning, fellow blogger and friend Bill Woodcock at The 53 Blog takes a moment to dwell on the Howard County School System budget issue. My take on what he says is that HCEA president Paul Lemle rubs him the wrong way, but that all in all, teachers probably deserve more than .5 raise.


First, about Paul Lemle. I guess we don't all have to like him. But, like it or not, he is the elected president of the HCEA. He is doing his job. But, consider this. We live in a society which has come to criticize and distrust teachers just for being teachers. Professionals with both experience, education, and continued training are dismissed--"How can you believe that argument? He's a teacher you know." Do we say that about doctors when they speak about medicine, or plumbers when they diagnose a problem with the pipes? Do we sneer at concert pianists who talk about their music, or an IT professional who works to unsnarl tech issues?

Bill writes,

And that brings me tooooooo--- HCEA President Paul Lemle is the kind of unimpressive person I like. He could choose to truly BE impressive, if that's what he wanted for himself. He should be so, so, SO much better-- but he just isn't. Always knee-jerking, always looking for the chance to grab a headline, or create some tagline. Especially with his facial hair, Lemle would like you to think he's hip. But he's not hip. He's hype.

This looks a little bit too much like a breezy, cleverly composed personal attack. I just don't like it. But more than that, I think it is important to note that if you hold teachers and learning in high regard, and you understand the negative work environment they have been enduring, the description would be markedly different. Then he would be "Paul Lemle: always ready to jump in to advocate for teachers, always looking for an opening to make the case for his colleagues, working tirelessly to communicate with stakeholders that the concerns of teachers are the community's concerns."

It all depends on how you look at it. Doesn't it?

And to clarify, I don't think I have ever even met Paul Lemle. And any personal feelings I have about his manner or his facial hair are completely irrelevant. Or should be.

Now, about the money. It's not about the money. Or, rather, it's not simply about the money. Teaching has never been a lucrative profession and no one expects to get rich doing it. My personal opinion is that it's crazy that our teachers can't afford to live here, or that many have to work multiple jobs to survive. But money alone is not what caused 500 teachers to turn out at the Board of Education meeting last week.

Respect. Fair treatment. Working Conditions. Do those things matter to you? Well, they matter to teachers. Since the beginning of No Child Left Behind teachers have worked in an environment that says standardized tests know better, and mean more, than teachers, parents, and students. They have watched as millions of dollars were spent on testing and its accoutrements, as valuable hours were taken away from real teaching, and have spent countless hours in increased workload. More forms. More meetings. More meetings about how to fill out the forms.

The five hundred teachers who showed up, plus all those who supported them in spirit, have a message for us: wake up. This is bigger than money. This is about your children. Teachers need our support so that they can give our kids their best. Isn't that what we want for our children and our community?

Politicians and bureaucrats often drive a wedge between parents and teachers, to cast teachers as "other". This takes power away from both. If parents and teachers truly made the connection that we are all on the same team, the force for good would be unstoppable. As long as we are separated into different "camps" our ability to influence change is neutralized.

I applaud the PTA Council of Howard County for working to educate parents on important issues. Here is the information for their (rescheduled) meeting.

The PTACHC general meeting has been rescheduled to next Monday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 pm. Same location: BOE, 10910 Route 108.

On the agenda; HCEA Panel: What's Changing in our Schools, being better partners with our educators; FY15 Operating Budget and other issues; Updates on the Student Privacy and data collections; Common Core Forum on Feb. 23; and the MD Legislative Session.

We look forward to seeing you next Monday and hope the weather cooperates. We apologize for any conflicts this reschedule may cause but the weather does not always cooperate.

For every child, one voice,

PTA Council of Howard County office


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ten-Question Tuesday

Things I want to know:

1. Why, with all our technological advances, have we not invented an Insta-Thaw Windshield?

2. What do they really want you to write on those report card envelopes on the parent comment line?

3. Did you know you can support Talbott Springs Elementary School today, just by eating at Bertucci's? Well, you can! @Hoyafan_1994: Support TSES at Bertucci's in Columbia, MD. 4 Feb. from 11am-10pm. Flier needed.

4. Why are there only five Special K chewy bars in a box? My family goes through scads of them every week!

5. Why do I get so excited about this new product when I know, deep down, it won't help me get any more organized than anything else I already have?

6. Friend Wendy Scherer (of Finding Blanche) asks,

"Am I the only one who thinks a name change is in order? Storm Warning. Storm Watch. Which is which? Which is worse? I ask myself every time. I propose 1) Winter Storm Possible but you have time to go to the store and get TP and baking supplies and it may or may not really happen or 2) Winter Storm Imminent so make sure your phone is charged and if you're truly out of TP, hurry and get some."

7. Does anyone truly and completely understand Maryland campaign finance laws?

8. Wouldn't you like to see someone write a children's book based on this amazing headline?

Rabbits Unearth Ancient Treasures at English Landmark

9. Any suggestions as to which Celebrity Bartender deserves my tip for the Howard County Library's Evening in the Stacks?

And finally, the last question, relating somewhat to question 6:

10. Will we have school tomorrow?


Monday, February 3, 2014

Who Is Entitled?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: an actor whose work I have to admit I have never seen. But that didn't matter to me yesterday when I heard of his death. It was heartbreaking, no matter who he was. He was someone's partner, someone's dad, someone's friend.

This comment on Facebook drew me up short:

He was easily among the very greatest actors of my generation. Though we'll tut-tut the tragic loss, let's also say this: narcotics users are selfish. He just stole from us all the brilliant roles he will never now perform.

Selfish? I responded:

Addiction is horrible. He really, really tried. Can't agree with you on this.

He replied:

Perhaps he tried. But he tried too late. "If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."

Soon after, @LisaB.Mrs.S. retweeted:

@knottyyarn: How about believing survivors. How about compassion for addicts. How about not indulging that blame-placing urge & remembering humanity.

Yes, I thought. Yes. Yes. Yes.

But then I read these responses:

@commiegirl1: @knottyyarn honestly, I grew up with a daddy who's an addict. My son is my son because his birth mom died from it. I just don't empathize.

@commiegirl1: @knottyyarn I know I would be a better person if I did, but they leave behind so much f***ing wreckage.

And who would know better that they, with real life, personal experience?


Who has the right to pass judgement? Who is entitled to sum it up, give it a name, count the cost and lay the blame? I know I am not. As I wrote on Facebook last night,

On a more serious note, people who have no concept of what addiction means and go online to pontificate are...well, I guess...well, never mind. Sad.

I can tell you this: many years ago, when my first marriage was breaking up, I came dangerously close to having a problem with alcohol. I was overwhelmed. I felt pain and helplessness. I felt sorry for myself, too. Hadn't I earned that extra drink? Yet though I teetered on the edge, I eventually stepped away from that danger. Very gradually, I moved forward.

Why? You could say that God was watching out for me. Or that my strength of character won out as I realized my responsibility to my young daughter. You could say a variety of things, but the truth is that I did not have in my body chemistry that disease which is alcoholism. An addiction.

I was so, so lucky. And I continue to be blessed that I wobbled and struggled and was able to find my equilibrium. Others are not so lucky. Addiction is a disease and the wreckage is immense. My wish is that those of us who are addiction-free or have merely dipped a toe in the water restrain ourselves from passing judgement.

We are not entitled.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Flaw in the System

Yesterday was a busy day at Panera. So busy in fact, that when I got to the front of the line the young cashier was leaning wearily on the register with both arms. I smiled, encouragingly, I hoped, and placed my order. The first thing I told her was that it was "to go." At the end of the transaction she asked, "Is this for here or to go?" I said again, "it's 'to go'."

A while later, as we walked to the car, I got a bad feeling. I stopped and looked in the bag. My husband's toasted everything bagel with cream cheese was not there. We trudged back inside to see the clerk. There, sitting on a plate, was my husband's order.

You didn't give us the bagel," I explained, holding up our brown paper bag. She smiled and pointed to the plate. "Here it is." "But the whole order was to go!" "Oh, sorry." She moved away to get the now cold bagel wrapped to go. The young man next to her explained that anything you order from the bakery always comes out up at the front.

"But I ordered it to go..." It seemed hopeless. I took the belated bagel and left.

"Dare I say that we just experienced a flaw in the system?" I asked Margo as we walked to the car.

"Not really," she replied. "It's not actually a flaw to the system, it's just a flaw to the customer."

"Margo, when you have a business, a flaw to the customer IS a flaw to the system."

"But it really wouldn't make sense for the person to have to take your bagel all the way down to the other end. It would be a waste of time for them."


Bagels to Board Meetings. Just like that.

Thursday's Board of Education meeting to discuss next year's budget jumped into my mind. The turnout of close to five hundred teachers seemed to surprise and possibly annoy the board. It's pretty clear they didn't see that coming.

The fact that they didn't see it coming reveals a flaw in the system. Oh, but it's not really a flaw in the system. It's just a flaw to the teachers.

I'll pause for a minute to let that sink in.

Earlier in the year the Board wanted to hold open negotiations with the teachers' union. The union agreed, asking that the Board follow the legal requirements of their contract to officially make that change. The Board refused, and unilaterally cancelled negotiations.

The teachers showed up anyway. They turned out for every allotted session of negotiation and made it quite clear they were looking for open dialogue. No one from the Board showed up.

Earlier in the year the Board made it known that they would be asking for a fifty per cent pay increase for members of the Board of Education. The amount of increase that was being discussed at the time for teachers? .5 percent. When the actual budget was submitted, the increase listed for teachers was zero.

Reporter Sara Toth, live tweeting Thursday's meeting for the Sun, wrote:

But in regards to teacher raises, again, it's common for there to be no placeholder at the beginning. Also that's what negotiations are for.

My response:

I can't help but feel there's something bigger at stake here for the teachers. Turnout was impressive. Something is clearly deeply troubling the teachers who turned up tonight. Not business as usual to them.

I can tell you what is troubling to me, as a parent. Our Superintendent, our Board of Education and the folks who work at Central Office are happy to brag about our world-class education system in Howard County, yet the treatment the teachers are receiving is far from world-class.

It is the teachers who are in the classrooms, making in happen. They are directly in contact with students and parents. They are the ones who have to implement ever-changing requirements, complete ever-increasing paper work, all the while struggling to fulfill their real mission: dealing with the needs of the precious human beings they want to serve. Our kids.

Please, please read Sara Toth's article about the meeting, and LisaB.Mrs.S. writing about the meeting here. If you can, please come to the PTA Meeting at Central Office tomorrow night to learn more and ask your own questions.(Location: Board of Education Board Rooms A & B, 10910 Route 108. Time: 7:30pm and ends by 9:30 pm.)

Thought to ponder: if it's a flaw to the teachers, it IS a flaw in the system.