Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This is not a community post. This is personal.

If you have a chance to go and say goodbye to someone: go. Just go. If you believe the invitation to visit is sincere, then go.

I didn't.

I didn't want to interfere, I didn't want to intrude. I didn't want to impose some need of my own for closure into someone else's pain and suffering,

I thought I was doing the right thing. The selfless thing. The noble thing, even.

But maybe I was just afraid.

How do you say goodbye to someone for whom you have felt both love and fear, and anger, despair, yet still kinship: a distant kind of familial obligation? How do you reach across years and years of separation? All that you know is that the reasons why everything happened the way it did are blurred and ambiguous. You feel no wisdom. You feel you have nothing new to offer.

It was another lifetime. We were different people. That's what people say, right?

I was so sure I was doing the right thing. Now I'm grieving for the chance I didn't take.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Elevating the Conversation

There's a new podcast in town. Have you listened to Elevate Maryland ?  Hosted by local bloggers and community activists Candace Dodson-Reed and Tom Coale, it has already completed four episodes. Yes, you can find it on iTunes.

Each episode focuses around a guest. So far the show has hosted:

Former County Executive Ken Ulman
State Comptroller Peter Franchot
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano

The hosts do an excellent job in balancing the right kinds of questions for their guests with the right amount of time to listen and let their guests be themselves. In addition, the "unsung hero" of the show is Ilana Bitner of HoCoMoJo, who handles the recording, editing, and production duties.

The show is taped at Joe's Place Deli. Have you ever eaten there? It's awesome: delicious food, friendly and cozy atmosphere.

If you are trying to get a good sense of the new Superintendent, I highly recommend the latest episode. A teaser: it is possible to complete an entire interview without mentioning testing, test scores, data, "college and career ready", or "world class education".

I've learned something from each episode. It's thoughtful, informative, and fun. And it's off to a good start.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If You Build It

I keep going back to Wine in the Woods even though I don't really drink wine. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a taste of merlot now and again, but life experience has taught me that wine equals migraines. As I watch people wander through the woods with a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other, I have to suppress a shudder when I imagine the likely consequences. But that's just me.

I keep returning to our annual rite of Spring because of this.

I continue to be excited about Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. Despite being a card-carrying introvert, I'm happy to turn up annually to talk to perfect strangers about the Inner Arbor Trust. Wine in the Woods is a great time to do this. You're not trapping people in a room to lecture them. You're not making a do-or-die presentation for funds.

You're sharing enthusiasm.

This year's experience was especially sweet for me because we had more than architects' drawings and computer-generated renderings to talk about. We could simply gesture to the left of our booth to the Chrysalis, where musicians were playing and happy festival-goers were spread out on the grass like brightly-colored wildflowers.

The park is not some lofty pipe-dream. It is here, it is happening, and more is on the way.

Talking to people at Wine in the Woods is a sort of evangelism. While more people than ever already know about the Chrysalis, there are still plenty who don't know about plans for the park at all. Some don't understand that the park is separate from Merriweather Post Pavillion. Some think that the construction by Howard Hughes along Broken Land Parkway is on park property. (It isn't.)

So you talk to one person, and they walk away with more knowledge than they had before. And they tell their friends. Little by little the word is spread. Many people I talked with understood that the park is a part of the overall resurgence in Downtown Columbia to create a vibrant core for our community. Yes, people were telling me this year, things like:

  • I really think this is a continuation of Rouse's dream.
  • I like everything they're doing to make this whole area more walkable.
  • This is a part of what makes Columbia a number one place to live.
  • I want to know what else is happening at the Chrysalis this summer.
  • The Butterfly building is going to be so cool. Will it be available for rentals?

If you are going to Wine in the Woods today, stop by the Inner Arbor Trust booth and say hello. You can get a free bracelet and a list of upcoming events. Or, for a small donation, you can get a Chrysalis  poster or a nifty Chrysalis tote bag.

Better than that, you can enjoy some great conversation.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Saturday, May 20, 2017

And Another Thing

As soon as I clicked "publish" yesterday I realized I had omitted the announcement by Byron MacFarlane that he will be running for a seat on the County Council. My apologies for this oversight.

In light of this news, here's a short piece I wrote about Mr. MacFarlane in 2014. I look forward to catching up with him in the near future to hear what's on his mind as his campaign begins.

Taking the Time (October, 2014)

Yesterday I bumped into Byron MacFarlane at a holiday potluck I attended with my daughter. I'm sure you won't be suprised to learn that she immediately ditched me to hang out with her friends, so I was eating dinner more or less on my own. I had set aside my plate and gotten out my crocheting when he came in the room, spotted me, and came over to say hello.

In case you don't know, Byron is the Register of Wills in Howard County. I haven't ever needed to see him in his official capacity. I know him solely from conversations at social events. Like this one. I feel a bit of kinship with him as my father and grandfather's name were Byron, and it is such a rare name that there's almost a burden attached to it.

But that's another story altogether.

We talked about crocheting (something good to do with your hands if you're shy), the recent election, local people we admire, and his second swearing-in and how it felt to be beginning a second term in office. It struck me that his focus was on how important it is to treat your staff right, to show support and loyalty. He sounds like he'd be a great boss.

Soon he was off to join a table of his friends. The evening moved from dinner to a beautiful choral concert, and I had time to reflect on our conversation. I have experienced plenty of "drive-by" conversations with candidates and electeds over the last several years. After a while you get a good sense of who is really "with you" and who is scanning over your shoulder for more important people.

Mr. MacFarlane took the time to sit down and communicate on a very human level with someone from whom he likely had nothing to gain. That may not seem remarkable to you. But last night, alone at a social function with my crocheting, I found it to be a lovely gift.

I am thinking a lot about starting conversations these days. I highly recommend this post from the Rev'd Heather Kirk-Davidoff. She states:

We need an excuse to connect, a reason to invite someone to sit down for a moment and talk with us, a reason to open our door and ask someone to step inside.

As Pastor Chad Kline at Abiding Savior Lutheran would say, "Can I get an Amen?"


Reminder: Flea Market this morning at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. Proceeds go to HCPSS Lunch Program to pay down student lunch debt.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Friday, May 19, 2017

Headlines and Highlights

On my radar this morning:

  • BOE has approved a one year contract for Dr. Michael Martirano, 6-0.
  • There are over 30 applicants for the open BOE position.
  • Water main break on Main Street in Ellicott City opened up the street on Wednesday.
  • Merchants on Main Street went forward with their Girls Night out Thursday anyway. (I question "Mules on Main" as an appropriate theme, however...)
  • Carolyn Freel of Hammond High School is HCPSM Music Teacher of the Year, Laura Baker of  Ilchester Elementary, and Ben Deanne of Ellicott Mills Middle, Runners-up.
  • Oakland Mills High School MESA team won first place in the state of Maryland.
  • Today is Bike to Work Day.
  • Newest episode of Elevate Maryland will be taped today at Joe's Place Deli.
  • Wine in the Woods in this Weekend. Come visit me at the Inner Arbor Trust Booth.
  • Don't forget the Abiding Saviour Flea Market Saturday morning, proceeds to benent the HoCo school's lunch program. All the best people will be there.
Anything else we need to know?

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Thursday, May 18, 2017


Acting Superintendent Michael Martirano is having a Town Hall event next week at Howard High School.

Since assuming his new role within the school system, Dr, Martirano has been reaching out to a variety of groups, both large and small. He met with the leadership of HCEA, with local advocates of HCPSS Community Shares, with teachers, with PTA presidents, with the parents of Grace McComas-- and these are just the meetings I know about. He made himself available for a meeting of the Board of Public Works in Annapolis, and showed up to speak at the Howard County Citizens Association meeting last night.

Dr. Martirano is putting his best foot forward as he begins his new job, and the fact that he has a fondness for crazy socks has already endeared him to many. But of course it takes more than meetings to mend broken relationships. And crazy socks, though a nice touch, aren't necessarily an adequate means of judging competence or sincerity.

What matters to me is the content of these meetings, which is why I am glad to have an opportunity to attend one of them myself. These are the things I'll be looking for:

  • Will the Acting Superintendent actually take questions from the crowd that haven't been pre-vetted and selected?
  •  Will his answers show he has truly listened to the question?
  •  Will his remarks address candidly the present state of the Howard County Schools?
  •  Will we get some specific examples of how he hopes to make Central Office more open, transparent, accountable, and responsive?
If you have your own questions, you should definitely turn up next week to ask them.  While I don't know much about Dr, Martirano--yet-- I do know that he relishes the opportunity to connect with people. In fact, I've heard he'll be making an appearance this Friday on Elevate Maryland, Howard County's newest podcast.

Do you have questions? What are some of the things you'll be looking for? Feel free to share them here:


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Treasure Hunt

This Saturday, come browse through the collected treasures of our church community and find some new treasures for yourself. Yes, it's time for the Abiding Savior Flea Market.

We've all read too many stories about kids getting shamed because their parent were behind in paying the lunch fees. Stories like those motivated our Flea Marker director, Mary Jo Deets, to do something, This year's proceeds will go to supporting kids in need in the Howard County Schools by supporting the lunch program.

I continue to be amazed at the power of this one event to generate the funds to do good. And I really don't understand how one group of people never runs out of things to donate for the sale. But these treasures just keep turning up on an annual basis. Perhaps a hint to how this all works comes from Mrs. Deets' son Stephen:

Every year at the flea market I have to buy back stuff from my childhood that my mother is trying to get rid of. 

A word to the wise: the McCready family has donated a huge number of board games to the sale, if you're looking to get a bargain.

From a previous post about the Flea Market:

In addition to remarkable bargains you will find cheerful hearts, helpful advisors, and energetic assistance from church members young and old. All have a sincere desire to give you a price you want to hear along with a sense of humor. Even if you buy nothing (extremely unlikely) you will come away feeling better than when you arrived. 

Abiding Savior is the Lake Woebegon of Columbia parishes, almost too small to be found on a map. And yet every year this flea market raises a hefty sum for charity. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "though we be but small, we are fierce."

Please stop by Saturday morning to shop and have some fun. Help us help hungry kids right here in Howard County.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Let the Song Go On

With the morning brought the news that my older daughter's father has died. He had been ill for a long time.

He loved music more than anything in this world.

Take a moment today to listen to some music that you love. Even better, share some music with a friend.


Monday, May 15, 2017


Just a few questions this morning:

1. What is the deal with group Prom photos? This was not a thing in my youth. Your parents took a picture with you and your date. Period. We now have elaborate location photo shoots with the young ladies lined up by the color of their gowns. It's a bit like old school wedding photography.

If this makes everyone happy, including the kids, then who am I to object? I just wonder how this little tradition evolved.

2. Do you go to Wine in the Woods? If so, what do you like about it? If not--why not?

3. Who is on your personal short list for that enticing Board of Education seat?

Have a good Monday and send me all your questions here:


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something More

The year was 1967. I was in the second grade and we were tasked with making Mother's Day cards. I couldn't draw well, and I knew I couldn't draw well. So I went with a full-on swirly colorful design instead of  a recognizable image. Then, to tie it all together, I added this message:

Mom, you're psychedelic-- like LSD!

What can I say? I was a child of the sixties. I picked up on the snippets of pop culture that were swirling around me. I can't imagine what my teacher thought.

My mom was not even remotely psychedelic. (Just in case that needs to be cleared up.) I had no earthly idea what LSD was. (You probably knew that, too.) I was just trying to do something cool. In my own way. Using the abilities that I possessed.

I have now been a mom for over 30 years. Something I have learned is how important it is to celebrate your children when they do just that. If they feel safe in your love and acceptance, they will keep trying, again and again, to do something cool, in their own way, using the abilities they possess.

Sometimes we worry that what our kids do reflects on us in a way that makes us look bad. We find ourselves cringing a bit, trying to reshape/modify/edit their unfiltered expressions. "Are you sure you want to wear stripes and flowers and plaid?"

Maybe that's because we don't give ourselves enough credit. How often do we celebrate ourselves, as mothers, for doing cool things in our own way using the abilities we possess? How often do we let ourselves feel that exhilaration of being ourselves and living our truth? Unfiltered, unmodified, unedited?

That's my message for Mother's Day this year. I feel sure that you will get plenty of the "Mom is always there for us, nurturing, remembering the important stuff, selflessly sacrificing", etc. etc. We all know the drill. And I don't deny the importance of the support and caregiving and all of the emotional labor that mothers do.

But maybe Mother's  Day, she thought, shouldn't come from a store. Maybe Mother's Day could be something more.

Happy Mother's Day. Be yourself, love yourself. Heck, be psychedelic if you want to.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


My Friday night.

The exhilaration of high school students immersed in music they love was contagious. It was like being at the best party ever, where everyone feels included. 

This is not meant to be a music review. I could talk how challenging the arrangements were, and how the students rose to the challenge. I could talk about tuning, ensemble, vocal quality, blend, the merits of the assorted soloists. But that's not the point I want to make.

What we were watching last night was sheer joy. It reminded me of the motto of a school where I once taught: cum gaudio discimus. With joy we learn.

The recent trend in our schools to value skill and drill and test scores over human experiences has led many parents and students to think that anything that doesn't give you quantifiable points must be sacrificed to the "College and Career Ready" gods. But the capacity for enjoyment must be cultivated every bit as much as intellectual output. Without the ability to experience joy nothing else matters.

To prove a point, I recommend watching this video about Edward.


Joy is an investment we must all make. Last night, as I was bathed in the gorgeous sounds of close-harmony music, I was blown away by how much energy joy can produce. It is truly a force for good.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Same Old Same Old

And in other news, Fatimah Waseem will no longer be writing about Howard County. I don't know if she is staying with the Sun or going elsewhere. I don't even know if she is staying in the field of journalism. These days it is a hard field to say in.

I've attracted both criticism and derision in the past for saying that Columbia/HoCo deserves to have comprehensive news coverage and a consistent journalistic presence in our community. The truth is, no matter how important we think we are, in the grand scheme of things we are just another suburban backwater experiencing the decline of local journalism.

This is not to say a decline in local journalists. We have had some wonderful folks writing for us and I hesitate to name any because I fear leaving someone out. Part of that is because they were so good and part is because there have been so dang many of them.

So thank you to Ms. Waseem for entering into our local ups and downs and trying to make some sense of them. I wish you well in whatever you do next. Thanks to all the reporters whose work has shed light on what's happening and who we are.

A reminder: if you want good news: pay for the news. Support local journalism. Support local journalists. They have to eat, pay rent, and feed their dogs just like the rest of us.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hashtag Puzzled

Who is Bryce Hall and why is he over?

A quick glance at Twitter this morning led me to this hashtag:


All I know at this point is that Bryce Hall lives in Howard County, is possibly a graduate of Howard High School, and is on tour. He appears to be famous in some way, at least on Twitter.

And he said something that set off this tweetstorm. At least that's what it looks like.

At first I thought this was an example of cyberbullying and was worried this was a student in our schools. I wondered if I should report it to hcpss. The more I looked it appeared to be a case where teens turn in someone in the public eye. You can be become famous through social media interaction, but the tide can just as easily turn on you. That looks like this is what's happening here.

The entire thing leaves me with a bad feeling about how teens are using social media to "take somebody down." Free expression I understand. A huge Twitter pile-on feels wrong.

If you have a teen on Twitter, ask them about this kind of interaction. Do they think "celebrities" are fair game? Do they use the same language online that they would use face-to-face? Or do they think that anything goes?

I don't know if Bryce Hall is someone I would like or loathe but I do think he deserves to be treated like a human being.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Two Cents

I stopped by the meeting of the Oakland Mills Village Board last night. Here's what I said:

Hi there, I'm Julia McCready and I've served on the Village Board here in Oakland Mills. I'm also an admin of the Facebook Group: Oakland Mills is Awesome. So I'm here tonight to chime in with my two cents as you begin your new year together.

One thing you should know about me: I'm crazy about Oakland Mills. My husband works in River Hill and now I'm working near Olney. People have been asking us if we are going to move closer to where we work. But that's crazy. We would never do that. Oakland Mills has everything that we want. We love the community, the walkability, the diversity. We love the Farmers Market, the Second Chance, the warm and helpful Village staff. We love being close to Merriweather, and to all the excitement that's happening Downtown.

That's just a part of why I don't think that Oakland Mills needs re-inventing. There are so many wonderful things about our village. I think we need to celebrate our successes, focus on our strengths and build on them.

I've been a teacher over thirty years and one thing I've learned is that the only way to get people to take risks, change, and grow is to create an environment where building relationships is important. Where people can feel good about themselves. Criticism, punitive actions, and negative talk are counter-productive to building and sustaining community.

Building relationships and making people feel good about themselves are also crucial in dealing with the Columbia Association, Howard County Government, and our Village Schools. When we say we value connections, we need to show that we really do. Value. Connections.

You're here tonight because you were the top vote getters in an election where about four hundred households voted. But the flip side to that is that about 3000 households didn't. I would have to say that those missing 3000 households are one of the most important issues you will face as a board. It is crucial that you address this. In fact, all of us who love Oakland Mills must address this. If our mission is to celebrate and improve our village, we need those people on board. They need to know how important they are.

As you vote on officers tonight, I ask that you make your choices based on who would be most likely to reach out to those missing 3000. Who will be the most welcoming, who will listen, give them opportunities to engage and contribute?

I think that person is Jonanthan Edelson. I've worked with him on a variety of community ventures and I've never been disappointed.

In fact, having served on the board, I know what a gift this is that all of you are giving to our community. Some nights things are light hearted and congenial. Other nights things are awkward and contentious. Some nights you are tired, looking at the clock and you just want to go home. But you know that the work you do here is important. It precisely because I know how important it is that I came down here tonight to give you my two cents.

Thank you for making Oakland Mills even more awesome.


I'm happy to report that Mr. Edelson was elected to serve as Chair of the board. I'm looking forward to more positive leadership this year.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Markets Are Coming

I'm excited. One of my favorite things about Spring is the opening of our local famers' markets. They begin this week. You won't be surprised that my favorite is the one in Oakland Mills. I love my Sunday jaunts down tomthe Village Center to see what's fresh, chat with neighbors, and even hear music some weeks. This year we'll even have River House Pizza! Now, if we could only get Neat Nick Preserves to stop by for a few Sundays...

If you want to get even more excited about seasonal food, check out the blog AnnieRie Unplugged. She knows her stuff, she knows where to get it, and how to cook it. And her photographs will leave you hoping for a dinner invitation.

There will be a new market this year in Clarksville, on the site of Clarksville Commons. I guess this is to replace the one that was held at the River Hill Garden Center? I'm hoping to get out there to try some ice cream from Scoop and Paddle this summer. And of course summer wouldn't be summer without snowballs from the stand at Kendall Hardware.

Snowballs are a seasonal food, right?

Tell me about your favorite HoCo market here:


Monday, May 8, 2017

You Can't Unsee It

I'm a big fan of some of the more whimsical online accounts such as Col Gateway, Ms. Frizz, and, of course, Mr. Trash Wheel. Not only is Mr. Trash Wheel fun, but he's doing his bit to clean up the Inner Harbor and educate folks on how to change habits that lead to pollution. It's a beautiful combination.

Recently Mr. Trash Wheel teamed with Peabody Heights Brewery to create a limited edition ale which will benefit Healthy Harbor. Here's a video from the release party.

My first response was: this is so much fun! This is what I want to see in Columbia 50th celebrations!

My second response, coming fast upon the first, was: oh my word. Everyone is white.*

Once you start seeing it, you can't unsee it.

There are so many ways our lives are segregated. I keep remembering what a woman in front of me said at an African American Community Roundtable event last year at HCC. I can't quote her word-for-word, but the gist of her comment was that black people had to cope with and deal with white people all the time, but the same was not true in the reverse. It was possible for white people to live and work and play and have little to no contact with people of other races. Knowing how to interact was not essential for success or survival. Being around lots of other white people was just "the norm."

It is possible, as a white person, to be oblivious to this and still survive. And succeed.

This has profound implications for how we address issues of race in a culture where whites still hold a position of privilege, often while unaware of how entrenched that privilege is. It effects how community members feel about creating the Diversity Coordinator position in the Howard County Schools. It influences opinions on whether or not we have de facto segregation in our school system. Whether conscious or unconscious, it is there.

As we look at a better future for our school system, I hope we consider what an amazing opportunity we have to address this with our children. What better place to start than the place where we all come together? Better policies now are a long-term investment for our future. Do we want to perpetuate segregation or open the doors to true integration?

Diversity Is Being Invited to the Party; Inclusion Is Being Asked to Dance

As you go through your week, I suggest that you keep your eyes open to see who is invited to the party and who is asked to dance.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


*A postscript: this post is not meant to criticize the Healthy Harbor initiative in any way, but rather to show how my gaze has changed and what that means to me.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Object

No sooner than the Superintendent's "retirement" deal was announced I spotted folks online criticizing the County Executive's role in mediating the impasse between the Board and Dr. Foose. In short, the complaints seemed to center around two points:

1. Kittleman is a lousy mediator if he couldn't do better than 1.6 million.
2. Kittleman is patting himself on the back and using this to make himself look good.

I object.

1. The former Board of Education, basically gambling with our tax dollars, voted on a legal contract that the current Board (and the County Executive, for that matter) were bound by. May I remind you that former Board Chair Christine O'Connor forced a vote without allowing questions or discussion? Does the C.E. have extra-legal powers that I don't know about?

2. All politicians are self-promoters. It comes with the job. It behooves them to tell the public what they are doing. My County Council member Calvin Ball wrote a brilliant letter to the State Superintendent of Schools advocating for a change in hcpss leadership. He rightly shared his letter with the public. He hopes it did some good.

Is he "patting himself on the back"? Do you think he deserves praise or ridicule?

To be clear, what I object to is passing judgment without truly knowing what was going on. I object to snap judgement based on partisan politics. We like what "our guy" does. We splutter with indignation at the "other guy".

If we could just wait a bit before we reduce the whole thing to partisanship, that'd be great.

Personally, I am grateful to everyone who brought us to where we are today. That would include: the County Executive, the County Council, members of the current Board of Education, the Howard County Delegation, the Maryland General Assembly, parent advocates, HCEA, perhaps even the Maryland Board of Public Works. I refuse to assign gratitude to members of one political party over the other.

Feel free to hold whatever opinions you like. But accept my humble suggestion that none of us were in the room where it happened. How on earth can we know enough to pass judgement?

Oh, and one more thing. By law the County Executive appoints the next Board member, now that Christine O'Connor has resigned. If the public discourse sinks to a mudfest of partisan bickering, will that give him any motivation to make a non-partisan choice? Words have consequences. There's a lot at stake here.

Something to think about.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Saturday, May 6, 2017


From the kids who brought you this evening of fun:


Today at four pm:


Panelists include:

Byron MacFarlane: 1st openly gay elected official, Howard County (Register of Wills)
Cindy Gissendammer: Professor, Towson University
Suzi Gerb: Teacher, Centennial High School
Eric Masten: PFLAG

This event is open to the community. Hats off to the River Hill High School GSA for continuing to share a welcoming and accepting message in our County.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Friday, May 5, 2017

Six Years

It's May! Time for all the good folks to gather at the Village Green--if only we knew where that was...

So begins my first blog post for Village Green/Town². It made its first appearance on Columbia Patch on this date in 2011.

Welcome to The Village Green. According to Wikipedia, a village green “… is traditionally at a central location and provides an open-air meeting place for the people of a village, for example at times of celebration, or for public ceremonies.”  
I am envisioning this space, where I will be sharing my ideas, as a village green of sorts—a place where we have the “customary right to indulge in lawful sports and pastimes.”
Almost daily I read news of Columbia’s villages: calling for participation, creating new visions, or struggling to reach consensus amidst polarizing differences. Just as often I cannot make up my mind whether to be encouraged and frustrated by it all.  So, this will be a place to sort it out with input from you, my fellow villagers.  
In a related entry, town squares are described: “Most town squares are hardscapes suitable for open markets, music concerts, political rallies, and other events that require firm ground. Being centrally located, town squares are usually surrounded by small shops such as bakeries, meat markets, cheese stores, and clothing stores. At their center is often a fountain, well, monument, or statue.”
This sounds appealing to me. I’m wondering if we, as villagers, separated by neighborhood loyalties and generational differences, can come together to make a Town Square for Columbia that is as lively and relevant as a New American City deserves to be.
As you can see, I began with a focus on conflicting forces within  Columbia. But as time went on I became fascinated by the Columbia vs. HoCo dynamic, and the mission of the blog expanded accordingly. I certainly never envisioned how deeply I would be going into the Howard County School System. But as a teacher and a parent I found it to be a compelling local story. And I still do.
On the other hand, I'm looking forward to having more time to devote to the original purpose of this blog now that progress is being made on the school front. (Do I have ideas as to who I'd like to see fill that empty board seat? Sure I do. So does everyone I know.) 
Over the past year the local topic which has challenged me the most is racial justice, or, rather, the lack of it. Issues of diversity, racial equity in education, implicit bias, and systemic racism have become more and more crucial to me. I find it troubling that we can be touting "one Howard" and celebrating Columbia's 50th while evidence of a lack of progress looms large. 
Are we who we say we are?
Every day my blog and my day job duke it out for second place in my life, my family being first. My return to full-time employment this year has been both a challenge and a blessing. I'm grateful for the many opportunities my new job brings. But it definitely siphons off some of the creative energy that used to feed the blog.
A shoutout to my friend Mary Kate Murray who told me I should write a blog way back before I knew what blogs were, and to David Gresiman who was my mentor and editor at Patch. 
And a huge HoCo Holler to the readers and supporters of this blog. It was always meant to be a conversation, and you have made it so.

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Thursday, May 4, 2017


I saw this question yesterday in a music teachers' group on Facebook:

If you could only ask one question to prospective superintendent during an interview, what would it be?

Given the context, this is obviously a question from a music teaching job applicant heading into an interview. But, given recent events in Howard County, I saw it in a completely different light. As our Board of Education looks ahead to choosing a new Superintendent for our school system, what kind of questions will they ask? Do you have any questions that you think should be asked?

Yesterday Acting Superintendent Michael Martirano held a meet-and-greet event for teachers. He walked away from the podium and stood in the midst of them. And then he took questions. All questions. Difficult questions. Spontaneous, unfiltered questions.

If this doesn't seem exceptional, you may not have been following this story very closely.

While we are asking questions:
  • Why is Maryland the only state that doesn't allow their Boards of Education to both hire and fire Superintendents?
  • Why did members of our former Board of Education vote to approve a Superintendent's contract which legally obligated the current board to such an outrageous payout? 
In recent years the freedom to ask questions and get straight answers has been increasingly discouraged. I would argue that it's a large part of where we are today. If I had to submit a question right now it would be: how do we take steps to make sure that this doesn't happen to us again?

Questions or Comments? Post them here:  


Wednesday, May 3, 2017


"You're so brave!"

I can't remember how many times people said that to me after I wrote a blog post about the Howard County Public School System.

"You're so brave, Julia."

I need to set the record straight today: I was never brave.

You know what "brave" looks like?

Going to work day after day in a hostile environment is brave. Teaching classes too large, without enough materials or staff support is brave. Advocating for special needs students is brave. Speaking out against bullying and sexual assault is brave. Taking on the system on behalf of sick students, teachers, and staff is brave. Refusing to accept the ugly reality of an achievement and opportunity gap is brave. Going to board meeting after board meeting with people who accuse you of the vilest things in order to discredit your work is brave.

Me? Compared to that, a blog post is--well--just a blog post. I'm clear on that.

Today we have some new hope in Howard County, and a lot less fear. To all of you truly brave people: my heartfelt thanks.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Who We Remember

From Brittany Packnett on Twitter:

#JordanEdwards. Honor Roll Freshman. 15 years old. Shot and killed by Balch Springs, TX Police. He matters. 

How mindboggling to see this news yesterday when Howard County was declaring May 1st to be Zaching Day in memory of the late Zach Lederer. Zach was a beautiful and inspiring young man who fought and succumbed to cancer. His story has spread and inspired many. His legacy is the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation.

It is fitting that we remember him, and honor him.

What about Jordan Edwards? He wasn't a local boy. That couldn't happen here, right?

Jordan Edwards was a beautiful young man who, in all likelihood, fought and succumbed to racism/implicit bias in our country. That should be everybody's business. Will there be a day in his honor? Will there be a foundation in his name to fight racism?

Please, please, please don't forget him. #SayHisName


There's a Town Hall Meeting on Education in Howard County tonight at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. It begins at 7 pm.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Speak Up

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, this piece from May 1, 2013:

Soapbox Wednesday

There are essentially two reasons why I teach. They are at the core of everything I do:

1. To foster a capacity for enjoyment, and
2. To provide a supportive environment for meaningful risk-taking

I have been teaching music and movement to special needs preschoolers for ten years. Before that I taught preschool and kindergarten in a small independent school in Baltimore. Whether I have been charged to develop fine motor skills for handwriting, literacy skills, or to support IEP goals, these two reasons run through everything I have done.

Why? Well, because these are the two things I find most essential to life. What is life if we cannot enjoy it? How will we learn or grow if we cannot take risks? The joy and pride I feel in a room full of students as a lesson takes flight is immeasurable. A student who has never participated makes a first imitative movement. Another finally makes eye contact, or smiles. Progress with my students can be very slow but each step is sweet. I feel grateful to be there.

Whenever I see things that stand in the way of enjoyment and risk-taking, I mourn. These days there are plenty: high-stakes testing and the environment it creates for students and teachers; school schedules that wreck teenagers' sleep cycles; bullying that strips enjoyment from life and decimates the bravery to take positive risks; hunger and homelessness.

Every time I see a teacher create a learning environment that respects these essential needs, I rejoice. But the odds are against them. Those are not the things they are being "graded on." Don't believe me? Ask a teacher.

If these are things you care about, speak up.

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. Are there teachers who support students by honoring both their enjoyment and risk-taking? Write them a note. Let them know how they have made a difference for your child.

My AP American History Teacher was that person for me. His contribution to the person, and teacher, I have become was so great that I made the trek to Connecticut with my husband and daughter when I heard that he was retiring. Thanks, Mr. Atwood. Your work lives on in me.

And in my students.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017


Two images used to promote local events have gotten under my skin and I can't seem to let them go.

My gut feeling is that they were chosen by well-meaning people without any sort of malice so I'm not going to focus on the organizations involved. I just want to focus on the pictures. Both images suggest nostalgia for a time gone by. I suspect the intent was light-hearted: to invoke a mood, to bring a smile.

What I see when I look at these pictures?

"Remember the good old days when we didn't have any black or brown people? Gee, wasn't that swell?"

Representation. You can't be what you can't see. I thought that quote originated with astronaut Sally Ride but, in fact, it looks like it may have been Marian Wright Edelman. In an essay for the Children's Defense Fund, she writes:

It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read. Just as importantly, all children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are.

This brings to mind the data from the study by JHU which finds that having even one black teacher increases the likelihood that black students will graduate. 

Representation. You can't be what you can't see.

Word spread Friday after the work session on the school budget in Howard County that funding the position of Diversity Coordinator will be a priority. That's excellent news. As with anything that involves the school system, budgets, and political gamesmanship, I'll believe it when I see it.

But it's not just the school system that needs a diversity coordinator. When two excellent local groups use illustrations for events that completely omit non-whites, I wonder if they are looking at the reach of their organization with an inclusive eye. 

  • Who will see this? 
  • How will they feel? 
  • Would they feel comfortable at our event?
  • What does this picture say about our organization?

(As a footnote, can we take a moment to consider how oppressively heteronormative both of these images are? Sheesh.)

In closing, I'd like to suggest that, when aiming for a retro feel, it is wise to remember that the "good old days" were not "good" for everybody. 

Please direct your comments here:

Saturday, April 29, 2017


First things first. If you live in Columbia and your village is having an election, vote.


If you live in Oakland Mills you can also buy Spring plants, see an art show, and get a homemade cookie.

And of course, there's that whole concept of civic duty. The People Tree can't be passive, folks. Those people are all actively reaching for better things, right? I hate to think what a passive People Tree would look like. Seriously droopy, Wilted, even. An embodiment of community failure.

And that's not who we are. Show me that's not who we are.

I tell myself every year that I'm not going to get worked up over Village elections. And yet I do, because I feel strongly that we could be doing a much better job at getting residents involved in Columbia community building. Year after year the winners are more than happy to claim victory without acknowledging the ludicrously low turnout. We move through the cycle again and again without improving it.

From HoCo Rising, April 28, 2014:

Wouldn't it be amazing if one of these candidates humbly said "My village has nearly 10,000 residents and we only heard from about 300 of them.  I see it as my job over the next year to broaden our outreach and increase engagement." 

I take a dim view of residents raising the spectre of Rouse whenever it suits them. But really, when I look at what CA elections have become, I do have to wonder what he would think.


On another note: you are invited to the Transgender Day of Resilience Picnic at Centennial Park today, from 11 am to 3 pm. More information is here. As a teacher and a mom I have become extremely concerned about the damage that is done to transgender students when schools and communities are not accepting and supportive. I'm a big fan of transAAction Maryland and PFLAG Rainbow Youth Alliance for their work in our community.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Something I Forgot

I'm embarrassed that I didn't think to say this earlier.

I wrote about the celebratory concert for Columbia's 50th this week. I wrote about what a gift it was to experience our young people as they did what they love best. But I omitted something huge in the process.

Their teachers.

Preparation for this concert was on top of the regular teaching schedule and concert commitments that our teachers are already juggling at this time of year. If you've been to any school concerts lately, you know that there's plenty going on in the Spring.

In order to stage this concert successfully, the students needed the support of their teachers. It wouldn't have happened without them. What that means is that those teachers worked additional hours after school and on the weekend. Without compensation.

Many teachers have second jobs to make ends meet. Musicians play gigs on the weekends. That they gave their professional expertise in order to support their students is not surprising. It's a part of who they are.

But it is a Very Big Deal.

This event could not have happened if these teachers had not worked after their contract hours, including both days of the weekend. And they worked for free. That means they essentially worked seven days straight with no day to recuperate, spend time with family, or get ready for the week ahead.

This is a BFD, folks.

If they had been allowed to bill hourly for this, you would be amazed. If you have ever booked musicians for a weekend gig, you know that good people don't come cheap. You get what you pay for. But in this case, we all got it for free. And I'm embarrassed that I didn't include thanks to them when I wrote up this concert in the first place.

This is the time of year when we often see teachers' contracts and salaries mentioned as a drag on the school budget. Sadly, some see fit to talk about "greedy teachers" when HCEA defends negotiated agreements.

I don't want to hear it.

I want you to thank a teacher. It could be one of these teachers, who deserve recognition for all their work. But really it could be any teacher. Because they all work more than you could possibility imagine.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Now More Than Ever

In light of yesterday's post, I wanted to share this testimony presented by Deeba Jafri to the County Council on April 24th, 2017. It was written on behalf of Together We Will Howard County by Deeba Jafri and Becca Niburg. I am sharing it with their permission.

Chairman Weinstein and Members of the County Council,

I come to you tonight to testify about the HCPSS budget on behalf of Together We Will Howard County, an organization of 1200 members who reside or work in Howard County. I also have two children in HCPSS schools, in fifth grade and ninth grade.

I am here to request that the position of Diversity Coordinator be funded. Specifically I am asking you to place enough funds in the mid-level administration category for this position, about $150,000.

Last year the Board of Education created the position of Diversity Coordinator. However, when the County Executive didn’t fully fund the requested education budget, the position ended up on the cutting room floor.  

And then the current school year happened. It has been particularly traumatic for minority group students, with numerous major racial incidents and who knows how many other major and minor micro-aggressions that don’t even get reported.  We feel very strongly that we need this position now more than ever.

We can only assume that you have also seen news reports and heard from school personnel about the heart-wrenching activities that go on in our schools as listing them now would leave no time for any other testimony. It is not just the victims of these actions that have taken notice, two countywide initiatives were started as a result of what was happening in HCPSS,  OneHoward and Stand Up Howard. Both these initiatives were designed to start hard conversations about race and diversity within our community and to create a space where we could figure out how to improve tolerance and acceptance.

HCPSS should not be turning a blind eye to those actions that made these other public discussions necessary. HCPSS needs to take this issue of racial discrimination and diversity more seriously by leading the way in looking at how to improve the education experience for all students.

Now we are at school budget time again. The $572.2 million that the County Executive has proposed creates a $53.9 million shortfall in what was requested by HCPSS. That’s a huge gap and we are very worried that yet again the Diversity Coordinator will not be funded. 

In the light of all the events that have taken place in this past school year plus the very general need we have for a Diversity Coordinator in a county where 60% of the student body is minority and African American children are 8 times as likely to enter the discipline pipeline, it is imperative that the funding take place for a Diversity Coordinator.

A Diversity Coordinator could look into hiring practices and work to ensure that our students see themselves represented in the people who are teaching them. This would be a win-win for all students and for the community at large as a focus on education makes our County of choice that much stronger. 
There will always be tough decisions to make and we do not envy those choices you will need to make in the coming weeks, however the Diversity Coordinator should not even be a consideration of where a cut can be made. Currently, the make-up of our student body is American Indian/Alaskan 0.2% Asian   21.2% Black/African American 22.8% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 0.1% Hispanic/Latino  10.4% White   39.1% Two or more races 6.2% 
In case you didn't add as quickly as I spoke, that means that we have a 60% minority student body (and that doesn’t even count our Jewish students who have faced many incidents of anti-semitism this school year).  And currently, only 11% of our teachers are minority.  This position will be a champion for 60% of our student body and improve the experiences of all our students. Don’t leave 6 out of 10 students voiceless in the current climate. 

On a personal note, if you would permit me a bit: I was tidying the teenager’s room while he was on band trip. He’s in 9th grade now and in his treasured possession spot, he still has the good behavior note from his 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Biskey, the first male teacher he had. He still visits him. These things matter. They are impactful. 
Curriculum gaps. The oft-most cited problem my son has. Surprise, it started with the American Revolution and the War of 1812 where I had already given him the British perspective, which of course didn’t quite fit with what he was being taught in his American classroom. It goes on and on, a wish to more fundamentally learn about Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and the civil rights movement from an African-American perspective rather than from a white one. The list goes on. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from a Japanese perspective. He believes he’ll never get that in his school, that he has to search these things out for himself. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  
You have a chance to say yes to funds for the Diversity Coordinator so that our young students can see themselves reflected in their teachers. It’s a simple thing that could be so powerful.  Out of a budget of $572 million, the $150,000 necessary to fund this position is not even a drop in the bucket, but its potential for impact is immeasurable.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Schrodinger's Blog Post

There are certain topics that I have been wanting to write about that require more than the usual amount of thinking. When I wake up in the morning, I say, "Blah! I am not awake enough to do this first thing in the morning. I'll do it tonight." And, when I get home from work, I say, "Blah! I am brain dead from a day of work! I will write it when I am fresh in the morning."

And so it goes. I am able to imagine those blog posts fully fleshed out the night before, or created in the still of the morning,  But alas, they exist only in my imagination. Perhaps this is not the most accurate use of the Schrodinger meme. Perhaps it is more like Lewis Carroll's:

"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day."

So it is with the topic of de facto segregation in the Howard County Schools and the importance of a Diversity Coordinator. I feel that whatever I write on this topic must be perfect. And so it continues to dog me day and night: I just can't do this today. I'll do it tomorrow.

One image that is stuck in my mind is that of the dog sitting surrounded by flames saying, "This is fine." I feel that there is a divide between those who want to work on this issue but are concerned about doing it "in the right way" and those whose children are in the flames and want them out NOW. It's an issue that can't just be intellectual. It's visceral.

My children are in that burning building!

If we don't feel that immediacy it is because we have the privilege to be safe from the flames.

I'm not going to write the perfect post on this. Not in the morning. Not in the evening. At the moment all I can do is say, "It's not fine."

It's embarrassingly imperfect. But it's a start.

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