Sunday, June 24, 2018

Money, Mouth, and Merriweather

This has surely been the campaign season of unusual endorsements. It has also been a time when we shake our heads and marvel at how many endorsement-giving organizations there are in Howard County. For example, there’s The People’s Voice, the Sierra Club, HCEA, the NAACP, Merriweather Post Pavillion...

Wait, what?

I must admit I was startled to learn yesterday that MPP was an endorsing institution this year. I’m wondering how they selected their candidates. Did they interview them? Have them fill out lengthy questionnaires? Perhaps they held a straw poll? I don’t know. But they clearly have choices.

If you haven’t received word of the Merriweather Post Pavillion endorsements, don’t feel bad, you’re not out of the loop. You’re just not an employee of MPP. You see, their recommendations weren’t meant for the general public, but for a select audience: the people whose paychecks they write.

Here’s the email they sent:

As talked about at the Safety Summit, we are reaching out to the entire MPP and JLH staffs to remind them to vote in the Primary, Tuesday June 26 for those who have not already cast their vote.

Specifically, if you are in DISTRICT 12*, please vote for MARY KAY SIGATY (State Senate) and JESSICA FELDMARK (State Delegate) if they are on your ballot. They have been long-time supporters of Merriweather and would be two solid voices to have in Annapolis for many reasons.

Merriweather supporters who have a Primary race:

Howard County Council – Jon Weinstein District 1; Christiana Rigby District 3; Deb Jung District 4; David Yungmann District 5

State Senate – Mary Kay Sigaty District 12

State Delegate – Jessica Feldmark District 12, Eric Ebersole District 12

Thank you, and remember, your vote does matter!

Jean, Brad, Brian, Jeff, Taylor, Justin & Sam


Now what they are doing here is not illegal. But it’s a far cry from a public endorsement process meant to enlighten the community. It certainly makes me curious. Does Merriweather as an entity put their money where their mouth is when it comes to candidates? It turns out that they do.


This is a list of political contributions from MPP and related entities. They certainly seem heavily invested in the campaign of Mary Kay Sigaty for State Senate. This information makes an interesting piece of a larger puzzle which includes enough information for two entire blog posts from Jason Booms of Spartan Considerations (start here) and an article by Kate Magill in the Howard County Times.

Outrageous? I don’t know. But when employers are heavily invested in candidates and candidates are throwing a lot of money around, I’d say that bears scrutiny. Much closer scrutiny. 

But Primary Day is Tuesday. Not much time left to get to the bottom of this mystery. So, here’s the thing. I’m not an endorsing institution, I’ve done no interviews, sent out no questionnaires, held no straw polls. But when I look at the excellent record of candidate Clarence Lam on the one hand, and all these shenanigans on the other, my (completely metaphorical) money is on Lam.

All of us in the community want Merriweather to succeed. Many of us have memories of summers spent enjoying concerts on the lawn. Merriweather is a Big Deal in our community. But that doesn’t mean they need to tell us how to vote. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Picture Postcard

This is the perfect day for me
The perfect moment
A few books, a new magazine,
Paper and pens and markers to color my
Thoughts and dreams.
More than enough paper in my sketch book to
Let my ideas stretch out, venture forth, perhaps
Take flight.

The sun peeks out from behind the clouds
And shows me the outline of my beach umbrella.
I move myself further into the shade.

Everything is right.
The sound of the water and children playing
The warmth of the day
And the fluttering coolness of the breeze
My toes wiggling into the cool sand.

A seasgull.
I had forgotten seagulls.


I’m back from a few days at the beach. Hello, HoCo. Thanks for holding the fort while we were gone. - - jam

Friday, June 22, 2018


Leadership looks forward. It is proactive, not reactive.

After the hateful rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election there were some very wise people who read the signs and saw what was coming. All those hate filled rallies on the campaign trail had everything to do with demonizing brown people at the border. Any border, any brown people.

Locally in Howard County there were many who didn’t take the proposal of CB9 seriously. They accused its proponents of nothing more than petty politics. There was no danger. We were doing just fine the way we were.

I wonder if any of them knew what was coming? ICE agents searching Greyhound buses demanding papers? Children separated from parents without plans for return? Travelers refused entry because of their religion? Maybe some did, and that’s exactly what they wanted.

But I’m guessing that some just didn’t think that could happen. They didn’t connect the dots from the campaign speeches to policy after policy designed to demean, discriminate, and deny basic human rights. They shrugged if off as an over exaggeration, fear-mongering.

It wasn’t.

Around the County there are still plenty of folks who think it would be wise to tar and feather (metaphorically speaking, of course) any public servant who supported CB9. They want to use it as a way to frighten the base. And perhaps they think that there is shame merely in its failure to pass.

Over the last week I hope that at least some people have gotten the point that acknowledging the universality of basic human rights is every bit as much a local issue as a national or international one.

There is no shame in looking forward, in being proactive. The shame comes from ignoring what is right in front of you and refusing to take action. Then the only course left to you is reaction.

That’s not leadership. And that makes none of us safer. We who live in Howard County must still grapple with our responsibility in responding to over-reaching policies from the current administration that threaten the very foundation of our cherished democracy.

Think it’s just politics? Think again.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Wrung Out

I am absolutely wrung out from the national crisis that has been dominating our shared consciousness. I feel as though I have nothing left.

Sending you over to HoCoHouseHon today for her refelections on this topic. She challenges us to “Imagine You Are Small.”

Don’t think for one moment that it’s over.  Don’t think it’s not really your business. It’s everyones business.

Oh, and today’s the last day of Early Voting. Please vote.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Since a number of people have reached out to me with this question after the PFLAG BOE Candidate Forum, I thought I should address it publicly here.

Question: Any further discussion of the bathroom issue from Mavourene Robinson?  That's the part I was most interested in/concerned about.

Answer: Yes. It was the first question. All candidates said that trans kids should be able to use the restrooms/locker rooms of their identified gender. But then several qualified their answers. Her qualifications were the most problematic to me.

Ms. Robinson essentially said that we are responsible to all children, so we have to make accommodations for children who are made uncomfortable by this, almost as though their views should influence policy equally with trans kids. I don’t agree.

Imagine if that were a school board argument against integration? What if white kids feel "uncomfortable" sharing a bathroom with black classmates, should we accommodate that?  Or eating lunch with them? Or sitting at a desk a black person used?

This is not a religious issue or a personal issue. It’s not even a sexual issue. It’s a civil rights issue. There will always be someone/a group of someones who are different. And they still have equal rights at school. And all of us should be defending those rights. 

There’s no honorable argument for policies that identify and treat some students as “other”. It doesn’t matter how carefully you say it, or how smoothly you couch your language. 

There’s a right answer and a wrong answer here: we can't put protection of civil rights to a majority vote. We must not demand special protections and accommodations for those who reject the rights of others or feel that the expression of those rights makes them uncomfortable. 

It’s important to note that two responses from other candidates were especially positive. They were “yes, and” answers. (This is not to criticise anyone who simply gave an unequivocal “yes”.)

Glascock: Yes. And we need to address this as we design and build future schools to come up with solutions that support this.  

Cutroneo: Yes. And we need to go into school communities and work with students to ensure that there will be a supportive environment for trans kids to make choices that are right for them.

I read a statement on Twitter this morning. You may feel it is too extreme to apply here. I don’t.

We can buy into the myth that our struggles are not interconnected but it will kill us. It is killing us. - - Ashley Yates @brownblaze

We absolutely must chose Board of Education members who “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” on civil rights. It’s not just about trans kids, or LGBTQIA kids. It’s Jewish kids. Muslim kids. It’s students of color, non-English speaking kids, kids with special needs/disabilities. Anyone who feels that a dominant group deserves special protections from accepting a minority group doesn’t belong on the board of a public school system, because that is not what public schools are all about.

Our struggles are interconnected.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Failure at the Forum

Yesterday I failed. Yes, I failed the PFLAG BOE Candidate Forum because I could not make it to the end. After an hour and forty five minutes of sitting I had the overwhelming urge to make my departure quietly so that I didn’t completely lose it and run from the room screaming.

I don’t sit well. I hadn’t thought much about it until recently, but almost every single job I have had in my professional life has involved moving around or provided frequent breaks with varying activities. As I have become more conscious about this in myself, I have started applying various strategies to get through long stretches of sitting. Therapy putty. Crocheting. Colored pens for doodling. The carefully chosen moment for a bathroom break.

I’m an adult and I get to choose a lot about how my life goes. Imagine students whose days are proscribed for them by a routine that depends on “the delivery of content” in a physically passive setting. All. Day. Long. I realize now that I daydreamed and doodled a lot in school as a way of ”making it through.” My favorite activities were ones that were multi-sensory: music where we marched or played rhythm instruments, the student teacher who taught us to make butter, the fifth grade assignment to write our own skits based on mythology.

I have no criticism of the forum. The students who ran it were wonderful. The questions were brilliant and to the point. The candidates were doing their candidate thing, like you do, at your eight millionth forum, only now during early voting. It just made me think about all the different ways we could present candidate forums, if we looked at presenting information to adults the way the best teachers create lessons for kids.

Surely I can’t be the only voter in Howard County who needs differentiated instruction.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sour Grapes

I do not know if this has always been the case, but I am seeing a trend in candidates who, if not receiving a particular endorsement, turn around and kick the endorsing organization. It’s not a good look. If they were so awful, why were you seeking their endorsement in the first place?

It’s also not a very good long-term strategy. First of all, in insulting the organization, you are pretty much insulting the members of the organization, who are probably the voters you are trying to reach. Secondly, what if you ever decided to run again? Do you really want to burn those bridges now?

I agree that some local endorsements by groups have just been weird this time around. (I’m not even going to touch individual endorsements.) But is it better to say, “I am disappointed not to to receive the ABCDQ endorsement,”or to say, “They’re all jerks and that’s why they didn’t endorse me”? This seems to me to be a relatively simple choice.

Now, by all means, if you can prove bias or malfeasance in the endorsement process, you might want to comment. Did the evaluators ask how many bags of Skittles you can provide for their organization each year?  Did they ask questions that would be illegal in a job interview? Or, if in a group endorsement meeting, were some candidates permitted to bus in voters from out of district? This would be worth addressing.

I’m not aware of any of the above actually happening, by the way. Merely offering them as examples.

If an organization makes poor endorsement choices, it will eventually reflect on them. If a candidate  goes out of their way to lash out after losing out on endorsements, it will reflect on the candidate.

As the fellow on the radio says, “Just a thought. Not a sermon.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Out on the Dance Floor

Party with preschoolers in the morning, recover with ibuprofen in the afternoon. A day well spent.

Something I have noticed since beginning these dance parties at the Chrysalis is the composition of those in attendance. Moms with kids are probably the majority, and there have been a smattering of grandmas, but I have been surprised at the number of dads. The service dog was the icing on the cake.

Why shouldn’t dads be there, you ask. Why, indeed? And yet, when I was little, they wouldn’t have been. Attending and participating in an event targeted for young children wouldn’t have been within their scope of involvement. Things like this probably would have been held during the week for (stay at home) moms and so dads would have been at work.

My own dad admitted years later that he never really knew what to do with his three daughters during their younger years. I got to know him best when I was in college and he was in the last years of his life due to COPD/emphysema. I don’t have any firm memories of him from my “preschool” years.

That is why it brings me such joy to see all these dads singing and dancing with their kids. They laugh, they improvise new games with the hands on materials, they proudly take photos and video as their children are enjoying themselves.

These dads don’t necessary deserve a prize for doing what mothers have been doing forever. But they’re getting a prize nonetheless. They’re getting the joy of being a part of a crucial time in their children’s lives. They’re getting the reward of being a part of the social/emotional growth that will be the foundation of everything their child becomes. They are feeling the joy of being truly present.

Now, there are still a few dads standing at the edges of the stage, drinking coffee and chatting with other dads while the moms are “doing the mom thing.” They don’t quite know what to do with themselves. They haven’t quite figured out how they fit in. I’m still glad they came and I hope that next time they’ll step out of their comfort zones and shake a leg with the rest of us.

Happy Father’s Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Debts and Debtors

When you see certain big name endorsements in political races, it makes you wonder if politics is all about owing people. Years of campaign contributions finally pay off. Political favors returned.

Yes, I’m casting a critical eye here, largely because I don’t like these particular endorsements and I think they are tone deaf when it comes to the needs and mood of the community. But what if I had liked the endorsements? Then would I see it differently?

Perhaps I’d be saying, “They’ve been friends for years,” or, “they always had a good working relationship.” Is it all merely in the eye of the beholder?

I asked my friends this question last night on Facebook, “is politics really just all about owing people?” I got a wide variety of answers. I’m happy to report that not everyone is as jaded as I am right now, although, to be honest, some are moreso. One person made a distinction between politicians and public servants.

In order to get elected, must everyone play the politician card? Does anyone ever play the public servant card and win?

I don’t know. I do know that there are two people out there who I used to admire and respect whose actions have just floored me.

 If politics is all about who you owe, or who you have to thank (H/T Bill Woodcock) then what is owed to constituents? To the voters? When candidates win and go to Annapolis or serve on the County Council, we sometimes see inexplicable, head-scratching votes. Does it all come down to favors called in?

And what happens if well-liked community leaders use their political capital to make bad and/or unpopular endorsements?

I guess we will find out.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Social Studies

I took a walk on the wild side and accepted an invitation to attend a press event for the new restaurants in town, Cured and 18th & 21st. Every once in a while I’m invited to press events, but they're often during the day when I’m working. So, when I received an invitation to sample the food and drink at this hot new establishment, I couldn’t resist.

This post is not a review. I’ll be getting that together over the weekend. There’s a lot to process and I want to do it justice. There’s another element of the evening worth considering. I accepted an invitation to an event where I wasn’t sure I would know anyone at all. And then I actually went.

I am, at my core, an intensely shy person. Some people don't believe that, but it's true. My early attempts at going to blog parties were just that. I'd get ready, drive to the event, drive around the location, and drive home. (From “25”, July 18, 2014)

I was pleasantly surprised to bump into blogger Frank Hecker (Civility and Truth) as soon as I arrived. A little while later Candace Dodson Reed of Elevate Maryland showed up with daughter Milan, and rounded out the table. Later on former blogger and BOE member Kirsten Coombs stopped by to chat. She and her husband Luke are investors in Cured/18th & 21st.

Along with some outstanding food and drink, there was some amazing conversation going on at our table. It was exhilarating, and I couldn’t have felt more “in my element”. I’m lucky to know such thoughtful and fascinating people. I’m glad I was brave enough to go.

A few things:

  • Frank Hecker and I miss the HoCo blogs parties. We’re considering getting one off the ground after the November election.
  • This new place is close enough to Merriweather that you can run your kid over to a concert and make it back to your table without missing a beat.
  • I miss regular blog posts from AnnieRie. I hope she’s okay.
  • Frank and I were relying on our early training from Jessie Newburn on using one’s social capital. Frank was wondering whether there was a hashtag for the event and I was pondering whether Jessie would think the new place had “a sweet vibe” So, cheers to Jessie.

I look forward to sharing a more comprehensive write-up of the event this weekend. For now, I’m just so grateful for the invitation and so proud of myself that I actually went.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Part 3, the Aftermath

A few thoughts on yesterday’s post, then I’ll move on.

In reference to my assessment of Danny Mackey:

I am not saying that a person of a particular age is “too young” to hold public office. I am saying that my assessment at present is that Mr. Mackey doesn’t yet have what is needed to be the right person for the BOE at this particular time. That is not at all the same thing.

To the suggestion that my assessment of Robert Glascock is “ageism”:

There’s absolutely no ageism involved here. I was struck by how much he referred to the past in all his answers. Many of the challenges we face are new or enormously heightened since 2008. I’d like to hear him apply his knowledge in a way that acknowledges and addresses that.

In the case of Glascock, Mackey, Miller, and Pena, I’m not saying, “sit down and go home.” I’m saying, “convince me.” I do want a fourth candidate to vote for.

Oh, and I’m firm on my assessment of  Ms. Robinson, thanks.

To the person that complained my post is full of opinion: yes, yes it is. It’s a blog, not a newspaper article. I base my opinions on my research. You results may vary. All I ask is that you educate yourself and you vote.

Early voting starts today!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Recipe for Recovery: BOE Part 2

Onward to some analysis!

Our school system has survived a time of crisis. Now we are moving into a time of recovery. As we prepare to vote for new Board members in the June primary, I’ve concocted a recipe for recovery. Here are the ingredients:

Knowledge of the School System
Respect for others
Flexibility in working with others, and intellectual flexibility/creativity
Understanding of what the job itself entails

Optional, but recommended: a sense of humor

There are also certain issues that matter a lot to me:

Special education
Arts Education
Fair treatment of teachers and support staff
Responsiveness to parents

With all that in mind, these candidates have many/most of these ingredients:

Vicky Cutroneo
Sabina Taj
Jen Mallo

These have some:

Bob Glascock
Danny Mackey
Robert Miller
Carleen Pena

Not the right mix/amount of ingredients:

Anita Pandey
Saif Rehman
Chao Wu

Cutroneo combines experience as a parent and advocate with her PTACHC service and career as a pediatric nurse. She has experience collaborating with legislators in Annapolis.  She has a huge amount of institutional knowledge which will be valuable as Altwerger and Vaillancourt go off the Board. She has heart.

Taj has a strong arts education background. She also has a wide range of knowledge of our non-English speaking students and families, as well as our at-risk students. She has valuable experience with educational grants. She’s a listener and a creative thinker. I’m guessing there’s a sense of humor here, too.

Mallo has served in a variety of functions supporting our schools. She has an excellent grasp of what’s going on and a measured and deliberate approach to problem-solving. I appreciate her    advocacy on Policy 1020 Sexual Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct. Ms.  Mallo has a rather reserved demeanor but it’s clear that she knows her stuff.

Glascock has a boatload of experience but I have two reservations. One is that he is heavily reliant on how things used to be during his tenure at HCPSS. He left in 2008. (The first iPhone was released   in 2007, to give you a reference point.)  The school system and our community have changed a lot since then. I’d love to hear him speak to how he’ll face newer challenges. My other reservation is that, when he opens his mouth to speak, I hear “Central Office.” We don’t need any more people
representing Central Office. They are doing a great job representing themselves. If Mr. Glascock makes it through the Primary I hope to see him do a better job establishing himself as a community advocate in a way that distinguishes him from his former employer.

Mackey is highly motivated, has great focus, and works hard. My gut tells me he just isn’t ready yet. I do think he has a valuable perspective and that the school system should be listening, I’m not sure he has had the variety and depth of life experiences that would make him the kind of board member we need right now.

Miller has given his entire career to working with kids in our school system. He cares a lot, and he is a good man. My concern is that he is consistently inflexible. Mr. Miller is going to give you not just a piece of his mind, but an entire boxed set of his reflections. Our new board is going to need to collaborate well and do some creative and nimble thinking. I’m not sure how well his method of interaction will fare when decisions need to be made in a timely manner.

Pena’s professional background is relevant and valuable. I think her heart is in the right place and her instincts are good. I thought she did well in the forum I attended. She came across as honest, down-to-earth, and well-informed. However, I don’t think she is going to make it through the primary. The name-recognition issue is against her. If she doesn’t make it through, I hope she will run again. I  
think she has a lot to offer.

 Pandey comes across as pleasant and well-meaning but she is prone to saying things that reveal she doesn’t truly understand the job. For instance, in the discussion about school safety she suggested that community members could donate free mental health services to students. This and other similar suggestions paint an impression of someone who is brainstorming solutions without understanding  how the school system actually works.

Rehman lost me when he warned of the danger of experienced Board members stepping down, leaving only inexperienced members who would clearly need his financial and management expertise. 1)If elected, wouldn’t he be even more inexperienced as a Board member than they are?    2) Is he familiar with the professional expertise of Kirsten Coombs and Christina Delmont-Small? Mr. Rehman’s overall theme seemed to hover rather close to suggesting that HCPSS needs saving, and  that he is the one to do it. That didn’t feel very collaborative to me.

Wu arrived late to the forum but I have certainly been following his campaign through social media.  His involvement in the Columbia Association Board of Directors has shown his sincere desire to contribute to the community. I don’t get a strong sense that his strengths are a good match for this position. I admire his dedication but I’m not convinced by his candidacy.

You may have noticed that I haven’t include Robinson anywhere on this list. That is because she has disqualified herself from consideration on three separate counts:

1) She has done nothing to assure concerned community members that she would advocate equally for LGBTQ students rights (with the same concern and attention as straight, cisgender students.)

2) She has stated more than once that anything in the budget is fair game for cutting because “we don’t  know if anything we are doing is working.”  This is simply not the case. While we have  evaluated some programs better than others, it’s completely disingenuous to put everything on the chopping block by suggesting that nothing can be trusted. It’s like waving your arms over everything we do and calling it Fake News. This is a dangerous and unhelpful over-generalization .

3) In discussing redistricting Ms.Robinson accused members of the Feasibility Committee of              “operating for personal gain.” That’s an incredibly destructive and divisive thing for a potential Board member to say. Who on earth will ever volunteer to do that kind of (truly thankless) work again if they think that a Board member might throw them under the bus?

These are my thoughts. I offer them with respect and thanks to anyone who takes the risk to run for public office. You do not have to agree with me. (Goodness knows none of the endorsing bodies in Howard County have.)  I’ve tried  to concoct a good recipe for recovery. I don’t particulatly think of myself as an endorser of candidates, but I definitely have a top three:

Vicky Cutroneo, Jen Mallo, Sabina Taj.

Please take the time to evaluate these candidates and please vote. Our schools deserve the best leadership our community can offer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

BOE Forum: Just the Facts

At long last, here are my thoughts on the Howard County League of Women Voters Candidate Forum for the Board of Education. This event took place on June 2nd at Howard Community College. 

First thoughts: It’s a good thing that the primary is coming soon, because all these candidates barely fit at the table! They seemed pretty good-natured about it. Dr. Chao Wu came late due to a family emergency and they somehow fit him in at the end.

Second thought: the mood in this election is very different from that of the last. There is a good deal less anger and, although there are issues of great urgency, the sense of where we are and where we are going felt more like a shared mission than a power struggle. Part of this is because we are all now much more aware of what our challenges are. They are out in the open and up for discussion.

Please do not forget what a huge change that is. And we owe that new transparency to the members elected in the last election, joining with Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt to form a board that is more responsive to community needs. Votes and elections make a difference.

The format was as follows:

Brief introduction by each candidate, then questions on:
Concluding Statements from each candidate

Warning. Everyone running for the Board this year must be an auto mechanic, because I have never in my life heard the word “alignment”so many times. Actions must align with data, expenditures must align with needs. Everything must align with something and, if not, out it must go. 
Also, everyone will either be ready on Day One or ready to hit the ground running and I think one person may have been both. 

(I am not a fan of cliches or education buzz words so I do tend to wince when they come along.)

Here we go. I’m going to be brief, highlighting what stood out to me from each candidate. 

Vicky Cutroneo: parent, advocate,
                             outgoing PTACHC President

Equity— hcpss has “hidden behind the averages”, overall achievement has been artificially boosted by advanced/GT/affluent students and we haven’t addressed the inequities in our system. Meet students where they are and lift them up.
School Safety— referenced PTACHC initiative to present “ Know the Signs” , recommended partnering with County for wraparound services to address student needs. We must work to make schools “safe from within” rather than implementing a model based on the assumption that danger comes from the outside. 
Capacity— advocated for looking at neighborhood feeds when making changes, and she was  adamant in her rejection of “portables” as any kind of long-term solution. It’s a travesty we didn’t redistrict.

Jen Mallo: Former chair of HCPSS's Community Advisory Council.  

Equity—complex, must be reflected in policy, budget, and advocacy.
School safety—begin teaching social skills in elementary school, then digital citizenship. Redistricting is a school safety issue.
Capacity—Redistricting: the devil is in the details. Shouldn’t be a political process. 

Anita Pandey: teaches at Morgan State

Equity—You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference from school to school. Cultural inclusion.
School Safety—We can use community neighborhood advisors, have student committees. Community members can volunteer mental health services.
Capacity—Referenced 7 solutions for sensible redistricting. Mentioned online classes and vo-tech, going to school in shifts. 

Carleen Pena: background in early childhood education and mental health

Equity—must be more than a buzzword. Must adequately and appropriately identify needs then find the resources to meet those needs. Outlined  need for more more grant writers in Central Office.
School Safety—Mentioned mental health background. Tap into community resources. Smaller class sizes. Family supports.
Capacity—We haven’t done the best job at redistricting through the years. We can do better. Look at moving incoming students.

Robert Miller—Retired Music Teacher, HCPSS
                          Former parent

Equity—Equal opportunities for all students not dependent of family income, but “there are some limits.” 
School Safety—Interpret data wisely. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. We shouldn’t have prison-like schools.
Capacity—Likes Jumpstart model rather than magnet schools. Look at demographics vs. neighborhood considerations in redistricting. Atriums would give more space for classrooms.

Danny Mackey—2012 graduate HCPSS 
                             UMD grad, Civil Engineering

Equity—Every student matters. Vocational opportunities. Speaks of his own classroom compared to others, disparity. 
School Safety—referenced his website. Mentioned restorative practices. Better process for reporting bullying—early intervention.
Capacity—Redistricting should have student-centered focus. Rising juniors and seniors  exempted. Refers to State and need for school construction. 

 Sabina Taj—Adjunct Professor, HCC, Arts Integration 
                       Advisor, Braitmayer Foundation 

Equity—look at needs of every child and how they need them to be met. PreK  programs, Implicit bias training.
School Safety—Adding more police in schools is wrong. Make it harder to acquire guns. Relationship-based model/restorative practices.
Capacity— Redistricting responsibly. Build new schools. Address fear in transitions. Specialized academies.

 Saif Rehman—IT consulting, entrepreneur 

Equity—Equal in making decisions, small classes. More minority staff. 
School Safety—used opioid crisis as example.Created by not giving schools resources needed. Mental health supports.
Capacity—Ridiculous that redistricting proposed moving 20 per cent of students enrolled. Too many!

 Mavourene Robinson — Community Advisory Council Vice Chair, 
                                           Operating Budget Review Committee 

Equity— Are the programs we have meeting the needs of students? We must be fiscally responsible. Using tax dollars wisely while keeping an equity focus.
School Safety— need community input. Need data. We have students who feel unsafe in school due to bullying.
Capacity—Redistricting must be done but Feasibility Study done by AAC with members  acting “ for personal gain.” 

 Robert Glascock —former teacher and admin, HCPSS

Equity— we must first define equity. Speaks to Fairness, inclusiveness, access.
School Safety— Safe and nurturing schools. Meeting physical, social, and emotional needs. School climate, student voice. References his years in school system. 
Capacity—Give people more time to get ready for changes. Communication and input. Has a plan.

Chao Wu—Columbia Association Board Rep for River Hill,
                   Operating Budget Review Committee

 Equity—arrived late. Missed question.
School Safety—Addressed physical and emotional safety.
Capacity—Use redistricting policy correctly. Apply evenly. Follow the process faithfully. 

If you have made it this far, congratulations! You’re ready to jump into tomorrow's post  where I will do some analysis and make some recommendations. 


Monday, June 11, 2018

A Moment to Reflect

Finished my school reports. Still working on BOE piece. Here are a few thoughts on this election season.

“Theater teaches you empathy to understand those who are not like us.” -John Leguizamo #TonyAwards⁠ ⁠

Re-watching some episodes of "No Reservations" and I think the most crucial lesson Anthony Bourdain tried to teach us was to not be afraid. To go, and see, and taste, and to not be afraid. - Sara Toth

As I watch the candidates and their teams move out through the County with their respective messages, it seems that there are two major themes in play: empathy, and fear. And this is what voters will have to decide. What motivates them? Someone who appeals to their innate sense of empathy, or someone who plays upon their inner fears?

Do we choose a future where plans are made to include everyone, or do we draw the things that are ours close to us in fear that others may take them? Even in Howard County the choice is between creating a bigger table or building a wall, metaphorically speaking.  Perhaps this is true in every election. It seems especially significant right now.

I have heard some complaints about candidates who are bringing national issues into local elections. It seems to me that the national mood has thrust itself onto the local scene. Do we believe that diversity and equity make us stronger, or do we believe it dilutes/pollutes/weakens what we hold dear? 

“All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” - Sally Brown (Charles Schulz)

Sally Brown, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, lives a comfortable life where all her needs are met. And yet her (almost demanding) letter to Santa comes from a place of fear. Fear that she won’t get enough. 

As you evaluate candidates during this election season, keep an ear out for those who are appealing to your inner Sally Brown. Once they engage your fear the rest of your brain turns right off.  

Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately. (“Impact of Fear and Anxiety”, University of Minnesota)

So what’ll it be, HoCo? Fear? Or empathy?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Still Writing

I’m putting the finishing touches on my BOE write up. I’m also writing my end of year school reports. If I am not careful you may be reading tomorrow about the candidates’ self-help skills and/or their ability to sort, count, and recognize patterns.

In the meantime, here is the letter I dashed off upon reading that Congressman Cummings is endorsing Janet Siddiqui in the County Council race. Feel free to email him yourself:

Dear Congressman Cummings,

Please tell me that the news of your endorsement of Janet Siddiqui in her bid for Howard County Council is not true. Her untruthful and unethical performance on the Howard County Board of Education disqualifies her from further public service.

In a letter to Glenwood Middle School parents, dated July 31st, 2015, Dr. Siddiqui stated, "At no point has this mold issue been a public health issue for students and staff." 

Dr. Siddiqui, a pediatrician who has used her position on the Board of Education to repeatedly discuss addressing "the needs of the whole child", spoke to parents from a position of authority, and withheld the truth. (That's the nicest way I know how to say it.) It is very likely that more students and staff suffered mold-related illnesses due to her outright lack of advocacy.

I have never in my life deliberately refused to vote for a democratic candidate but I couldn’t possibly cast another vote for you, sir, if you are truly endorsing Ms. Siddiqui. I sincerely hope that the news I read was in error.

I look forward to clarification.


Yesterday I read the following quote from the late Anthony Bourdain and it struck a chord with me as a blogger. 

Rest easy, Mr. Bourdain. You were indeed an interesting guy with many, many interesting things to say.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Problematic Parenthood

Blogger and local activist Susan Garber has written a post about the County Council race. Entitled Council Candidates Guide to Getting MY Vote”, it has the outspoken, no-holds-barred tone for which Ms. Garber is well-known. It’s also really, really “judgy”. One can imagine the author at a desk in an office with an automatic trap-door to dispose of candidates who run afoul of her preferences.

Now Ms. Garber certainly has the right to her own soapbox, regardless of whether I agree with her point of view. But there was one thing on her list that jumped out at me. You can see it highlighted in bold below. (Bolding added by me to make it easier to find,)

A quick list of additional things which don’t impress or sway me:
  • having animated, glitzy features on your website
  • the number of ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ or ‘followers’ on your Facebook page
  • populating your website, Facebook page, or mailers with pictures of your new baby, children, or pets.
  • filling your website or Facebook page with inspirational quotes, etc. rather than specifics on your positions and IDEAS
  • how long you’ve lived in Howard County
  • which HCPSS schools you or your children attended
  • whether you’re a new parent or a single parent (Caution: this could prompt one to ponder whether you’ll be abandoning that child, or your elected duties when trying to juggle both)
  • previous commissions, boards, or task forces you’ve served on (unless you’re able to define exactly what the positive outcome of that service was. If your appointment resulted in a report placed on a shelf never to be read again, it’s not that impressive.)
Wait, what? Let’s read that again. 

  • whether you’re a new parent or a single parent (Caution: this could prompt one to ponder whether you’ll be abandoning that child, or your elected duties when trying to juggle both)
This is parent-shaming, plain and simple. And, let’s be honest, parent-shaming is almost always directed at women. When was the last time you heard a man asked, “how will you be able to balance this position with your family responsibilities?” What does this say about this blogger’s view of women in the workforce? Or of working parents in general?

Also, isn’t it important to have representatives in office who understand the challenges that many parents have with work/life balance? Should we restrict public service to retirees, post-menopausal women, and men whose wives take care of everything in the home? Would that truly be representative of Howard County? And can we just ditch the “single-parent” moral posturing here?

It also seems to suggest that it would just be better if you didn’t talk about your children. If you do, people might be forced to have uncomfortable thoughts about whether you are a fit parent or whether being a parent renders you unfit to devote yourself to public service. It’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” of campaign etiquette. This means that a candidate could be more appealing to Ms. Garber by covering up who they are. That’s hardly a vote for transparency.

I’m sure there are other voters in Howard County who are reading this particular post and saying, “right on!” There’s definitely a constituency for the ideas she articulates here. What do you think? Does Ms. Garber speak for you? Why or why not?

Friday, June 8, 2018


Yesterday as we ate snack together we talked about the Quaker values we learned about all year long.

Simplicity and Service
Honesty and Integrity

We gathered on the carpet for two last stories: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” and “The One and Only You”.

Yesterday was a day of celebrations: the Lower School Moving On Day Program, where my littles sang their hearts out, and the big cookout which is called the Strawberry Cowbake. There were kids running around with Sharpie Markers to sign each other’s Last Day of School t shirts, each class a different color of the rainbow.

Teaching, like parenting, is so slow, so incremental. You often shake your head and wonder if you are getting anywhere. And then come the milestone days where you are flabbergasted to discover how quickly the time has passed and how much progress has actually been made. These are the “Can it really be over?” moments. The “My, how you’ve grown!” moments.

And once more we realize the power and the holiness contained in all those little, day-to day moments, each one an opportunity for:

Simplicity and Service
Honesty and Integrity

Emily’s speech at the end of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” comes to mind:

Emily: It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?

Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

Finally the moment comes. We place our hands in the center for one last class cheer. We will walk out of this classroom headed to new adventures and new communities of learning. Maybe we are a little closer to being poets and saints. I can’t know for sure. 

Quakers believe that there is “that of God” in everyone.  Today I am thinking how much there is that of God in every moment, too.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

No More Blame

Today’s guest post by Rebecca Niburg is a look at mental illness and suicide, prompted by the news of designer Kate Spade’s untimely death.

For many years, mental health issues have been a particular problem for women. Not only are women more apt to have mental health issues (…/…/women-and-mental-illness;…/depression-women) but the way that women have been treated and stereotyped ("hysterical female" and "too emotional for the workplace" for example) means that there is a stigma and societal framework surrounding getting help for mental health.

In addition, this isn't a "one size fits all" problem or issue, different groups have different issues (…/minority-mental-health). The numbers for suicide specifically, however, show that minorities (except for native peoples) are less likely to die by suicide ( Minorities do have a high instance of depression and PTSD however (not surprising considering how we as a society treat Latinx, AA, and other minority groups especially under but not limited to the current administration).

Suicide is also not a young person's problem. The age group most likely to die by suicide is 45-54 and second likely is over age 85.

Mental health research and resources have been chronically underfunded and this administration has taken steps to further reduce the money available. The organization which does the most research into suicide prevention is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (full disclosure, I served as the Walk co-/chair for AFSP in Howard County for the past 3 years). NAMI is another organization working on mental health issues as a whole (not specific to suicide like AFSP)

So, what can you do? The first thing is to focus on the language that you use so that you aren't unintentionally contributing to the stigma or playing into outdated ideas. For example, saying someone "committed suicide" has a blame component - would you say someone intentionally caused a heart attack? or cancer? same idea - mental illness caused the suicide, not the person. My most apt used phrase when talking about mental illness and suicide is "don't ascribe logic, mental illness doesn't use logic and someone having a mental health crisis is having the disease speak for/through them." Similarly, don't call someone "crazy" because they are acting in a way you don't like. Using words associated with mental illness for people acting poorly draws a correlation between "bad behavior" and mental illness and thereby stigmatizes people suffering from the illness.…/…/21/suicide-language/…/calling-people-crazy-ocd-or-psycho-…

The second thing you can do is to visit resources like this: and share resources like this:

Also, if anyone wants to walk with me in Columbia MD at the end of September, I'd love to have you join me. Its also an easy way to make a donation to help fight suicide and brings a supportive community together (if every member made a $5 donation, think about how much that would be!). There are multiple walks all over the area if Howard County isn't convenient for you and you can find  links to those Walks from the AFSP page.…


Rebecca Niburg began advocating on mental health issues after losing a friend to suicide in 2011 and has served as chair/co-chair of the Howard County Out of the Darkness Walk for the past 3 years.