Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Focus(?) Group

I hope you all have been following LisaB.Mrs.S. as she has examined the ins and outs of the Howard County School System.  She has been encouraging fellow Howard Countians to educate themselves about the upcoming race for the Board of Education.  This past Saturday, she took that role one step further by hosting a meet and greet session for two of the candidates:  Leslie Kornreich and David Gertler.

A small group of interested parents gathered—between six and eight; I didn’t make an exact count. Lisa helped start out the session with some questions for the candidates to answer.  It didn’t take much to get the conversation going.  The candidates were ready, and the group had plenty of questions and concerns.

Here is a list of things that the parents were interested in discussing:

1. Improving communication and openness--
2. Embracing social media to include stakeholders
3. School overcrowding and the redistricting process
4. Involving parents and teachers in decision-making
5. How to maintain active PTA’s in the face of redistricting
6. Integration of technology for the best benefit to students
7. Successful professional development when implementing changes
8. Inclusion classes without adequate professional support
9. The exact role of the school board

Throughout the afternoon, the common thread was communication, openness, and involving parents and teachers.  Everything else on the list connected to these concerns.  Both candidates addressed this, albeit in different ways. 

While both referenced personal experiences with a lack of communication, I felt that Mr.Gertler did a better job articulating ideas for improvement, and his own qualifications for making these changes.  Ms. Kornreich, while well-versed in the negative consequences of a lack of communication and openness, had less positive information to share about what she brings to the table to work with others and transform the situation.

I would have come away from this experience with a completely positive feeling had it not been for an unusual turn of events about a third of the way into our discussion.  Brian Meshkin, already a member of the Board of Education, arrived to participate in the event.

The dynamics changed from the moment he came in the room.  He easily assumed a position of authority as he spoke, and soon a good deal of the discussion centered on him and his opinions.  Mr. Gertler tried to steer the conversation back to the candidates, but to no avail. Ms. Kornreich, on the other hand, deferred to Mr. Meshkin, even apologizing once when she seized an opportunity to make a point when she knew that he was waiting to speak. 
Why was Mr. Meshkin there?  Was he an interested party, looking to learn more about the candidates?  Did he feel it necessary to shape the discussion that was to happen at this event?  Did he wish to undercut the candidates?  Conversely, did he wish to make it clear that a vote for either one of them is a vote for Meshkin? While his manner was relaxed, his tone easy-going and confident, his active participation changed the focus of the event.

I’d like to give Mr. Meshkin the benefit of the doubt—that he didn’t realize the effect his participation would have on this event. But I do hold him responsible for his choice.  He was indeed charming and seemingly reasonable, but he made a conscious choice to insert himself into a situation that was not truly meant for him. This, ultimately, colored my overall feeling about him:  that he may have some good ideas but the way he operates is troubling and maybe not very collaborative.

My final two points: 

  1. I was extremely impressed that Mr. Gertler refused to participate in any negative conversation about current board members.  He refused to be pulled in. Although the afternoon may not have gone the way he would have wished, he remained friendly and professional throughout.  Considering the amount of tension and stress our school board has been known to experience, I think that is a very good sign.

  1. I wouldn’t have known any of this were it not for our hostess, who set up the event, opened her home to us, and encouraged us to be a part of the process.  The Howard County Public School System should take a lesson from her.

See you at the polls on April 3rd!



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tom. And, although it wasn't the focus of this post, I too am a supporter of Ellen Flynn Giles.

  2. Informative post. Thanks for sharing.


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