Tuesday, September 30, 2014

December Dreams

Last night I started making plans for December. I have reached the point of complete overload with this election and I wanted to find a point on the horizon far beyond November 4th. We are all inundated with mailings, television ads, requests to volunteer, and friends and acquaintances "having it out" over candidates and issues.

In December I will be wishing for snow. I will be wondering if my teen will still get the sled out and go careening down the awesome hills in our neighborhood of Cinnamon Tree.

In December I will yet again be making a crazy Advent calendar with activities for every day until Christmas. I will be planning Christmas dinner with Alice as we look forward to the first Christmas in their new house. I will be going to concerts. I will be soaking up the music.

In December I will be looking at baby pictures, amazed that what seemed like the worlds longest election season could produce such a tiny, miraculous "bébé".

In December I will be counting the days to vacation. I will be dreaming of leisure, cookie-baking, sleeping in, and family board games.

In December there will be new challenges on the horizon as the New Year approaches.

Of course, we really live in the moment, in the here and now. And right now we have choices to make and work to do if we care about our community, our schools, our state. But last night I gave myself a brief respite and dreamed about where we will be on the other side of the election.

It was lovely.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Right to Ask a Question

Long ago my father asked me if I knew what earning a bachelor's degree would qualify me for. I floundered around with the typical answers: the right to get a better job, the qualifications to apply to graduate school...
No, he said. It earns you "the right to ask a question." Apparently that is the case, if you go back to much older educational traditions. I did some cursory digging around for this blog post and I can't find anything, but my dad was pretty convincing. It has stuck with me all these years.
I raise this concept today because what is going on right now at the Board of Education is just that: will Board member Cindy Vaillancourt be permitted to retain the right to ask a question? It is pretty clear that the Board is attempting, through a pattern of behavior, to discredit her in an effort to prevent her re-election.
So, let's look at the kind of questions Mrs. Vaillancourt has asked while on the Board:
  • Why, after firing in-house attorneys, did the school system hire the same attorney who had been fired by Prince George's County Public Schools as a result of an improper payment made--an ethics violation?
  • Why was the board going to have a vote on elementary school redistricting without addressing the overcrowding at Laurel Woods?
  • Where did the money come from for the China trip, and why did some board members know nothing about it while others were already signed up to go along?
  • How could the school system make such substantial changes in curriculum in the Model Schools Initiative without allowing the Board to have open hearings and vote on it?
  • When will the board be permitted to review the legal fees report to see whether getting rid of in-house counsel has resulted in cost savings?
  • Are we fulfilling the promise of the new wellness policy if we are serving sweetened cereals in our breakfast program?
  • Why was the Board suspending the Operational Budget Review Board, and weren't they required to have a vote to do that?
There is a reason that we elect our Board of Education members. It is, quite simply, because they serve to represent us. The sampling of questions you see above come from someone who is conscientiously doing her job to serve the students, parents, and overall community. What will happen to our schools if there is no one left to ask these questions?
The right to ask a question. It is a right we should all have a stake in defending.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tell Me Something Good

Wednesday morning I put out the call to my Facebook friends: tell me something good. They didn't let me down.

  • If you care about something, then that means you love. And if you love, then there is always HOPE.
  • It is Girl Scout cookie season.
  • Chocolate
  • Children's laughter
  • Unicorns and rainbows!
I'd like to add one more to that list: Dylan Goldberg and a dog named Thor.

This is Thor.


This is his story, recounted by Dylan.

Spent Wednesday night sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor of campaign headquarters with this Husky with a blue collar that I found out in western HoCo while on a sign delivery. The Ellicott City animal hospital couldn't take him in because he didn't have a chip and I couldn't take him home because of my own dog...so we found a home at campaign headquarters. I took him to the animal shelter Thursday morning, and thanks to Courtney Watson - Howard County and the power of social media, the lost dog post was shared nearly 60 times and owners, who were vacationing in Tennessee, found the dog last night! Thor is going home! I hope he had fun watching the West Wing on the floor of that office with me until 3am. Welcome home, Thor!

This made me smile. It has been a rough week and many of us are looking for something good. Dylan and Thor remind me of the line from Aesop's fable--no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.









Saturday, September 27, 2014

Smoke and Mirrors

Today's post owes a huge debt of gratitude to friends who jumped in with information on the topic. First of all, I got this explanation from a former Owen Brown Board member.

The Village Boards have the power to recommend boundaries as part of their Master Plan. That definition, once provided to the Department of Zoning, would then be taken into account and used as part of the criteria a developer would have to address as part of any plan submitted to the county. They aren't per se defining the boundaries as proposing them. It has to do with both who can file for a proposal to redevelop a village center and what are that plan must include as part of the overall plan they must provide. If you are interested, read this.

Now Oakland Mills already had a good Master Plan, developed during the Revitalization Process. So what is this all about? This answer comes from a former Wilde Lake Village Board member.

When New Town Zoning was amended to allow for Village Center redevelopment, one of the first things that needed to be decided was where exactly the Village Centers are. If you look at the Columbia Preliminary Development Plan (it is a map with lots of colors on it, designating land use), the location of the Village Centers is ill-defined. Village Centers are represented by asterisks on the map, with no delineated boundaries, therefore, the boundaries needed to be defined. Under the new zoning, Columbia Community Associations were given the ability to develop a Village Center Community Master Plan. One of the criteria of that plan is to state what the Community Association believes are the boundaries of the Village Center. All Community Associations that have undertaken a VCCMP have done this. I am pretty sure you can find the Hickory Ridge and Kings Contrivance VCCMP's on their websites. The key here is that it is not an official declaration. The official boundary is determined by the Howard County Zoning Board (aka the County Council), and only after going through the Village Center redevelopment process in the New Town Zoning. There is a lot of other criteria that needs to be considered. I would suggest looking up the zoning regulations for more information.

Alright then, the power of the magic marker may not be as mighty as I had feared. Still--consider this:

The area inside the proposed Oakland Mills Village Center boundary is approximately 205 acres. To give you an idea, the proposed OMVC area (in acres) is about two times the size of Lake Kittamaquandi (27 acres), Wilde Lake (22 acres), and Lake Elkhorn (37 acres) combined -- plus add in Centennial Lake (50 acres)

Other Village Centers come in at closer to 80 acres. And the Hickory Ridge plan and (I think) the River Hill plan did not include existing apartments and condos. So stretching the proposed boundaries to include areas of housing is what is making the difference.

Why is this happening in Oakland Mills? This recently approved document may give you some answers. A careful reading will, in my opinion, reveal what some board members mean when they talk about "reinventing" Oakland Mills.

Here is the Hickory Ridge plan. The boundary language begins on page 12. Here is the Harper's Choice plan--boundaries discussed in pages 12-13.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Magic Marker

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, last Tuesday ths happened:

At the September 23rd Oakland Mills Board meeting board members unanimously approved new boundary lines for the "OM Master Plan 2/Community Plan" as well as the Final Draft Recommendations from the Housing Committee.

Let me get this straight. They approved new boundary lines for the Village Center. They can do that? They took a map and a marker and made the Village Center bigger. Wow! It appears that they are taking in the apartments and some condominiums.

I had no idea Village Boards had the power to do that.

It also looks like Oakland Mills will be sponsoring a meeting of the HCCA, which doesn't particularly make sense to me. HCCA should be promoting their own events, in my opinion. And of course they have recently released a plan which puts a backward spin on community planning.

Do I see a trend here?

I have a very early morning today, so I don't have all the details filled in for you. I'll be adding more to this story over the weekend.

In the meantime, my husband and I have always liked the house directly behind ours. I'm headed out to find one of those special magic markers that the Board is using...



Thursday, September 25, 2014

C * * * * m

Late yesterday afternoon, Howard County Times released Blair Ames' piece about the Board of Education. Please read it. Read it online, don't wait for a print version because the print version is heavily edited and is therefore less informative. In fact--read it now. I'll wait.

Okay, now let me ask you a question. Did you know they were carding young people who wanted to buy condoms at the Hickory Ridge Giant? You might know because Board Member Cynthia Vaillancourt was so concerned about the public health implications of this for our young people that she got involved to do something about it. And I wrote about it on my blog on September 6th. (Read that, too. Thanks.)

The issues of safe sex, condoms as barrier protection, and overall sexual health are a part of the Howard County curriculum from eighth grade onward. They are considered an important part of the education of our young people. These are public health issues. They are printed publicly on the hcpss website, along with all the other subject areas.

But now the Board of Education now wants you to believe that a few sentences about this topic constitutes sexual harassment. And that's all it was. A few sentences, in a general conversation, to a mixed group of adults and high school students. Merely the word "condom" in the context of the story above, is so nasty, so graphic, that Ms. Vaillancourt must be publicly condemned.

I spent yesterday looking up definitions of sexual harassment. This is not it.

Though the "incident" took place in July, for some reason the Board waited until Tuesday to make a public resolution about it. Do you think it might have anything to do with the election?

Please remember: if Cindy Vaillancourt, or any member of the Board, had done something legitimately wrong, the Board would be obligated to follow specific legal procedures to address this. And the procedures would most assuredly involve things like due process. There would be an investigation, and lawyers on both sides. There would be press coverage and a good deal of public scrutiny.

A resolution of "disappointment"? An accusation where the Board refuses to let Ms. Vaillancourt even see the complaint made against her? These actions speak volumes.

Is this why we elect members of the Board of Ed? How very important it must be to suppress independent voices on the Board, that they are wasting valuable time when they could be doing their jobs. Their real jobs.

One more thing. I don't usually recommend reading online comments, but I did find this interesting. From the article:

French said she recused herself after learning of "rumblings" via email and social media that she was behind the resolution to improve her election chances. In the June primary, French finished second to Vaillancourt with 14,528 votes. Vaillancourt received 15,646 votes.
"I felt it was better to remain neutral," French said.

In the comments section, a reader who has watched the videotape of the meeting states:

Go to the HCPSS website and watch the Sep 23 BOE meeting. Go to Approval of Agenda when the resolution is added and watch French when she says she has not seen this and usually the BOE gets more than 1 days notice. French is advised by Giles to recuse herself and does.

I haven't watched the meeting yet. But it would seem that Ms. French is contradicting herself. I'd love to learn more about that. It's troubling.

This is disheartening. Our children and our teachers deserve better. Our community deserves better. The only good thing I can think of at this moment is that we have the power to make it better.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Our Board of Education has invented a new way to smear a colleague. It is called "passing a resolution expressing disappointment."

Yes, there were (more) shenanigans at the Board of Ed. last night. Thank heavens Blair Ames of the Sun is back on the Education beat. He was at last night's Board meeting, and he will be covering this story. Look for an article later today. I know he'll cover the facts. I'll review that here tomorrow.

What I want to focus on today is that this Board has chosen: once during the Primary cycle, and now again leading up to the General Election, to go to the extreme lengths of "passing a resolution of disappointment" against board member Cynthia Vaillancourt.

If Mrs. Vaillancourt were actually guilty of anything, or even if the evidence looked strong, the Board would be able--no, they would be required--to take specific legal action. There would have to be open hearings, witnesses called, lawyers would be involved. The press would be there, the public as well.

The light of truth would be shining on everybody.

But this is the Board of secret meetings, of private alliances, and of whisper campaigns behind people's backs. And so this is the action they have chose to take: to again try to discredit Mrs. Vaillancourt in the public eye in the time leading directly to an election. There's a secret meeting they can't tell us about,but it explains everything. (Just like last time...)

I wasn't going to write about the Board race again until tomorrow, but now I really have no choice. Because this is not appropriate functioning of a school board. This is bullying. And we know how important bystanders are when bullying is going on, don't we?

We all need to take a stand against this kind of bullying at the Board of Education. Ms. Vaillancourt has been an independent voice. She asks questions, she listens to parents and she pushes for more responsiveness and transparency. The best way to support her is to show up at the polls on Election Day and vote for her and the other candidates who are most committed to responsiveness and transparency: Altwerger, Beams, Furman.

This has gone beyond the point of writing letters of protest. Howard County needs to show clearly show our disappointment. We need to stand with Ms. Vaillancourt against the bullies. And we need to give her some folks to play with on the playground.

Because it's mighty rough out there, and those kids don't always play nicely.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Do You Choose?

Yesterday a friend asked me this question:

Which of the candidates has the HCEA endorsement and should that mean something to voters? Which candidates will represent the students and parents the best- in your opinion?

I want to give the Board of Ed race a rest for a few days, but I'm going to come back to that on Thursday. It is a good question, and it deserves an answer.


My daughter and her husband bought their first house in Oakland Mills this Spring. We were thrilled. We're in Talbott Springs, they are in Stevens Forest, so we are neighbors in a way and yet not so neighborly that the young folks have to worry that Mom will drop in unannounced.

The style/model of house that they bought is called a Pacesetter. This is an example of a Pacesetter.


This is the definition of the word "pacesetter".

a person, group, or organization that is the most progressive or successful and serves as a model to be imitated.

Columbia was once seen as a pacesetter. It was a community where new things were happening. And with the Downtown Plan, we are beginning to see that again. It's exciting. Well, not for everyone, apparently.

I'm seeing some pushback recently from members of the Oakland Mills Village Board and members of the HCCA. They are setting forward ideas that are big on control and short on progress. In some cases it looks like an attempt to make an end run around the legal process that is already in place.

In my mind, it comes down to this--is Columbia a pacesetter, or a museum?

This is an a example of a museum.

The Maryland Historical Society

This the definition of the word "museum".

a building in which interesting and valuable things (such as paintings and sculptures or scientific or historical objects) are collected and shown to the public

Is this what we want Columbia to be? A museum?

Museums are wonderful things. But to be clear, a museum is a memorial of things that once were. A community is alive. There is give and take and forward motion.

I know a good number of people who are excited about what is going on in Columbia, and who are dedicated to moving Columbia forward. If the feedback we got at Wine in the Woods for the Inner Arbor is any indication, this excitement is not contained solely to my own group of personal friends. It's bigger than that.

The one thing we share with the folks who are throwing up obstacles and digging in their heels is a sincere love of this place. How we show our love is different. But love it is, just the same.

This is my request: if you care about whether Columbia will be a pacesetter or a museum, I suggest that you follow what is going on at The Oakland Mills Village Board and with the HCCA. Don't let the only watchers be folks "In The Bubble" like me. Your opinion is valuable. How you feel about this community is important.

Get informed and give some feedback. Show Columbia some love.







Monday, September 22, 2014

BOE: What Your Vote Means

Remember this?


Question, "What do you think the job of a Board of Education member is?" Please address the following:

1. What power does the position convey?

2. What is the best use of that power?

3. To whom is the Board of Education member responsible?

In summing up my impressions of the candidates' forum, I want to look through the lens of these questions, which I asked the candidates to respond to in the Spring.* The reason I asked these particular questions is that I feel that there has been a trend away from transparency and responsiveness, and that the process has shifted towards power being centralized from the top down.

I don't think that's healthy. I also don't think that's what the statute dictates, either.

Where things stand: board members Giles, DeLacy, and Siddiqui will remain. I want to be honest that I do not know much about Ms. Siddiqui, but at this point her record appears to be on the side of voting with the group. And the group has voted, pretty much, to rubber stamp the initiatives of the Superintendent.

Four members will be chosen in this election, which will determine whether the current top-down style of operation will continue. That is why your vote is so crucial. You are voting either to maintain the status quo, or to make a statement that it should be changed. A clear outline of how it might be different is provided by Bess Altwerger in her response to Question 5.

If you wish to maintain the status quo, you should vote: French, O'Connor, Smith.

If you wish to see more responsiveness and transparency, and a different balance of power, you should vote: Altwerger, Beams, Furman, Vaillancourt.

What about Allen Dyer, you ask? Well, he's a wild card in my opinion. Past experience, combined with his remarks at the forum, indicate to me that Allen Dyer remains firmly committed to Allen Dyer. We know he'll go to the mat defending himself. I don't think that serves either group particularly well. It is interesting that the status quo folks may be leaning towards Mr. Dyer, perhaps in a case of the Devil You Know, rather than the Devil You Don't Know.

But, we've been there before. Haven't we?

I should add that if you want to maintain the status quo you should probably vote for Ms. Vaillancourt as well, since a) she already knows how to do the job b) her vote won't count and c) you'll have someone who will treats you with respect at board meetings and answer your emails if you have an issue or a question.

I have been happy to see increased readership on these posts, as well as engagement through comments. Be respectful. And remember, posting under your own name gives you greater credibility in the long run.


A footnote. In case you don't think transparency is an issue, were you aware that the Board recently voted 6-1 to suspend the Operating Budget Review Committee for one year? (Cindy Vaillancourt was the only BOE member to vote against.) The OBRC is the only committee that enables stakeholders and community to ask questions and provide input to the BOE regarding the operating budget. Candidate Dan Furman chose to speak directly to the Operating Budget process on Wednesday night, with an emphasis on greater transparency. Perhaps this is why.

*Candidates Christine O'Connor and Allen Dyer did not participate.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Word from the Author

Blog: a Web site that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also : the contents of such a site

This blog began in May of 2011 on Columbia Patch, and moved to Blogger in October of the same year. Since then I have written 506 posts. I am still working to get better at what I do--3 years and 143,913 pageviews later. I began to write in order to relate my experiences of becoming a part of Columbia and Howard County life: what does it all mean if you didn't grow up here? How do I fit in?

If anything has changed about that mission it can be found in this post: "WWDD?" (May 31, 2013.) From that day forward every post I have written has been to honor Dennis Lane, and in some small way, to carry on his work and his love for our community.

This blog contains personal reflections, comments, and hyperlinks. I write about what I care about. I am extremely careful to post only what I know to be the truth. I will sometimes make mistakes and I am usually pretty good about admitting and correcting them.

I encourage discussion in the comments section but I have no patience for trolling, or really any kind of nastiness. It is my preference that people post under their own names. I stand by my word every time I post, and so should you, if you choose to engage here.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for engaging. Thank you for caring about the topics that I care about.




Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Amazing Coincidence

On Wednesday evening at the Candidate's Forum, a funny thought popped into my head. As I listened to Mike Smith talk, I realized that he reminded me of someone. It stayed in the back of my mind until I got home and realized who that was.

There was just something about Mike Smith that reminded me of that fellow that Wegman's recruited to be the owner for their (ill-fated) liquor store. Do you know the story? I started digging around online, and it turns out that both have the same name: Mike Smith. What a coincidence. Both are Ellicott City lawyers. Hmm. The more I looked at photographs and compared information, the more it sunk in: this is the very same guy.

He may have traded in his necktie for a dapper bow tie look, but it's the same Mike Smith.

Why do I care? Why should you care?

Well, among the issues surrounding the Wegman's proposed liquor store was the fact that Smith had absolutely no experience as a liquor store owner. I believe he had brewed beer in his basement as a hobby. His ten per cent share gave Wegman's the appearance that the store would have local ownership, while 90 per cent would be owned by an out of state company owned by the husband of Colleen Wegman.

It just didn't look right. It just didn't add up.

So now we have Mike Smith, freshly-minted as a Board of Education candidate. What do we know?

  • he spent valuable time on Wednesday night assuring the audience "that he was a completely independent candidate who answered to no one, who had no alliances that could influence him. Then stated that he entered race with no preconceived notions, no causes, no agenda."
  • he is one of Board Member Ann DeLacy's two favorite candidates.
  • his knowledge of educational issues is shallow, and his remarks come across as tone-deaf. "The problem of single parents" or "classes of 35 students".

After putting two and two together, I am more concerned about what we don't know.

  • Why is he really running for the Board of Ed.? The reasons he has given are not convincing.
  • Has he been recruited to run by someone else who wants their opinions to be represented on the Board?
  • Why was it so important to him to preface his remarks in the way that he did--no allegiances, no alliances and so on?

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. Something just doesn't add up here.



Friday, September 19, 2014

Some Notes from the Front Lines

Here are my notes from Wednesday's Board of Education Candidate's Forum at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills. I chose to cover the first part of the evening, where candidates were allotted five minutes to focus on an issue of most interest to them. It had been suggested that they pick one of the topics from the questions submitted in advance. Some did; some did not.

Bess Altwerger-- has worked as a teacher of teachers. Has first hand experience of current educational trends and what is happening in the classroom. Her remarks were confident and focused. She addressed 1. Improving equity based on need 2. Less emphasis on high-stakes testing 3. Economic disparity between students. Was outspoken in her support for the quality of teachers through the county.

Mike Smith--began his remarks with a disclaimer that he was a completely independent candidate who answered to no one, who had no alliances that could influence him. (Note to self: Ann DeLacy?) Then stated that he entered race with no preconceived notions, no causes, no agenda. (No background knowledge?) Took several jabs at Bess Altwerger, including something she hadn't even said. Thinks Common Core is the answer. Says data supports classrooms of thirty five children if run efficiently. Didn't address any particular question. Ran over time, even with reminders.

Allen Dyer--Chose 1st question: "overcoming achievement gap" socio-economic problems. Focused on land use. Spread the lower income housing throughout the county. Desegregate the neighborhoods, smooth distribution of economic groups. Council and executive can address this. Board must get out in front of this issue. Spoke against building "high rises" of poverty (does HoCo even have plans for that?) This is a long term solution, a short term solution would be busing. He's against that, says "Bus the teachers around to where they are most needed." Railed against number of "FARM students". Says class size should be smaller in lower income areas. "The affluent kids can handle all that testing. It's what their parents talk about around the dinner table."

Christine O'Connor: Pleasant, self-deprecating opening, portrayed herself as a nervous teacher in front of a large group of adults. Has fourteen years of PTA experience. Adressed question 4 by trying to relate FARM students and PTA membership. Numbers she used didn't prove anything and even she seemed surprised by this. She suggested PTA revenue sharing within feeds to address disparity of PTA funds. Described how Superintendent Foose recruited her to develop the PTA Parent Portal. (Note to readers, this is what is mentioned by Ann DeLacy here, "...our Superintendent has learned to circumvent the PTACHC leadership by going directly to the local PTA Presidents. ")

Zaneb Beams--Addresses health and wellness question. Uses Telehealth (being introduced in the Model Schools Initiative) as an example of something she has knowledge and experience with as a pediatrician and can help parents understand as it is implemented. Praises the goals of Telehealth, remarks that it is in its embryonic stages. Talks about nutrition, physical fitness, creative ways to increase physical activity. Delivers impassioned plea, "We don't have FARM students, we have children who need help with food." (Spontaneous applause) Concludes by saying that scores are not what make us who we are; dreaming and doing are what matters in the long run. (Again, spontaneous applause.)

Cynthia Vaillancourt--Describes what she is proud of from her years on Board. Happy that we are now honestly addressing issues of equity rather than being in denial. Addresses health and wellness question. Suggests that intent can be good, but execution can be at cross purposes with the goal. Argues for common sense: Lucky Charms and other sweetened cereals on offer are not a healthy breakfast for our students. Speaks to the issue of returning high school start times to a reasonable hour, says we are beyond the point of study, we should be working on how to implement. Says it's important to help community understand what is at stake as we make these changes.

Sandra French--the calm voice of a first grade teacher. Tells us why none of what others are saying is actually possible. Repeatedly says, "we can ask the superintendent, we can ask the staff, we can form a task force, we can examine data." Suggests that people from the community come to them with solutions but they (Board) can't even address that unless they first decide to form a task force to see if it is really a problem. And all that stuff costs money! Seems to suggest that as individual board members have no power, the passions and concerns and qualifications they bring to the board are irrelevant. Describes "this is how we do things." Never addresses whether that works or not. I don't think she spoke to any of the actual questions.

Dan Furman: began by telling about himself --Wilde Lake High School grad, Student Member of BOE, studied Poli Sci, law degree. Practiced Ed. Law, hcpss Council, currently working in Annapolis as a part of the Howard County Delegation. Adressed question 3--parity. Trying to provide all students with equity of opportunity. "We owe that to them." Says we must go directly to the operating budget to address this. Notes that he learned to read an operating budget at age 16, so it doesn't take an advanced degree in finance to understand it. Calls for greater transparency in the operating budget process. Concludes that equity of opportunity means valuing people over numbers.

I am going to do some analysis of all this on Monday. In the meantime, you can get more information from Jason Booms on his blog, Blair Ames of the Sun, and in the Candidates' actual written answers.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Board and Barn

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Oakland Mills Village Center last night was a Mike Smith campaign sign planted in the ground, which I found to be rather cheesy. I don't know what the rules were for last nights Candidate's Forum, but my gut feeling is that candidates were not invited to plant signs on Village Center property.

Once I parked my car, I noticed candidates Mike Smith and Christine O'Connor chit-chatting out front by his campaign sign. From the other side of the parking lot came a friendly shout, "Well, look! There's my favorite candidates!"

It was current Board Member Ann DeLacy.

The candidates' response was rather odd.

"Shh!" They shushed her.

"What do you mean, Shh?"

"Shh! You're not allowed to do that anymore."


"Didn't you see?"

At this point Ms. DeLacy had reached them and they bent their heads together in private conversation. I just kept on walking.

I can't wait to find out what all of that means. It was weird.


I want to thank the Villages of Columbia for organizing the Board of Education Candidate's Forum, and especially Sandy Cederbaum and the staff of Oakland Mills for hosting it at the Other Barn. They had a great turn out. Board Member Jonathan Edelson did a wonderful job of managing the introductions and getting the evening started. And staff from HCC's Mediation & Conflict Resolution Center were there to moderate the event.

As you already know, I think that this election is extremely important and I was thrilled to see so many people taking an interest. People from "inside The Bubble" and "outside The Bubble" were represented. And that's good.

I am going to save my analysis for tomorrow, as I have a lot of notes to sort through. I will say that Zaneb Beams drew spontaneous applause from the crowd twice during her remarks. And Allen Dyer produced possibly the only titter, when he suggested that we must "bus teachers--bus them to where they are needed most."

So, until tomorrow: here are the questions the eight candidates were asked to answer before last night's event. Are there any others that you would like to see addressed?


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

17 Years

Last night when the O's clinched the AL East Division Championship (did I say that right?) I kept seeing the year 1997. "Seventeen years is a long time..." began many a tweet. Something about that year rang a bell. 1997.

Oh, yeah. September of 1997 is when I met this guy.

He had long hair tied back in a ponytail, wore a leather jacket, drove a fast car, and sang counter-tenor in the professional choir at Grace and St. Peter's Church in Baltimore. I was new. He stood behind me in the choir stalls and helped me navigate my way through the complex, high-church liturgy.

Yes, seventeen years is a long time. Long enough for a courtship (beginning approximately 11/98) marriage (11/99) birth (11/00) and many other celebrations, most notably Alice and George's wedding on 9/16/12.

Wait--was this post supposed to be about baseball? Well, maybe. One thing I didn't know back in September of 1997 was how much this guy loved baseball. Over the last seventeen years I have watched him practice tuba while watching baseball, practice harp mournfully as they went down to defeat, practice banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar--all with the O's. Now he is writing a book while watching Orioles baseball.

For Oriole's fans, the last seventeen years now seem perfectly framed as the wait for last night, the wait for a sweet, sweet victory. It's Orioles Magic. For me last night's win was a reminder of the blessings of the last seventeen years, knowing and loving the rocker-teacher-baseball guy who has brought my life such joy.

Baseball seasons come and go. The love of home team goes on forever.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Five things that scare me:

  1. Football players beating four year old children
  2. Online ads that follow senior citizens around the internet
  3. Dancing With the Stars (wow, is that ever creepy!)
  4. Open Forums where "anything can happen"
  5. Depression

What's your list?


Monday, September 15, 2014

Making Your Mark

Today is Dot Day. I learned about Dot Day by following Howard County Media Teacher Matthew Winner on Twitter. You can learn more about his work on his blog, The Busy Librarian.

Dot Day, or rather International Dot Day, is a "global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration, (which) began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009." Dot Day is significant to me because it is an example of teachers connecting through social media and the World Wide Web to create a creative and affirming learning experience for students.

I write a good bit here about what high stakes testing and the emphasis on data, graphs, and endless meetings about the same, are doing to education. Dot Day is an example of what teachers really want to be doing: creating, collaborating, challenging students to be their best selves. These teachers don't need professionally vetted surveys to rate their level of engagement. They are engagement. As they are open to learning from one another, and from their students, we should be open to learn from them.

From the Dot Day website,

The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who dares a doubting student to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to "make her mark". What begins with a small dot on a piece of paper becomes a breakthrough in confidence and courage, igniting a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.

For some reason, the whole concept of Dot Day makes me think about this wacky, funky little book by Daniel Pinkwater called The Big Orange Splot. It is also a testament of sorts to self-expression. If you take the time for the read-aloud, you'll also see why this is the sort of book that might make Columbia RAC committees tear their hair out. It is hard to tell if the book was truly meant for children or really for adults. Perhaps both.

It challenges our comfortable acceptance of conformity. It gives us permission to dream our dreams, and then live them.

The Dot is available in our Howard County Public Libraries. The Big Orange Splot, alas, is not. They do carry forty other Daniel Pinkwater selections. I wish they had this one--in fact, I almost wish there was a Big Orange Splot Day.

Do something today to express yourself and break out of the mold!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Time Marches On--Are You With It?

This post was originally published about a year ago--9/24/13, to be exact. I am running it again to ask the same question: what are you willing to do to participate? What will it take for you to be engaged?

A Face in the Crowd

Saturday I attended the kick off event for Courtney Watson's campaign for the office of Howard County Executive. I was with the band.

The Lexington Brass Quintet

Truth be told, I would have been there even if my husband hadn't been playing tuba. I like Courtney. I've seen her reaching out to constituents through social media, most notably during storms and power outages. And I like the people I see working to support her.

Someone must do the work. Even before well-wishers walked in the door Saturday morning, people were busy. It's not just about wearing a "We're With Watson" t-shirt. The event itself had to be planned, the venue chosen and booked, tasks assigned, logos for signs and t-shirts created, food ordered, supplies purchased, speakers chosen and invited. In that room Saturday morning were people who care enough to get up early, stay up late, make lists, brainstorm, reach out and follow up.

You can tell a lot about a candidate by looking at who those people are. And when it comes to Courtney Watson, those people are ones I admire and respect. So I'm looking forward to great things from this team.

Let's not forget the guests. Some were clearly enthusiastic supporters, some were good democrats who root for the home team, some came to see and be seen. At every political function there will be people who view the event as an opportunity to forward their own interests. You can look at that as selfish, or simply as choosing to take advantage of fertile ground for networking.

I don't know what I think about this, probably because at heart I am not a politician. I was just happy to be a face in the crowd. I didn't need to be important. I saw friends, I learned more about what Courtney stands for, and I fulfilled a very necessary function: I was happy to be there.

We all choose, in one way or another, the degree to which we will be involved in our communities and in the workings of democratic self-government. There is room for many kinds of participation--from running for office to staying well-informed about the issues.

It is clearly campaign season in Howard County and it will be for the foreseeable future. How will you participate? What will you learn? What will you share?


There are about fifty-some days until Election Day. You can make a difference by learning about the issues, talking with friends and neighbors, volunteering for a campaign. More than anything else, you will make a difference by voting. Don't let someone else make the decisions about your community. Be the change you want to see in the world.




Friday, September 12, 2014

Oh, Those Crazy Kids

Scene: two teens on Twitter.


"just saw the article on the Glenelg student."


"seriously.... what if their flag offended me? Bet you they wouldn't get suspended. people need to get their facts straight."

"exactly .... ppl are stupid"



"You can drive around out here in a couple locations and see Confederate flags, southern flags flying up on flagpoles," he continued. "I am not going to question the intent of people flying them, but clearly they feel comfortable flying them and they have no issue."


Oh, those crazy kids. They say and do the darnedest things.

Wait, that second quote is from Republican Warren Miller, Maryland Delegate from District 9 A.

That quote is from an adult?

I highly recommend reading the entire article. It's very educational.

I wasn't going to write about this issue again today, but as I teacher I am overwhelmed by the desperate need for education here. And it clearly doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Read the Feed

The issue of the Confederate Flag and Glenelg students has taken up a good share of my Facebook conversations for the past few days. There have been some soul-searching discussions. And, when Ken Ulman and Courtney Watson stepped up and squarely addressed the problem, some unbelievable nastiness and name-calling spewed forth.

It all depends on what you read.

But the place to go for on the ground observations is Twitter. Why? Because here you will find teens sounding off. And, in the nature of teens, they are sounding off without any real understanding that the whole world might be watching, so they are entirely candid. It's fascinating. I encourage you to do your own search. These are primary sources, after all.

I'm sharing a few today. I'm including all the raw language because I think it is necessary.

Search "Glenelg Confederate"

  • Sad to say this is not the 1st time us Glenelg people have seen the confederate flag around school Its been going on forever with no actions
  • I swear I haven't seen one black person get mad about the confederate flag😂 only white people
  • Dear Rednecks of Glenelg, the confederate flag was the flag of the southern army which stood for; Keeping black ppl as slaves and
  • People are acting surprised about this confederate flag issue. Glenelg has always been on that bullshit
  • Lets all make peace with glenelg, we can bring gifts of moonshine and ride there in our lifted trucks, confederate flags flying
  • Since when did the confederate flag become news at glenelg. I've seen it everyday since I've been there lol
  • For everyone who is so upset about the Confederate Flag appearing at Glenelg. Learn something. http://t.co/E0YY52AJ3T http://t.co/ROVOmNPNUM

Search "Glenelg"

  • Honestly see nothing wrong with what those Glenelg kids did
  • but there are like a total of 200 non-white students at glenelg who are probably feeling pretty small right now.
  • Only Glenelg kids would think holding up a confederate flag isnt racist
  • & I can see how glenelg kids are offended by all of hoco saying they're all racist as a whole, just like we hate how ppl think OM is ghetto
  • For once River Hill isn't the one hated by the county 🙏 Shoutout to those select few at Glenelg for making terrible choices 🎉
  • Stuff like this has been happening for years at Glenelg but everyone just "forgets about it" bye. You can forget but I refuse.
  • I had no idea how much I underestimated the pure rascim at Glenelg, I don't know whether to be afraid or sad
  • One student does not and should not define glenelg...
  • And the kids from glenelg saying its them expressing their southern pride and someone said you "niggers need to calm down" or something?
  • i wish people would stop .. Glenelg is NOT a racist school at all !! there is just a certain group of people that are ignorant .

Search "Dr. Foose"

  • Dr. Foose is now addressing the Glenelg Confederate Flag issue
  • She tried to clarify the issue and give it some context after noting that such actions are completely unacceptable
  • Dr. Foose says that it was a response to River Hill kids calling Glenelg kids hill billies and hicks. The flag went too far.


Some thoughts. I don't know how you can read what students are saying and then accept that the incident on Friday night was an isolated prank as Dr. Foose describes. It doesn't add up. We clearly have work to do, as a community, to address this issue with our kids. If you have read the responses to Ulman and Watson's statements, you know we have our work cut out for us.

Kudos to Sun reporter Luke Lavoie for pursuing yesterday's story about the students who wore Confederate flags to school.

Numbers. It takes more than one student to hold up a banner. Pretty sure there were at least two, if not three or four kids participating in Friday's night's event. But the school system mentions only one. The photograph taken in school yesterday clearly shows three students wearing confederate flags. School system mentions only two. What happened to those other kids? Something really doesn't add up there.

It wasn't that long ago that I was in a room at Bridgeway Community Church listening to a presentation about Building Bridges across racial divides. The incidents this week in Howard County show how local, and how uncomfortable, these divides can be. We must not try to gloss over this to make ourselves feel better. It's wrong, and it's dangerous.

Our future truly hangs in the balance.







Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest Post: Beyond the Bubble

This morning Tom Coale of HoCoRising wrote a post that stopped me dead in my tracks. Entitled "The Bubble" it is a frighteningly accurate indictment gentle reminder to those of us who live in The Bubble, which he describes as follows:

The Bubble is "us". It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code). We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox. If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.

The gentle reminder is that the Bubble isn't everything, and that it can distort reality. This post really made me stop and think. I had plans for what I was going to post today but suddenly I wanted to stop and rethink.

Shortly afterwards my friend Ian posted his own response to Tom's post. It is such a perfect companion piece that I asked permission to share it here today.


Tom says it's 500-800; I usually say 500; and a very knowledgeable observer I talked to last week said 200. Regardless of the exact size, there is absolutely a "bubble" of people who are deeply versed and invested in local politics—this is true everywhere, though Howard County's idiosyncrasies make our bubble its own beautiful, one-of-a-kind snowflake.

The bubble can be good and bad, but Tom nails the fact that, especially during elections, the bubble distorts our perspective. Have you ever looked through an actual bubble? Sure, everything you see exists, just not in the way the bubble makes it appear.

I spent a lot of time about as deep in the bubble as you can get, but despite continued involvement in community matters—both personally and professionally—I've moved to the fringe of the bubble recently. I think some folks in the bubble have noticed; others may have not. This movement has been, I think, both conscious and sub-concious.

I obviously still care deeply about our community and our opportunities but what I've found myself doing is trying to separate my work and my ideals from my emotions. The bubble makes that hard. The bubble asks you to pick sides; to engage in small matters that seem big because the bubble is a grind; the bubble is non-stop.

The fight about Verona last year tore me up, and on some level it still does today. Some might say "fight back!" But fighting requires an emotional investment that I can't or won't give.

I don't know if it's age or fatherhood or spineless retreat, but I want to invest less of my emotion in things I have little to no control over (except, of course, the Orioles). I don't want to fight about sports or politics or technology or other people's decisions that don't affect me. I'm tired of the constant need for winners and losers on an on-going, weekly/daily/hourly basis.

A big consequence I face is guilt for not getting more engaged, especially in the elections. I have many friends involved in campaigns, great candidates and supporters alike who are working their asses off while I'm out riding my bike and goofing off with my kids.

But it's a trade off -- live with the guilt or get caught in the grind. And that's the thing about the bubble, it's easy to get deep and engage, especially if you're someone like me (i.e. "passionate").

I hope this doesn't come off as judgmental or preachy, because that's not my intent. I've spent a decade-plus in the bubble, and have a lot to show for it. And so do a lot of folks who are or have been in this bubble. I don't mean to question the importance of the bubble or the validity of the effort and emotion of those more fully invested.

But while I may have moved to the fringe recently, I'm sure I'll be back in deep some day. I'm also not going to stop working on or talking about community stuff; I just want to do so as dispassionately as possible (which is not actually dispassionate because I'm not actually capable of that).

In some ways I've replaced one bubble with another. This one's at the end of a cul-de-sac in Columbia. It's a bubble full of life and love and energy and tons of emotion. We hug, we fight, we laugh, we cry, and we go on adventures near and far. Sometimes it's a grind and our perspectives get distorted, but that's just life in a bubble.

Like all bubbles, this one won't last forever, at least not in its current form. So we'll cradle it as gently as possible and float along as far as it takes us.


Thanks to Ian for letting me share his words, and to Tom who inspired both of us today.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Par-tay! And Other Things

Tonight there's a party for local bloggers and their readers from 5:30 - 7:30 pm at Nottingham's. Tickets are free, and include some free food and one drink ticket. (!) Sign up here. I have to confess I have never been to Nottingham's, so I'll finally get to rectify that. Advance reports suggest you'll be able to catch HoCoHouseHon, Marshmallow Man, and possibly even the elusive Eric Freed. Join us.

Wednesday night there's a Board of Education Candidate Forum at the Jeffers Hill Neighborhood Center, hosted by the Columbia Democratic Club. I can't be there because of Back to School Night (there's that delicious irony again) but you should definitely go. It begins at 7:30 pm. I have it on good authority that all but one of the candidates will be in attendance.

Each will make a brief (2 minute) introduction. The moderator will get the discussion going with one initial question, then they will be taking questions from the floor. So, come and bring your questions! Remember, the Board of Education race is a non-partisan race. Everyone needs to be concerned about it. Even if you are not a Democrat, you are welcome to attend this forum.

A little follow-up on yesterday's post. I scanned Twitter for local responses to the Confederate Flag incident at Fridays's football game at River Hill. Of the responses I found, all but one were from teens. Of those (between 10-20) all but one roundly condemned the action. I also found several of what look like cell phone pictures of the actual event.

The Superintendent posted a statement on her blog. I didn't find it to be remarkably helpful, but I'm linking it here so you can make up your own mind. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the discussion in the comments yesterday. I know everyone didn't necessarily agree, but the tone remained civil. I do wish that everyone were willing to post under their own name. It would provide a more level playing field, in my opinion.

See you tonight at Nottingham's?



Monday, September 8, 2014

True Colors?

Over the weekend, a friend posted this on Facebook:

Photo circulating of confederate flag displayed by Glenelg HS fans at football game in #hocomd Friday PM. Haven't seen any further info. :-(

The responses:

It was part of this photo gallery and was still up yesterday. It has since been removed. Lot of parents have gotten involved in the next moves.


Although I will say, having grown up out that way, not surprised.


I have a hard time knowing where to start with this. I must admit that including that photo in the online collection was a pretty gutsy move by the Sun and certainly made it more difficult to sweep the students' action under the rug. Now there will have to be consequences. And that is as it should be.

I am reasonably certain that the Confederate Flag is not the official flag of Glenelg High School. Therefore, the choice to display it at a football game was meant to send another message. While there seems to be a general agreement that many folks in the Western part of Howard County are conservative, you'd have to have grown up under a rock not to know that display of the Confederate flag is offensive to a lot of people.

How many African-American students go to Glenelg? And how many are on the football team?

How many African-American students go to River Hill? How many are on the football team?

Will those numbers tell us anything about what motivated these kids? What were they trying to do? Make the other team angry?

I don't know. I do know that it was a hard-fought game and River Hill clinched it by one point.

Glenelg lost by more than that one point. Whoever those students are, they raised the specter of prejudice and maliciousness in their school community. That's a tough loss to come back from.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brief Notes

Over the last year I have received some thank-yous that have meant a lot to me. I have been thanked for campaign contributions, blog posts, children's chats at church, and even a box of Pop Tarts. These moments of gratitude take a variety of forms: preprinted, hand-written, emailed, and person-to person in conversation. (Even a thank-you party!)

I have a few thank yous to share today. I have been carrying them around with me in my head, and they have gathered enough momentum to command their own blog post.

1. To whoever fixed the lying-down sign at the intersection of Oakland Mills Road and Oakland Mills road (near Pete's Snowballs) with one that is ten times nicer--thanks! I love it.

2. To the staff member at Walgreen's who authorized the complete overhaul of the outdoor plantings, landscaping, etc. It was getting really depressing and now it looks loved and cared for. Nice work.

3. To the parents who serve on my school's PTA, on the PTA Council of Howard County, and all the parents who showed up for Back to Music Night at OMMS. You rock!

4. To the Village Manager in Oakland Mills, Sandy Cederbaum, and all our Village Staff for everything they do, day in and day out, to make our Village a better place. We <3 Oakland Mills!

5. To the staff at the Royal Farm store near Triadelphia Ridge. I have been going there for years and just realized that I have never had a bad experience there. In fact, most times the service is above average. They are way past due for a shout out.

So take a moment to thank someone. Soon. Today, even. And when someone thanks you, don't brush it off. Take the time to really let it sink in, and absorb it. I guess that's my sermon for today.

Thanks for listening.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Big Brother at the Giant?

Imagine you nip into the store to buy condoms. You aren't feeling particularly chatty, so you opt for the self check out. Then, this happens: your purchase triggers the machine to require a staff member to come do a manual reset (like you are buying NyQuil) and then, you get asked for ID.

At this point you would probably feel like an enormous, light-up arrow is pointing directly at you. As the kids say, "Awkward."

Yes, this has really happened, right here in Howard County, at the Hickory Ridge Giant. I learned of this through a posting on Facebook by Cynthia Vaillancourt. It piqued my curiosity as I had just been reading through the Howard County Public Schools Health and Human Sexuality curriculum, which covers contraceptives at the eighth grade level.

Did you guys know the Hickory Ridge Giant sometimes "cards" young people trying to buy condoms? Apparently it is not official store policy (according to regional manager) - but when you go through the self check out line a cashier has to come over and do the manual reset...like when you're buying NyQuil. Terrible public health policy - on so many levels. The Health Department has been very helpful in helping me get this addressed. I am assured it is now fixed ... however... if anyone experiences this, please let me know.

In the first incident I became aware of, when the cashier came over to do the override, she asked the young man for ID. He said "are you kidding me?" she told him you have to be 18 to buy condoms.

There is no law on age to buy condoms, and since we have been trying to teach kids and the public to use condoms to avoid disease ... putting an obstacle like that in the way is counter-productive.The Health Department has spoken to Giant, and I have been in touch with the regional manager who insists it isn't store policy, and no one should be asking for I.D. ---- and yet, the next day I sent a youngish person through the self checkout and sure enough, the manager/cashier had to come over and do the manual over ride. At least she didn't ask for I.D. that time.

(The good news: she videotaped the transaction. The bad news: I haven't figured out how to embed it here. Check back later. --jam)

Our school system and our County Health Department want young people to understand and use safe sex methods if they chose to have sex. It's a public health issue on so many levels: preventing both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They are not encouraging anyone to be sexually active. In fact, the HCPSS curriculum is heavy on support for abstinence. But I could see how fear of being carded might negatively impact adolescents who are actually trying to be responsible.

It looks like everyone Ms. Vaillancourt reached out to is working to rectify this situation, including Giant and the Health Department. It does seem odd to me that Giant says this hasn't been happening when it clearly has. It makes me wonder if this is happening at other Giant locations because, if it is in their checkout protocol, wouldn't it be on all their computers? It doesn't seem likely that it would be in just one retail location.

I'd be interested to hear if this practice is more widespread. I certainly hope not. We don't want anyone, whether deliberately or by accident, breaking the law and discouraging safe, responsible behaviors.

A tip of the hat to Ms. Vaillancourt for taking this one on for our young people and our community.