Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday Woes

Just fooling with you. I'm going to try another week of gratitude, actually. This week's reasons to be grateful:

1. We seem to have acquired all the needed school supplies and signed all the correct forms. So far.

2. The date for this year's Oakland Mills Cultural Arts Festival has been set--October 8th--it's one of my favorite days of the year.

3. Candidate forums aplenty for the HoCoBOE race!

4. First meeting of the Citizens Review Committee of the HCPSS Budget occurred yesterday. And here is Bill Woodcock's blog post about it.

5. HoCo PATH-IAF members are out in the community sharing information on Strong Schools, Affordable Homes. If you see the friendly folks in the green shirts while you are out and about, take a minute to listen to their goals--they might be your goals, too.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Talking About My Generation

I highly recommend this article shared by Just Up the Pike's Dan Reed about generational differences when it comes to housing density. Although written in Canada it could easily have been written in Howard County. It's definitely worth the read. The author takes a look at the differing desires of Millennials and Baby Boomers when it comes to the development of new housing and communities.

If, after reading the article, you feel that it has been too hard on Baby Boomers, you might wish to cleanse your palate by reading this piece. I frankly think that Millennials take too much bashing but this one is almost funny. And it makes you think.

I am, technically, a Baby Boomer. My older daughter is a Millennial. We have differing opinions about things but those opinions help us learn about each other, rather than condemn. I get tired of seeing articles about what's wrong with her generation. Heck, I get tired of getting lumped in with all the sins of the Baby Boomers.

Yes, there are differences. Some are generational. Why can't we learn from each other? Must it be war?

One last thing. I don't see a lot of articles expounding on what's wrong with GenXers. I suspect this is because they are the ones writing all the articles.






Monday, August 29, 2016


Today is the first day of school for many in Howard County. The first day is full of possibility and it can been exciting. Or scary. Or both. Teachers and staff will be working hard to make schools welcoming and to create positive learning environments. Most importantly, they will be building the relationships with students that make that learning possible.

Ahead there will be challenge, adventure, good days, bad days, boredom, and breakthrough but above all there will be relationship. Without it, students are nothing but widgets and teachers nothing but robotic "deliverers of content".

I am now working in a school where we focus our efforts in the workplace by trying to "bring our best selves" to the task at hand: to teaching, relating with coworkers, students, and parents, and to building community. This is a school where the ultimate goal is to produce students who will make the world a better place. As we work to make our school welcoming and to create positive learning environments, it is with that overarching goal.

Let your lives speak.

(It's a Quaker thing.)

What is your goal for your children? What is your goal for your children's schools? Articulate it. Share it. Make sure your children know what it is that you value. Create an environment in your home that supports learning and personal growth, risk-taking and creativity. Nurture the relationships that make home a safe and supportive place.

Happy First Day of School. No matter what schools our children attend, don't we all hope that someday they will want to make the world a better place?







Sunday, August 28, 2016

Taking a Hit






These are not just random numbers. These are dollar amounts that Howard County teachers were missing out of their paychecks this week because of an accounting error in the HCPSS payroll department. Would you be able to cover a loss this big without adequate warning? Most Howard County teachers don't earn enough to be able to take that kind of a hit.

Howard County Times covers this briefly, but read the comments, too, to get a clearer picture of what actually occurred.

It is the job of the people who handle HCPSS payroll to manage two different pay schedules: one that pays over ten months, and one that pays over twelve months. Most school systems throughout the country offer both options as a way of responding to teachers' need to have a steady paycheck year round. If you are in the business of making payroll decisions, you should have the ability to work out things like the length of the teacher contract, the dates that the school year begins and ends.

This is basic payroll stuff.

A truly good hr/payroll department prides itself on doing the best possible work for employees. And for many years it has been handled without difficulty by the HCPSS payroll department. But not this year.

Somebody somewhere screwed up. And instead of owning their mistake and trying to make it right, Central Office is trying to throw blame anywhere rather than acknowledge it. The lack of transparency in how all this went down is mind-boggling. In a comment from the HoCoTimes article, a teacher states:

I would like to clarify a part of this article that I think is very important. It is stated that teachers were notified that their paychecks would be smaller on August 12th. This is a misleading statement. On August 12th, teachers received an email that their pay would be effected, but if they were enrolled in benefits, the fact that teachers do no pay for healthcare over the summer would offset the deficit. The school system even included a graphic that showed an experienced teacher who was enrolled in benefits would receive a paycheck of $100 more than the school year, NOT LESS. It was not until around noon on the August 26th payday that another email was sent out with a REVISED graphic that showed a paycheck of about $300 less. This new updated graphic contained no further explanation about the sudden decrease in pay. So NO TEACHER in Howard county knew that their pay would be cut this much for TWO paychecks. Please update your article to reflect the accurate communication that occurred.

We are about to begin the school year. Teachers have been working long hours to prepare classrooms and lessons, often well-beyond contracted hours. Many have been purchasing materials out of their own money because HCPSS has cut their Materials of Instruction budgets. What message are we sending our teachers as they undertake the most important work in our investment in the future of our community?

You don't matter.

Your work has no value.

You are not worthy of respect.

Would you do this to an employee? Would you want it to happen to you?

The people in charge of the Howard County Schools are stripping our school system of value like slumlords. The money we pay in taxes is being misdirected away from schools, students, and teachers, and the overly top-heavy Central Office staff has seemingly lost a sense of responsibility to those they are meant to serve.

This year's school board election is a referendum on whether we, as a community, are going to continue to allow that to happen.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Friends of Main Street

This post first appeared on August 27, 2012. It refers to this event.

Love for Ellicott City lives on and on.

Is No News "Good"?

Once upon a time, there were places that everybody knew and loved. You know what I mean, right? Places like The Last Chance Saloon, Michael's, Rocky Run, Produce Galore, Bun Penny. Everybody went there. At least, that's what I've heard. You can probably name some others, equally treasured.

But times changed. People changed. The economy changed. And then, one day, they weren't there. Not all at once of course--little by little. Well-known pieces of the community broke away and crumbled. Some people were angry, some were grieving. Some asked, "why?"

"Why didn't we know?"
"If we had known they were in trouble, we would have made a point of supporting them."
"It's not our fault this happened."
If someone had just told us, we would never have let this happen."

I don't know the origin of the adage, "No news is good news." It seems an awful lot like, "If you don't hear anything, it must be okay." Hindsight tell us the falsity in that. No news? What if we just weren't listening?

Last week, HocoBloggers Tom Coale and HowChow took a look at a tragic news story in Ellicott City, but they heard something more than the headlines. Underlying all the basic pieces of the story was another story: of a community of merchants who are our neighbors. Hit by one crisis after another in recent years, they were facing an extended closure of Main Street while clean-up from the train accident took place.

Something really marvelous happened because they were listening. And they asked a different question, "What if?"

"What if we can do something to help?"
"What if we can use social media to make it a 'happening'?"
"What if our small, individual acts can create a bigger wave of support?"

Among the long list of things that I am not is: an economist. However, I do know that businesses struggle and fail for a variety of reasons, and that it isn't as simple as well-meaning folks charging in on white steeds to save the day. And under no circumstances am I saying that any of these businesses are in danger of failing. I don't have any knowledge of that, and it is not the point of this post.

The point is about friendship. Do you know who makes the best friends? People who listen. Really listen, and pay attention. If they haven't heard from you, they don't assume that "No News Is Good News". Perhaps you are depressed, or swamped at work. Maybe you have fallen and you can't get up.

Good friends make good community members. And good community members make, well--they make a bustling Main Street on a weekend in August, for one thing.

What else could they--we--do?


Friday, August 26, 2016

Coming Back at You

I just want to start by acknowledging that I had no idea of the truly bad pun coming your way when I wrote this post last week, "Ball in Your Court, #HoCoGov". So the following is not intentional.

Yes, when it comes to mold in our schools and getting transparency and accountability, we seemed to be at a standstill when the the firm commissioned to investigate by the County Executve's office was basically discredited by a contractor hired by the school system. Top it off with the news that the (independent?) investigators were not permitted to speak publicly without permission of the school system.

Ball in your court, #HoCoGov.

It turns out that there is indeed a chance to turn this game around because the ball in HoCoGov's court is Calvin Ball, Chair of the County Council. (I know, I know, but stay with me here.)

The saga of mold has gotten so complicated that I had forgotten that Dr. Ball authored and got legislation passed to have the Environmental Sustainability Board evaluate all air quality reports for our schools. This actually happened before the Memorandum of Understanding from Mr. Kittleman's office. And it's still a happening thing. The report is due in/around October.

So we have the contractor paid by HCPSS who only says what they tell him to say. And we have the firm hired by the County Executive's Office who only talks when HCPSS tells them they can talk. And we have an editorial in the Howard County Times that says, "What the heck?" What we really need is a comprehensive and independent report where the only allegiance in play is to providing citizens with the facts and what they mean.

I don't want to get overly excited here, but it looks like Dr. Ball and the County Council have laid the groundwork for this to happen. This could be a very good thing for the health of our students, faculty, and staff.

The game goes on. I'm feeling more optimistic about how it will turn out.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Local Options

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Since 2003 I have worked part time in one way or another and all household chores, grocery shopping, and cooking fell to me by default. And that was fine. I was the one with the most time.

Now I'm not. I'm going back to work full time and I have absolutely no clue how dinner is going to happen.

So, to those of you who've been parenting and working full time and making dinner happen all this time: I salute you. I bow down before you. Long ago, in another life, I knew how to do this. But I have lost my chops.

Educate me. What are the best local options for busy parents to get food on the table fast? What tricks have you learned for juggling everything and staying sane?

When my daughter was an infant and I was commuting to Baltimore to work every day, we fell back on take-out and cereal as dinner much more than I would have liked. We survived. But it wasn't pretty.

Howard County has plenty of grocery stores, and several grocery delivery options. I know there are also services that sell pre-prepped, ready to cook meals. Have you tried any? Does anyone deputize children or spouse to participate in the dinner process?

You are the experts. Tell me what Howard County has to offer. A hungry family awaits your wisdom.


Local Options

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Since 2003 I have worked part time in one way or another and all household chores, grocery shopping, and cooking fell to me by default. And that was fine. I was the one with the most time.

Now I'm not. I'm going back to work full time and I have absolutely no clue how dinner is going to happen.

So, to those of you who've been parenting and working full time and making dinner happen all this time: I salute you. I bow down before you. Long ago, in another life, I knew how to do this. But I have lost my chops.

Educate me. What are the best local options for busy parents to get food on the table fast? What tricks have you learned for juggling everything and staying sane?

When my daughter was an infant and I was commuting to Baltimore to work every day, we fell back on take-out and cereal as dinner much more than I would have liked. We survived. But it wasn't pretty.

Howard County has plenty of grocery stores, and several grocery delivery options. I know there are also services that delivery pre-prepped ready to cook meals. Have you tried any? Does anyone deputize children or spouse to participate in the dinner process?

You are the experts. Tell me what Howard County has to offer. A hungry family awaits your wisdom.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gratitude Wednesday

Last week's little list idea is growing on me. It might even get to be a regular thing. What's on my local appreciation list this week?

  • Ellicott City Main Street businesses the Judge's Bench and the Wine Bin are slated to re-open today and tomorrow, respectively. Now, that's progress.
  • There's going to be a Hops & Harvest Festival at the Lakefront in October.
  • Reporter Fatimah Waseem of The Howard County Times "who has been a one-woman flood bureau over the last 3 weeks. " (Tom Coale, Ellicott City Partnership)
  • A bit outside the Bubble, but extremely significant in re HCPSS achievement gap issues--take a look at this information from UMBC:


(Photo credit Candace Dodson Reed)

  • Last, but not least, a grateful shout-out to all of our Howard County teachers and staff who are working their tails off this week to get schools and classrooms ready for students, all while struggling with punitive budget reallocations. Thank you--we support your work and we care about your working conditions.
Have a great Wednesday. Feel free to chime in with the local things on your gratitude list this week.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Something Sweet

I can't visit Rehoboth without stopping in to Fun For All! Toys on Penny Lane. Something about paying homage to the candy and toys of my childhood gives me a sense of reassurance. My childhood is still there. It hasn't been forgotten. I really lived in that world which now feels so different and far away.
I sometimes wonder if the people who grew up in a nascent Columbia have that same feeling. It must be difficult to see little pieces of their childhood slipping away. No matter how useful or exciting the evolution of their town, it is still different. And sometimes different just feels like loss.
The Columbia Archives is preparing for Columbia's 50th birthday celebration in 2017. You can learn more on their Facebook page. They are posting all kinds of historical photos and interesting tidbits. You can also read "Columbia at 50" by Len Lazarick, an ongoing memoir of our city, which is being shared on the page.
It feels particularly appropriate to me to take some time right now to celebrate the birth of Columbia and review its beginnings. There are some big decisions in progress about Downtown Columbia. Change is already happening. It is an ongoing process. What are the core things about our city that we want to champion and retain?
Are there things we absolutely want to protect? Are there things we've known we could be doing better, and this is a chance to move in a better direction?
In the meantime, stop by the Columbia Mall to take a trip down memory lane by visiting this display created by Barbara Kellner and the Columbia Archives. If you are like me, you'll learn something new. If you were here when it happened, it will be like a visit to the old candy store: nostalgic, reassuring, and sweet.
(Photo by Barbara Kellner)


Monday, August 22, 2016

Board Games

This cartoon appeared in last week's paper. Funny, huh?


Back-to-school time is often a bit wistful as we say goodbye to summer. Students may be a little nervous about what lies ahead. Parents may be anxious about big transitions for their children. We don't often think about what it's like for teachers and staff fearing to go in a building because it makes them sick.
The following quotes are from the "Mold in Howard County Schools - Information for Parents" Facebook Page.
Here is a statement from a current teacher:
"At this point, we'll keep fighting this fight and I'll have to do what I can to keep my health the best that I can while we're doing it. Sadly, I've come to know that I've had mold related illnesses for several years due to HCPSS negligence. When I left (prior) school -- years ago, I'd had a chronic sinus infection for over a year. The trailer I taught in - requested an air quality check on and was told it was safe - was condemned a year and half later for black mold behind the walls. When I came to current school and after the surgery, my symptoms were better for a few years. When I changed into my current room, I gradually began getting sick more often and didn't really connect it until last year... It was probably due to the chronic ceiling leak that took several years to fix.
In the meantime, I need my job and don't have other choices at the moment. I'm glad my students transfer in and out of my class and don't have much exposure to it."
And a response from a retired teacher:
"And I thought I was alone being sick year after year, 3 & 4 times a year with bronchitis, prednisone spurts, inhalers, nebulizer treatments- lung permanently weakened- and it's just a "maintenance issue." I am so sad for this teacher, her classes & the rest of the teachers/staff & students suffering through this exposure to mold. Is the BOE & Dr. Foose really this deaf & heartless? The one on the BOE who absolutely blows my mind is Dr. Siddiqui, a pediatrician, who does NOT advocate for the children of Howard County. How can she sit there & say NOTHING about the health ramifications?? The first line of the Hippocratic Oath is DO NO HARM. She has caused harm over & over again by NOT SPEAKING UP!"
It's a clever device to set the continuing saga of mold in our schools on a Monopoly Board. The truth is that a majority of our school board has been playing games with the health of students, teachers, and staff for years and is still not truly taking responsibility.
You have a choice in November as to what kind of a school board you want. There's a lot of information out there to consider. One thing is simple. There's only one person on the ballot who could have done something to fix this, but didn't.
The only way that Howard County citizens win this game is by electing better Board Members who truly represent the community.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Something to Say

I'm not a photographer. I am in awe of people like Michael Oberman who really and truly understand and practice the art of photography. Still, I like to take pictures. And the camera on my iPhone is a big step up from my childhood Kodak Instamatic or my high school Polaroid.

Three years ago I snapped this at a HoCo Blogs party at the Second Chance Saloon.

It has become affectionately known as, "when Bill Woodcock speaks, people listen." I'm rather proud of this one.

Bill and I both live in Oakland Mills, have both served on the Village Board, both write blogs. We're both interested in local affairs, and generally have something to say about them. Our opinions are frequently quite different. Or sometimes our opinions are similar but our methods are radically different. It doesn't matter. We keep at it.

In this picture Bill is being interviewed by two members of the local media, Luke Lavoie and Jon Sham. Neither of them still works for the Howard County Times. In fact, I don't think either of them works for a newspaper anymore.

In the meantime, we almost lost the Second Chance, the setting of this photo. A tip of the hat and a HoCoHoller to everyone who helped make it possible for them to stay open.

So, we lost the journalists, we almost lost the Second Chance, but Bill Woodcock appears to be here to stay. His newest venture is as a member of the Citizens Budget Review Committee examining the HCPSS budget. He brings plenty of professional experience to the task. I'm confident that he will serve the community well in this role.

A delightful bonus: I know he'll have something to say about it.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Coming Attractions

It's back! Or at least it will be. Yesterday this announcement popped up on Facebook:

Yes, Symphony of Lights is back and it looks to be refreshed and rejuvenated after a one-year absence. So that's something to look forward to as we're suffering through end-of-summer August heat and humidity.

In the category of What May Come is this blog post from Harry Schwarz at HoCoMDcc, entitled:

Life at the new Hickory Ridge Village Center (circa 2024)

As you may know, the owners of the Hickory Ridge Village Center are working with the community on a redevelopment plan. As with anything that involves change in Columbia, there are plenty of opinions. I have only been following this in the most basic of ways, so I'm not offering any point of view whatsoever on Kimco's plans or the community's responses.

I love Harry's post simply because it is that rare example of someone imagining a Columbia future that isn't a doom and gloom story. What if things changed and they were great?

It could happen.












Friday, August 19, 2016

Ball in Your Court, HoCoGov

The turnaround in the local press concerning mold in Howard County Schools has been breathtaking. We went from results of the County's independent investigation one week to an article discrediting the same report based solely on the say-so of an HCPSS contractor.

My, that was fast.

What does the firm that completed the independent investigation think of this?

"Skelly and Loy Inc. representatives denied a request for an interview, stating they could only release information approved by Howard County Public Schools."

Wait, what?

Let's review the basics:

  • Parents experience loss of confidence in how HCPSS is handling the mold issue.
  • They ask for an independent investigation.
  • Howard County Government responds to constituents and makes this possible.
  • Report is released, showing mold in schools.
  • School system hires their own contractor who discredits the independent report.
  • Firm who completed the independent investigation at the behest of hocogov is not permitted to speak to the press without HCPSS approval.

What happened to the independent part of this?

If HCPSS had difficulty understanding the County Report, they should have asked the County to complete the process by hiring an independent industrial hygienist to interpret the results. Or the County themselves should have volunteered to do so. Parents, who already had no confidence in how the school system was handling a serious health issue, are witnessing the complete circumventing of the County's mission to respond to their concerns.

Let me say that again: if the school system had responded to parents about mold in the schools in a way that showed transparency and accountability, we would not be where we are today. So why should community members accept the word of a school system-hired analyst?

They shouldn't. Nor should Howard County Government.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Big List

As of today, here is what the Howard County School System says* we can't afford:

  • Adequate funds for materials of instruction
  • Adequate number of para-educators
  • Adequate support staff for special education students
  • Adequate teaching staff to support reasonable class sizes
  • Frequent and conveniently timed BOE meetings and time for public input
  • A diversity coordinator
  • Adequate support of students' IEP goals

Here is what they say we can afford:

  • Increased MAP testing (in addition to PARCC testing)
  • A privately contracted consultant to challenge the County's recent air quality report
  • A brand new Public Relations magazine to be published online and in print
  • A teacher recruitment advertising campaign on radio and online
  • Continued costs of the Gallup Strengths Finder program
  • Continued money to litigate against special education parents

Do you see priorities here? I do, and they're not student-centered.

The school system has been entrusted both with our children and our tax dollars. The community has every right to expect responsible stewardship. In crafting the County budget, the County Executive made funding for instruction a priority. The School System's response does not live up to his intent.

Checks and balances? Accountability? None.


*"says" either by word or in action.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Little List

Five local things I'm grateful for right now, in no particular order:

  • First Responders
  • Challengers running for the Board of Education
  • Everyone helping in any way with the Old Ellicott City recovery
  • Sandy Cederbaum, amazing Village Manager in Oakland Mills
  • Barbara Kellner of Columbia Archives, gearing up for Columbia's 50th
Why a gratitude list?

To be honest, there are so many things I find outrageous right now that a moment to look at what I'm grateful for is in order. It's all in one's perspective, right? I still wake up every day in a nice home in a comfortable bed with a loving family. I live in a community that allows me to be involved and express my views.

Oh! One more thing to be grateful for: the Chysalis project in Merriweather Park/Symphony Woods is coming along nicely and posting daily updates. The future of Columbia isn't something that's going to happen at some date far out in time. It's happening now.

What's on your list today?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Worrying About the Future

Just saw a meme which read, "August is the Sunday of Summer." I've been teaching and/or working in school settings since 1985 and I'd have to agree. I go back to work full time on the 22nd and every day of this week is filled with last minute things that need to get done. The summer, like most summers, has gotten away from us and we have not accomplished much of what we set out to do.

For some reason the feeling of the school year bearing down on me is making it more and more difficult for me to write. My long established routines for getting up and writing will soon be changing and that bothers me. I'm worrying in advance, I guess. Not very productive but there you are.

On my mind this morning are this article in the Baltimore Sun about Ellicott City, and word that long-time Columbia volunteer and environmental activist Rhoda Toback has died. The unifying thread here is trees and the watershed. I'd like to write about this in a more comprehensive way but I'm still processing what I want to say.

There was a time, almost fifty years ago, when much of the area where I live was clear cut and flattened in preparation for the birth of Columbia. Today that kind of whole-sale deforestation would alarm many. And yet we look around today and see green, tree-lined neighborhoods and a beautiful park-like pathway system. How does that compare to what has happened and is happening on the hills surrounding Old Ellicott City?

Take a minute to read the Baltimore Sun article. I'm hoping someone will write a piece about Ms. Toback that I can share with you soon. (Here is a post by Tom Coale on HoCo Rising to get you started.) And here she is in her own words, supporting the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods.

Seven days until liftoff for me. On August 22nd a new adventure begins.




Monday, August 15, 2016

Make Up Your Mind

What a difference a year makes. About a year ago I wrote a post about the upcoming meeting between HCPSS and parents at Glenwood Middle School. In the post, this little gem:

Although I understand that there have been some efforts to paint these parents as troublemakers (some even going so far to say they are nothing more than a front for the teachers union?)

The rumor machine was hard at work even then. A front for the teachers union? I find that particularly hilarious because some of these same parents are now being targeted in a whisper campaign (by the very same people) as "dangerous Tea Party Republicans".

Make up your mind. It's an astonishing leap from a front for HCEA to dangerous Tea Party Republican. The labels say nothing about the parents themselves but a good deal about those who are generating them. It doesn't matter what labels you try to stick on those troublesome community members, just make them stick. Discredit the messengers.

This is where things stood one year ago:

I have my eye on this meeting tonight because, even at this late date, it provides an opportunity for the school system to "get right with" the community. Will they? That means taking responsibility. And taking responsibility means liability. And liability can be very expensive.

But the damage from this issue has already been extremely costly in terms of loss of community trust, bad publicity in the newspaper, on television, and on social media. Add to that the damage of sick children and staff, and it almost seems that transparency might have been less expensive.

Where are we today?


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Walking the Walk

Yesterday the Howard County Muslim Council, with support from the United Maryland Muslim Council, distributed bag lunches in Ellicott City to volunteers, residents, and construction workers. In their appeal to members on the group's Facebook page:

Please open your hearts and wallets and let's help to rebuild Ellicott City!


Last night in New York City a Muslim imam and his assistant were shot and killed near the mosque where they had recently been offering afternoon prayers. An attack which feels so targeted cannot help but cause distress for Muslims anywhere in our country. In the current political climate a candidate for president uses and encourages false and incendiary language against Muslims. His followers feed on the anger and negativity and magnify it.


We do not know yet all the details surrounding this crime. We certainly know enough to know it is heartbreaking and is causing American Muslims to feel less safe. And yes, they are American, like our our Muslim neighbors in Howard County out walking the blisteringly hot streets of Ellicott City to share a meal and words of encouragement.

Now what? Well, take a look at the Twitter hashtag #IllWalkWithYou . An explanation:

Following the murder of two men outside a mosque in Queens, New York Saturday, Americans are pledging to walk shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim neighbours.

Examples of tweets using this hashtag:

  • #IllWalkWithYou offers to accompany Muslim community to mosque after imam shooting
  • We don't need theoretical unity. We need solidarity in practice. Solidarity is an act of love. #IllWalkWithYou
  • Because I know what it's like when they come for me, and I won't let them come for you. #IllWalkWithYou

Yesterday Muslims in Howard County walked with us. Today it's our turn to walk with them.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Weaponizing the School Budget

Two reports yesterday. They couldn't be more different. In one, an article in the Howard County Times, Beverly Davis describes a memo which details restrictions on hiring and purchasing as follows:

The move will likely have "a minimal noticeable impact for students" and the school system is "not using it as an excuse to reduce its commitment to schools in any way," she said.

Another view comes from the memo itself, released yesterday on social media by the BOE campaign of Vicky Cutroneo and Christina Delmont-Small.

The memo clearly lays out cuts of as much as 50 percent in MOI, Materials of Instruction. These are the funds allocated to teachers which fund items needed for their programs. It is further stated that any shortfalls may not be submitted for reimbursement out of the total school budget, thus placing a stranglehold on teachers as they try to purchase necessary materials for the school year.

Two things to consider: 1) how can cutting materials of instruction have a "minimal noticeable impact for children"? 2) didn't County Executive Allan Kittleman's budget fully fund instruction? I can't believe that this was his intent.

The tell-tale sentence in the HoCo Times article is this:

The belt-tightening, outlined in an Aug. 5 memo to all HCPSS staff, will allow the school system to fund negotiated salary increases, said Beverly Davis, the school system's budget director.

These cuts, which will directly affect students and teachers, are being framed as necessary specifically because HCPSS is being required to fund negotiated agreements with teachers. Not because, say, the orginal budget request was wildly unrealistic. Not because of monies spent augmenting an already top-heavy Central Office Staff. Not because of fancy programs of dubious value such as the Gallup Strengths Finder initiative.

No, the school system is telling us, your children's educational experience is being compromised by those greedy teachers. Look at them. Blame them. Don't examine these other areas where we don't want you to look.

Those teachers, by the way, routinely spend money out of pocket every year to augment taxpayer funds to support our kids' educational experience. Who do you think will be caught making up this shortfall? Teachers, to the extent that their personal finances permit it.

Oh, and those negotiated salary increases? Now you know where they'll be going.

Tell me again why two members of the Board who are responsible for this budget are being permitted to serve on the County Council's audit committee to review HCPSS budgets? Their appointment circumvents the intent of the legislation, just as much as these cuts circumvent the intent of the County Executive when he fully funded instruction.

In short, your tax dollars are being used to punish people: teachers and students. Is that how you would like them to be used?






Friday, August 12, 2016

Totally Haywire

I overslept. Woke up in the middle of dreaming, and my brain won't work. Happy Friday to you, too.

I was going to write about some concerns I have about the Columbia Village Board system today, but that will need to wait until I can get my head on straight. If I tried now I suspect the result would be more like free associating.

If you are following the many ways to support Ellicott City right now, I recommend you take a look at Totally HoCo. Jessie Newburn has been working to aggregate the EC-centric events. Totally HoCo is a great community resource and it is showing its value during a time like this by highlighting fundraisers and donation drives that support the flood victims.

While you are taking a look at events to support, sign up for the Totally HoCo weekly email newsletter. It shows up in my box on Sundays and it's a great way to start the week. Also, if you are planning a local event, post it there. It's easy to do, and it's free.

As I said recently: we don't have a daily paper, we don't have local radio or television. Social media fills that void if we use it well. We've seen how that's been working on Facebook. Having and using a hyperlocal community calendar is another tool for keeping the community informed. So:

I'm going to go have some coffee and try to rehabilitate my brain. Stay cool today, everybody.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

These Three Things

I have three things in my head today.

1. Monday's "Tipping Point" conversation about race, sponsored by AACR

2. The DOJ report released yesterday on Baltimore policing

3. The speech given by Marilyn Mosby, State's Attorney for Baltimore, on the decision to cease trials in the Freddie Gray case

First of all, I have immense respect for the organizers of Monday's event, and for all who participated. To take a leap of faith that they could bring together so many people during a time which is so emotionally charged and have a positive outcome is no small thing. Handling the event moment by moment took patience and flexibility.

When you allow people to speak out, it means you are relinquishing some control. You know you must expect the unexpected, and you try to be ready, but of course you won't know what that is until it happens. On Monday the number of people who wanted, not to ask a question of the panel, but to be heard, was overwhelming. One after another they came, full to overflowing with concern, fear, anger, sorrow.

"You invited us to a conversation," they seemed to be saying. "Well, we have something to say."

Some have said that the forum chosen for Monday wasn't the right one, that conversations can't take place in large groups. My thoughts: it was worth every minute. Speaking for myself, it was so important for me as a white person in this community to be in that room and experience what was being said. I'm guessing that it was helpful for African American community members to be able to be unflinchingly candid about their experiences without having to "filter" or self-censor to avoid making whites uncomfortable.

If I was uncomfortable, that was a good thing. Having to sit with the enormity of injustice and systemic racism up close and personal is a necessary step in the process (for me, anyway.) Not being able to leave, or look away, or change the channel when things got rough is such a tiny, tiny thing compared to the depth of harm African American citizens have experienced and are still experiencing in our country.

Also, it's been noted that people were carrying experiences from other jurisdictions into the event, rather than focusing on Howard County. But I think that Police Chief Gary Gardner understood the dynamics in play Monday night. He made a comment about coming to the realization of how much experiences in other jurisdictions can color how someone responds to an interaction with local police. He knows we can't exist in a purely Howard County bubble.

When the DOJ report was released yesterday, I immediately thought of Monday evening. The report is a comprehensive look, with data, numbers, statistics. But it speaks the ugly truth of systemic racism, abuse of power, consistently unconstitutional behavior. Who could stand to even get up in the morning and bear the burden that is being the target for such oppression? Did it surprise me? Intellectually, no. But after Monday night I had a personal connection that changed how I felt about it.

And then I thought of Marilyn Mosby's speech, for which she took a lot of flak, on why the trials in the death of Freddie Gray would not continue. In light of the DOJ report, it becomes much clearer how incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, it was to bring a successful prosecution for this homicide. If the system responsible for his death is focused first and foremost on protecting itself, there can be no just conclusion until that oppressive system is broken.

I hope that AACR will build on Monday's event and keep having all kinds of conversations to address the issues that came up over the course of the evening. If you weren't able to make this one, I hope you will come to the next.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Monday evening I attended the community discussion about race hosted by the African American Community Roundtable. Yesterday I was invited to participate in a small group discussion session by Howard Hughes Corporation on the upcoming pieces of Downtown Development. Later in the evening I stopped by the Oakland Mills Village Board Meeting because something important was on the agenda.

This is not the preferred life experience for an introvert.

Some days I despair of finding something to write about. Today there's so much swirling about in my brain that I can't find even one loose end where I can begin to unravel it all. If there is a mental equivalent to sorting laundry on wash day, I sure could use it now.

In the meantime, word of increased cuts that directly affect teachers, students, and support staff are beginning to emerge from HCPSS Central Office. Strangely there don't seem to be significant cuts to ever-increasing Central Office staff, public relations, the Gallup program, or Central Office perks. You would think they'd be putting students first. I'm just not seeing it.

The community continues to donate time, hard work, goods, services, and money to the Ellicott City recovery. The Ellicott City Partnership is doing great work. Tom Coale, Vice President of the EC Partnership, remarked yesterday that use of social media has greatly amplified the good that can be done. I agree. We don't have a daily paper, we don't have our own tv and radio stations, but Facebook has been a quick and comprehensive resource both for those affected by the floods and those wanting to help.

Monday I finally made it out to the Glenwood Library and then afterward for lunch at the Casual Gourmet. That's a complete post right there. It was just enough of a drive to make it a mini "road trip". We were close enough that we should have popped into the Howard County Fair, but the thought of the heat and humidity dissuaded us.

And now to decompress. See you tomorrow with more focus.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Scarlet Letter

Sunday I wrote about driving forces in Howard County real estate and how parents might soon be making decisions based on the health quality of local schools. Monday the school air quality tests for twelve Howard County schools were released. The schools are:

Centennial Lane Elementary School

Elkridge Elementary School

Glenelg High School

Glenwood Middle School

Laurel Woods Elementary School

Lisbon Elementary School

Mount View Middle School

Pointers Run Elementary School

Rockburn Elementary School

St. John's Lane Elementary School

Talbot Springs Elementary School

Wilde Lake High School


Two important things for you to know:

1. Just because you don't see your child's school here doesn't necessarily mean there is no mold in your school. It means only that it hasn't been tested. I believe that these particular schools were chosen on the basis of pre-existing reports and concerns. I hope more schools will now be tested.

2. It is my understanding that these reports, prepared by a company independent of the school system, vary significantly from those performed in the past by the HCPSS-approved Aria Environmental. Parents and teachers in mold-affected schools long called for an independent assessment of school conditions. As you read these reports it is easy to see why.

From the Mold in Howard County Schools Facebook Page:

"Results of the independent air quality testing conducted as part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the County Executive's office and HCPSS. I would like to thank CE Allan Kittleman and his staff for assisting the HCPSS community with this endeavor. Thank you Deputy Chief of Staff, Jahantab Siddiqui for patiently answering my many questions and concerns on behalf of the community.

Share with your school communities."

About that scarlet letter. The letter emblazoned on poor Hester Prynne's clothing in Hawthorne's novel was a letter A, for adultery. The scarlet letter that emerges from these reports is also an A. For aspergillus. You can learn more about these symptoms of aspergillosis here.

As you read the list of symptoms, keep in mind that most of what you are reading has already been experienced by students, teachers, and staff in mold-affected schools. This is not some vague description of what could happen. It has happened, is still happening, and has resulted in lost school time, lost work time, hospitalizations, transfer requests, and workman's compensation cases.

In my comments section Sunday came the following:

"What really saddened me is when then Board of Ed Chair and pediatrician, Dr. Janet Siddiqui, wrote to parents at Glenwood MS and said "at no point has this mold issue been a public health hazard for our students and staff." That email was sent just a few weeks after a couple of educators from GMS filed workman comp cases for health concerns related to mold against the school system, which were found in their favor. The ethics of that email are unbelievable to me - especially from a doctor. Is your reputation more important than the health of students and staff? If so, what other things are being hidden from the community?"

What other things are being hidden from the community? From the look of these reports, that's a question worth asking.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Symbolic Symbols

Many years ago my older daughter was chosen to give the important monologue at the end of the 8th grade play. It was a BFD, as our Vice President might say, and she took her responsibility quite seriously. There was one line, however, that tripped her up every time. I can't remember all of it but it contained the words "symbolic symbols". What the what? Symbolic symbols? As opposed to __________?

She nailed the monologue, but we never did figure out the symbolic symbols.

This last week those words came to mind while we were at the beach reading the reports of destruction caused by the flooding in Ellicott City. As we sat and had cool drinks on sunny streets there were people back home coming to terms with total loss. It felt surreal, and it definitely colored our vacation experiences. I felt compelled to take this picture of the Penny Lane clock in Rehoboth to contrast with the many views I was seeing of the Main Street Ellicott City clock: toppled, washed away, and found in pieces like the victim of a brutal murder.

So many things about the flood and its aftermath are mind-boggling and overwhelming. The concept of the clock is simple. It symbolizes Main Street the way we remember it. Finding it, reassembling it, and putting it back in its place speaks to the community: Main Street still lives. Ellicott City still lives. Just the sight of that clock says that while we have been beaten up and can never truly be the same, we're not done for. We refuse to be defeated.

We don't know what the future holds for our beloved town. We know that right now the story is about pitching in, cleaning up, donating, fundraising, and work. More and more hard work. In the center of it all, the clock speaks to normalcy, and resilience. We're down but we're not out.

When is a clock not a clock? When it's a symbolic symbol


Sunday, August 7, 2016

It Could Happen

Earlier this Spring HCPSS made much of a study which made the claim that:

"Superior Public School System Performance drives 1.85 Billion Economic Impact in Howard County."

(Did we we pay for this study? We probably did pay for this study. But that's another story.)

The gist of the results is the following, taken from a piece on the Howard County Schools website:

"As Students Achieve at High Levels, Home Values Rise, Jobs and Business Activity Increase"

Of course, anyone who understands what is really going on here would tell you that this entire line of reasoning is based on the faulty notion that standardized test scores are a valid measure of school success. They aren't. The only thing high test scores indicate is the economic affluence of the test-taker.

So the truth of what happens in Howard County when real estate agents steer buyers towards the areas with high tests scores is that the rich areas get richer and the poorer areas get poorer. One does not exist without the other. The economic impact is not all positive. Consolidation of wealth creates a special kind of segregation in our school system.

Into this educational food chain comes a new variable: mold. Over the last year reports of toxic mold in Howard County Schools have gone from one school to many. The struggle of Glenwood Middle School parents and teachers to get the school system to come clean about health issues posed by mold in their school has made it abundantly clear that operating in secrecy has been more important to HCPSS than the health of those they serve.

Hmm. If I were buying a house right now, I'd want to know where the mold is. I'd want my real estate agent to know. How could I possibly care who got what test scores if I could be subjecting my child(ren) to possible sinus infections, asthma, nose bleeds, chronic upper respiratory ailments, headaches, coughs, multiple hospitalizations...

In fact, with the school system's lack of transparency on these issues, maybe it would be better not to buy in Howard County at all. Let's look in neighboring jurisdictions with a better track record for transparency and accountability. I'm not going to take that risk. The stakes are too high.

Mold in schools is not a problem specific to our community. But the way that HCPSS has been handling it has caused unnecessary illness for students and staff. Because of this, they may have unwittingly created a whole new kind of "economic driver" in Howard County: driving people away.
Don't think this could happen here? Ask yourself these two questions:
  • Would you buy a house if you knew there was mold in the schools there?
  • How about if you knew the school system probably wouldn't tell you the truth if mold were discovered?
What good are those tip-top test scores and property values if we can't care for our most precious resource: our children? So if friends or family are looking for a new home in Howard County, make sure they ask their real estate agent about mold. In the schools.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fear of the Bogeyman

As a lifelong teacher, a parent, and the wife of a member of the Howard County Educators Association, I was heartsick to see that Governor Hogan put in writing the claim that members of teachers' unions who disagreed with his funding choices were "union thugs." Name calling is never the sign of a good leader. And the term he chose to smack down his adversaries is so heavily loaded with a cartoon-like villainesque quality that it basically stops any conversation in its tracks.

"Union thugs" are something evil and to be feared. We don't really know what they are but we know they just have to be awful. Maybe we saw some in a movie. They were bad. Raising a spectre of an amorphous bogeyman to reinforce the hand of the person in power is a tactic to silence opposition. Governor Hogan wants us to believe that he

...respects the work of the state's teachers but believes the leadership of their union long ago "stopped truly representing" them and schoolchildren.

This is "othering", pure and simple. I respect teachers, I respect education, he says, it's just these "other" union leaders thugs I revile.

I have been down this road before, in talking about how HCPSS management treats HCEA in contract negotiations. When management wants to have the upper hand, they engage in a systematic "othering" of the teachers' union. It would look bad to say all those nasty things about actual teachers, but they reason they can get away with it by saying that HCEA leaders are a wholly different entity, selfish and disconnected from actual employees' needs and views.

In a post I wrote about "Teacher Appreciation Week":

But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable. The powers that be know this. That is why we read so many statements that attempt to chip away the faith of parents in their children's teachers, and in the teaching profession.

The simple truth is what people like Governor Hogan are afraid of: that teachers' unions are teachers. They are real people who teach our children, donate their own money for supplies, and work many more hours than we can imagine. They are leaders, mentors, advocates for students and families. This statement from Paul Lemle, current President of HCEA, says it well:

Governor Larry Hogan, I'm a teacher, union leader, adoptive father and fellow lymphoma survivor. We disagree about millions of dollars in education funding, but I will not demean your office or you as a human being by name calling. It is wrong and disrespectful to refer to my colleagues and I - the educators of this state - as "union thugs." Let's have a real discussion about what's best for our kids.

I know that, at least in Howard County, we know better than to fall for old wives' tales about the big, bad union thugs. HCEA is teachers. HCEA members just spent the last year sitting down with community members to listen to what we want from our schools, and worked with PATH to create an agenda that supports our goals. We know our teachers in Howard County because they have made it a priority to know us!

But I don't know if Governor Hogan truly believes the Bogeyman stories about "union thugs" and is 
reacting out of his own fears, or whether this is a cynical attempt meant to distract the people of Maryland from the more complex conversations we should be having about how to fund education. I don't know him well enough to presume.

I'd really, really like to see him change the conversation.