Here's my write-up of the Q and A portion of the Columbia Villages Forum. I left at nine pm and it was still going on. I'm not sure how much I missed after that. As I left a parent was asking about the Wellness Policy and Recess; I'm sorry I didn't catch the candidate responses.
1. Question for Janet Siddiqui: Why did you not respond to repeated requests asking that parents be permitted to participate in special education work groups?
Siddiqui: (Responded by going on the attack against the questioner, a school parent, and undermining her credibility. Did not address issue of parents serving on the work groups. Expressed displeasure when she was cut off by the time-keeper.)
A few other candidates chimed in:
Delmont-Small: You need to be able to advocate for your child. Parents should be allowed to participate in those work groups.
Ellis: It seems that special education parents always have to fight to get what their child needs.
Coombs: The recent practice of outsourcing legal services has led to unnecessary and punitive litigation. We are fighting families instead of treating them with civility.
Miller: Parents shouldn't ask and ask again. We should be responding until we get closure. Letting things hang is not acceptable.
2. Question: In recent years we have seen a shift of focus away from students and families. Teachers have experienced a decrease in professional autonomy. What would you do to move power away from central ofice to schools?
Siddiqui: (Brief statement about testing data. Then returns to disputing the statements of Questioner Number One until her time is up.)
Delmont-Small: HCPSS has become too much of a top-down institution. They don't want to hear from schools. We need to get out of the way of the teachers and let them do what they do best.
Coombs: I'm concerned that experienced educators are leaving. New teachers lose mentors. Teachers feel spied on, micromanaged. Treat teachers as professionals. Educators should be at the table when decisions are being made.
Cutroneo: Board member described materials of instruction as a "want" but expensive programs like Gallup as a "need". These priorities are wrong.
Ellis: Transparency is necessary for teachers, too. They need to know what is going on.
Miller: Return focus on teachers and classrooms. Allow time for students for hierarchical skills, give time for teachers to engage parents. Cut back on paperwork/data collection that interferes with the process of learning. Reduce the amount of standardized testing.
3. Question: Is the Superintendent's contract public information?
4. Question: Rancor in the school board--targeting individual board members. How would you promote better relations? Specifically to Siddiqui: please list the ways you have stood up to bad behavior and actually worked to promote good relationships on the Board?
Siddiqui: I can work with anyone. I've done my due diligence. I support HCPSS Civility policy. (Did not answer question as posed.)
Miller: Board Meetings have become like soap operas. We need to be respectful of each other. Stop bad behavior as soon as possible.
Ellis: Begin by requiring parliamentary procedure and the appropriate manner of speech. This must be applied consistently. Staff must provide complete and timely answers to Board Members when they request information so they can make informed decisions.
Cutroneo: Diversity of opinion should be respected. Be in charge of your own behavior.
Delmont-Small: First we need to establish the proper relationship between Board and Superintendent. It is the Board that takes the leadership role.
Coombs: Bring maturity back to the board board meetings. Now they are too unpleasant for students to attend.
5. Question: Do you support the teaching of (Darwinian) Evolution?
(Candidates express some surprise.)
Cutroneo: Yes, I support the science.
Coombs: I support science.
Siddiqui: Yes, I support the separation of church and state.
Delmont-Small: That's what we teach, but I wouldn't tread on parents' teaching something different in the home.
Miller: I support a scientifically-based approach.
6. Question about Mold contamination at Glenwood Middle School.
Siddiqui: There are no industry standards but there are some guidelines. We
immediately involved health department.
Cutroneo: No, HCPSS never contacted health department.* First contact with Health Department came from parents trying to find information. School hid knowledge of mold from parents.
Ellis: First priority should be health of students and staff. Important to share information, follow up, diligence in complete remediation.
Coombs: Now classroom teachers are required to do training on Indoor Air Quality and perform more work doing 30-point inspections. This should not be their job.
Miller: School system could have involved parents p/PTA in choosing independent contractors for evaluation and remediation. Mold inspection should not be a teacher's job,
Delmont-Small: The mold problem is a symptom of a larger problem. School system needs to communicate, not withhold information.
7. Question: Gave testimony--received no response whatsoever. How will you address showing that you are doing what you say you're doing? Accountability.
Siddiqui: Apology, Vice-chair is supposed to respond. Says she wants more dialogue.
Coombs: We need to give a better response. People feel disrespected. Also Superintendent shouldn't be running the Board meetings.
Delmont-Small: Speaking at Public Forum is like speaking to wall. Speaker should receive a written response that actually means something. Each speaker should be assigned their own "point person" on the board. Answers to speakers issues should be posted on website.
Miller: A best practices protocol should be established. Ombudsman should have the power to mediate and bring about closure.
Cutroneo: Speakers at Public Forum face a brick wall in re transparency and accountability. There should be follow-up. You feel like nobody's listening to you.
Ellis: I agree--having one person to respond, plus a timeline for responding and resolving issue.
8. Question about early college high schools, with priority given to those first in their families to attend college.
Ellis: Needs to learn more about that. It's important to find ways to reduce college debt.
Miller: We need increased communication between hcc and hcpss. Offer technical education as well. Tailor the education to students' needs. We shouldn't push kids to
decide too early.
Coombs: we need to address the turf war between hcpss/hcc.
Cutroneo: We need to think outside the box. We need vo/tech back. Look at IB, individualized options.
Delmont-Small: The more options the better. AP classes aren't the answer for everyone. Investigate outside our boundaries, what are other jurisdictions doing with success?
Siddiqui: We have a college program at Oakland Mills High School. We're expanding opportunities at ARL, many new programs, but It's important they go to college.
9. Question: Tax money for schools. What happened to the casino money? Why is there a budget shortfall?
Siddiqui: (My notes fail me here. I think she said something about the governor.)
Cutroneo: I want to pursue that and find out more about that. There's so much we don't know about our money and how the school system is using it.
Delmont-Small: The State switched the casino money with prior moneys, replacing the funding. In reference to HCPSS budget difficulties: school system moves money around in mysterious ways.
Ellis: The Governor hasn't released money earmarked for education.
Miller--Those funds are allocated at the state level, come from state coffers.
Coombs: We need to work on relationship with the state, with the Howard County Delegation.
10. Question: How to improve diversity in teaching staff?
Miller: We need a recruitment coordinator
Coombs--We should look at hiring from HBCU's.
Delmont-Small: : We need to attract but also work to retain. Board has to give the directive, make it a priority.
Siddiqui: We're working on it and we're automated. We should push our students towards teaching, it's an honorable profession. Didn't support increase in class size.
Cutroneo: Everyone loses if you don't have diversity in teaching staff. But when you have 30 kids in a class, no paraeducators, and little autonomy, you aren't offering those teachers a decent job.
Ellis: The hiring and retention of minority teachers should be given more than lip service. We must be sensitive to minority student needs.
11. Question: Elementary School Model?
Coombs--Teachers are actively discouraged from giving feedback. ESM took away from Music and Art instructional time.
Cutroneo: No data has been shared. We need to see the data! That we only offer such an expensive initiative in very few schools speaks to equity. We need a collaborative, not a top-down approach.
Siddiqui: Referred to preliminary data.
Delmont-Small: We need to see the data. I want to have an understanding of what is really happening with ESM. Teachers should be involved in decision making and giving feedback.
Ellis: Educational fads come and go. Open classroom and pods are gone. I'm looking for the data to be shared with stakeholders.
Miller: Any data gathered to this point can't be conclusive in the short term. World language piece could be done better, needs to be changed.
My take-away from the evening:
If this was a test, it's clear that Dr. Siddiqui and the challenger candidates studied for completely different tests. While the challenger candidates responded directly to the questions, Dr. Siddiqui often veered completely away from them. To be fair, the challengers can rely completely on what they hope to do, and that can't be fact checked. Dr. Siddiqui can truly only speak to her record.
It would have been extremely helpful if 1) Dr. Siddiqui truly responded to the questions that were asked, and 2) had been truthful. Sad to say, there were a number of times throughout the evening when she made statements that were verifiably untrue. (For example, the comment about the health department.) In a time when the community is looking for responsiveness, transparency, and accountability, Dr. Siddiqui appears to be running on a platform of "just take my word for it."
I found it extremely telling that she could not list one example of standing up to bad behavior on the board or working for positive relationships among board members. Not even one.
As to the other candidates, they shared much in their answers but they are by no means identical. A few comments/questions on that:
Kirsten Coombs had a polished but relaxed style, perhaps a little too familiar in tone. (But that's a matter of individual taste.) She has clearly done research on the issues. Of interest--the issue of outsourcing legal counsel, how losing experienced teachers impacts newer teachers. One thing I didn't understand: what's the turf war between HCC and HCPSS?
Vicky Cutroneo started out nervous in her opening statement but grew more solid as they evening progressed. Her answers to questions were informed by her work as a parent advocate and collaboration with other parent advocacy groups. Of interest: her assertion that the focus of mold remediation in schools should begin with looking at the documented health problems of students and staff, also her statement that when we don't have diversity in teaching staff, everyone loses. One thing I didn't understand: I'd like to more about how she would work to change the present budget priority mindset she referenced in Question 2.
Christina Delmont-Small is passionate and articulate. Overall, the most poise and presence of all the candidates. Of interest--her enthusiasm for a budget as a policy document, her ideas for improving Board Response to Public Forum participants. One thing I didn't understand: her answer to the question about the teaching of evolution felt a little "off" to me. I'd like a little more clarification.
Mavis Ellis didn't project a big presence but her quieter, low-key approach was imbued with a lot of experience and perspective. Her experience in education, from the classroom to national committees, informed her answers. Of interest: her perspective that ESM might be another one of many educational fads she has seen come and go, and her call for responding to minority student needs. One thing I didn't understand: her response to question about civility on the Board addressed staff not responding to Board member requests. I'd like to learn more about how that connects to the question.
Robert Miller has got to be, hands-down, the most polite, reasonable candidate running. You get the feeling that he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. His answers were informed by his years as a teacher in the school system. Of interest: his description of how excessive testing and paperwork interferes with students' educational experience. One thing I didn't understand: his passion for hierarchical skills. This isn't the first time at have heard him mention this. It's clearly a big deal to him. I'm not saying they aren't important. I just want to know what shapes his focus on this.
In sum, this forum showed which candidates had done their homework on the issues
that the community cares about right now, and who had not. It was extremely educational.
*Howard County Health Department Officer Maura Rossman said she hadn’t received any complaints about Glenwood Middle School since 2009..." Baltimore Sun, 8/29/2015 http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/ph-ho-cf-glenwood-meeting-hcpss-0827-story.html