Monday, December 25, 2017

Three Wise Women

Perhaps you’ve seen it. A little twist on the traditional Christmas narrative.

This Christmas, and as the year comes to a close, I am thinking a lot about three particular Wise Women whose journeys toward the truth brought light for the rest of us in Howard County.

The change in the leadership in the Howard County School System is one of the biggest news stories of the past year. Of course it began with the election of new Board of Education members the November before but it continued to be big news through 2017. Many local citizens worked to bring positive change to our schools. I’d like to highlight three without whose efforts we probably would not be where we are today.

Vicky Cutroneo, founder of the Mold in Howard County Schools Facebook page, also HCPSS Shares. Former BOE candidate, present President of PTACHC. Her persistent advocacy for students, parents, teachers, and staff in mold-affected schools was instrumental in shaping the conversation about transparency and responsiveness in our schools. She created an informal clearing house of information about where mold had been spotted, what kind of symptoms it had caused, and what action, if any, the school system had taken. Her determination to get the truth out in the face of continued obfuscation and obstruction extended to giving testimony in front of the Board of Public Works and supporting improved legislation in Annapolis. She stepped out of her comfort zone to run for the Board of Education. Although she did not win, she continued her nonstop advocacy and was elected President of the PTA Council of Howard County, where she is bringing much needed energy to programming that supports the goals of member school PTAs and parents. 

Barb Krupiarz, former President of SECAC, affectionately known in some circles as “the $10,000 woman.” She fought to get the School System to release the results of a $300,000 sole-source special education audit which the (now “retired”) Superintendent claimed did not exist. For this she was rebuked with an almost $10,000 fine. Many people would have been defeated by this experience. Not Ms. Krupiarz. She channeled her disappointment into working for the election of more responsive board of education members. She created a website, “A Better Board of Ed.”, created advocacy videos focusing on important issues, and gave testimony in Annapolis in support of improved legislation. In fact, she actually helped to shape that legislation,. When her $10,000 was returned by new Superintendent Michael Martirano, she used that money to help establish the Grace McComas Memorial Scholarship.

Christine McComas, mother of the late Grace McComas, a Howard County student who died by suicide after sexual assault and subsequent online bullying. Ms. McComas’s  unconscionable treatment by the School System after the death of her daughter is truly mind-boggling. They withheld  school records, refused to allow a memorial page in the yearbook, and tried to refuse any memorial action for Grace at what would have been her high school graduation. In the face of all this Ms. McComas persisted. She worked to create Grace’s Law in Maryland. Grace’s Law was makes it a misdemeanor to repeatedly and maliciously use a computer or smartphone to bully someone under the age of 18. She visits schools to talk about cyber-bullying, and continues to raise funds for the Grace McComas Memorial Scholarship, which will be awarded to students who exemplify and encourage kindness.

So there you have it. Three Wise Women who kept “following the star”, as it were, even though the journey was both long and difficult. I truly believe that our school system is in a better place today because of their commitment and hard work.

Today, as I contemplate Christmas miracles, I am grateful for them. 

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