Monday, April 30, 2018

Sheep and Goats

We seem to have reached a crossroads in consideration of Board of Education candidates. I continue to see people rejecting the premise that this is a non-partisan race. I understand where that comes from. National politics has penetrated the local sphere and we can’t ignore that. If we have values that are under attack from the current administration, we wonder how that might reach into our schools through potential board members.

And yet there’s a reason the BOE race is non-partisan. Consider this: our community contains people of all different political leanings. Yet, in participating in public education, we must acknowledge that citizens of diverse backgrounds and beliefs can learn and grow together. Parents must also learn to work together. If we highlight the BOE race as a partisan struggle, we add a new wedge between parents that makes it harder to work together on common goals after the election is over.

Yes, Virginia, there is life after the election and we will need one another. That’s not going to work so well if we have spent all this time judging and baiting each other.

So you want to separate the candidates by party affiliation in order to ask them the appropriate questions. What does that look like, exactly? Should there be a different set of questions for BOE candidates who are Republican? Should we ask each candidate who they voted for in the Presidential election? Will we have separate forums? We will come to believe that Board members from another political party than our own don’t have the ability to set policy for our children?

If you have important questions to ask of BOE candidates, ask them of all the candidates. All of them.  And when you find the candidates you feel that you can support, by all means, share that information. For instance,  I might say that I support X because s/he is knowledgeable and experienced in how arts education can transform at-risk communities. That’s extremely important to me. And there are plenty of others: implementing restorative practices, equity in the educational experience, how we support non native students, the rights of LGBTQ students, implementing a non-sexist dress code, increasing recess in elementary grades and reducing high-stakes testing in all grades.

Opinions? I got em. Questions? Plenty.

Certainly we all have questions and candidates should be prepared to answer them honestly. But making this a partisan race by separating the sheep from the goats along party lines ignores what will  happen after the election. We will still all be in the same boat, still working towards the same goals and needing to be able to make progress with one another, trusting each other, able to feel comfortable giving a little, forging unlikely alliances in order to help our kids. All kids, really.

How are we going to do that if we burn everything down during election season?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

No Filter

As I was scrolling through social media yesterday this photo from Mount Holyoke College caught my eye. (Yes, I’m a graduate.)

Something about that color...

I continue to see comments about the garish, even downright ugly color of the Chrysalis.


Can we just lay that to rest now? It’s not a “Disney Land” color nor a Dr. Seuss color. It’s a color which clearly comes from nature.

Yesterday the Chrysalis hosted the very first Jazz in the Woods featuring high school and middle  school musicians. Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods was filled with the sounds of jazz, on a beautiful Spring day, in very the center of Columbia.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Its hardest hue to hold. (Robert Frost)

That first green of Spring is bright, and sharp, and almost startling against the dull background on Winter’s sameness. It’s a vibrant green that tells us that good things are coming: flowers, vegetable gardens, outdoor parties and picnics.

Something’s alive in Symphony Woods. I think it’s great to have something big, bold, bright in the middle of town to remind us how important it is to come alive, and to stay alive,

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Every truly interesting life has a Columbia connection.

Well, probably not, but I can be forgiven for coming to this conclusion after reading yet another fascinating obituary in the Baltimore Sun. Take a moment to read about the late George Barrick.

Teacher, artist, actor, founder of community groups, active in his church, serving his country in the Navy, and more. Reading about Mr. Barrick makes me feel that I am just not doing enough to make this world a better place. His story is the story of someone who joins, creates, and fosters community. It must have been a joy to be in any of the circles he frequented during his life.

The Columbia connection, you ask?

He retired from the school system nearly 30 years ago. He then opened a commercial graphic arts business, Emphasis Enterprises in Columbia. ”You only have once to make a first impression” was his firm’s motto.

Long time BaltSun writer Jacques Kelly covers all the major themes and also manages to deftly weave in the lovely details that make this piece shine.

I don’t always read the obituaries, but, when I do, they always lead me right back to Columbia and Howard County.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Got a Minute?

Interesting post by blogger Jason Booms on Spartan Considerations about the Teach for Tomorrow debacle in the Howard County Public Schools. He’s shining a light on the actions of former BOE Chair Janet Siddiqui, now a candidate for County Council.

A little piece of information that I would like to call your attention to: it appears the former Superintendent created a corporation and drafted minutes to an organizing meeting that never occurred.

Wait, what?

“...drafted minutes to an organizing meeting that never occurred.”

Isn’t that...hmm...fraud?

I’ve heard some thoughtful people opining recently that perhaps some folks just didn’t like Dr. Foose because she was an innovator, and they weren’t comfortable with change. I’m pretty sure that being an innovator doesn’t require one to create secret corporations with fictional minutes. It shouldn’t involve co-opting a Board Chair to go against everything they have pledged to do in public service.

That’s not innovation. I have a few words I’d like to suggest but I’ll let you fill in the blanks for yourself.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Mother Knows Best

You’ve seen the ads:

This Mother’s Day, give her what she really wants!

Sound advice. For instance, don’t give her anything that will involve her waiting on and serving others. A fancy steam floor clearer is a no-no, in my opinion. But most of you know that.

This Mother’s Day, give her what she really wants!

I look at this and it stops me dead in my tracks. What do I really want? How are others supposed to know if I don’t know?

What do I want?

I want politicians and pundits to take women seriously. I want capable women to be included instead of ignored and called b**** behind their backs. I want the time to grocery shop and then the energy and inclination to cook. I want a self-cleaning car.

I want universal recognition of emotional labor and a decent attempt at spreading some of that work around. I want people in power to realize that menstrual support products should be provided everywhere free of charge like toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towels.

I want enough quarters at all times for unexpected parking meters and for feeding goats at Clark’s Elioak Farm. I want someone to clothes shop with me with great enthusiam and supportive advice. I want one perfect dark chocolate raspberry cordial from Godiva and unlimited bubble baths.

I want less “boys’ club” in the world and more human collaboration. I want really good conversations that aren’t about schedules, housework, or kids.

Hmm. How about changing the advertising slogan around a bit?

This Mother’s Day, ask her what she really wants!

And then: listen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Train Wreck

“Let summer be summer,” the gentlemen said.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis...

Yesterday, the State School Board rejected Howard County’s Request for a waiver and that means that, despite giving up their Spring Break, students and teachers will be going beyond the June 15th date decreed by the Governor. There’s eight million reasons why this is a bad idea and you probably already know them.

Let’s look at the players:

  • The Governor and the Comptroller, who thought it would be a simple thing to start school after Labor Day and end it June 15th to benefit Ocean City merchants 
  • The State Board of Ed, who intends to adhere religiously to 180 days of instruction
  • Local school systems throughout the state, each with their own particular calendar needs and requirements
  • Parents, students, teachers, and staff

Oh, and let’s not forget Maryland weather, which looks at this entire scenario and says, “hold my beer.”

This just feels like a classic example of what happens when men come in saying, “I’m going to fix this for you; it’s no big deal” and then proceed wreck the whole thing. And then, while surveying all the broken pieces, they say, “Hey, maybe this had more moving parts than we thought...”

School calendars are complicated things and there are actually people whose job it is to understand them and do the very best they can to make them work. If one does not have that kind of expertise it takes a special kind of hubris to come in with some scissors and scotch tape and “fix” them.

Local school systems are left holding the bag and parents, teachers, students, and staff are both inconvenienced and ill-served.

As an educator, I’m hoping that somebody somewhere has learned a lesson from all this. I know I’d like to send a couple of fellows in Annapolis to summer school this year based on their lack of mastery in this subject.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Only a Drill

If you have a child in school they are participating in lockdown drills. It is now a part of our way of life. I sat on the floor, in a corner of our classroom, in the dark, with a class of three year olds yesterday. We had prepared them in a very gentle way to know what to expect. It was just another kind of a drill, like a fire drill, but different.

We sat together for over ten minutes in complete silence which is an unbelievably long time for three year olds. I don’t know what they were thinking but I am sure a lot of it was, “when will this be over so we can go play?”

I’m pretty sure you knew what I was thinking.

  • What if this were real?
  • What would I do?
  • How can anyone defend this as a normal?
  • How can anyone send their child to school knowing that there’s no real defense against active shooters?

I have no patience for those who expound on the rights of citizens to freely bear arms. If that way of thinking produces three year olds sitting in the dark to prepare for nameless horrors, it’s not even remotely worth it. What about their rights to live free of fear?

Monday, April 23, 2018

April Dilemma

As Farmer’s Market season approaches, here’s a post from someone who shops local year-round:

Safe to Eat? - - AnnieRie Unplugged

Every year I pledge to do more of this, and I try...I guess it’s a sort of Spring ritual. Rather like New Year’s Resolutions, I tell myself I’ll shop at the Farmer’s Market every Sunday and cook with fresh, local ingredients all season long.

And then after a few weeks, I burn out. Maybe it’s “too hot” to go to the Market one Sunday. Or maybe my family rejects the turnip fries or the kale chips or the roasted vegetable melange. I make big promises in April but, when July rolls around I’m thinking air conditioning and minimal kitchen time.

There’s got to be a better way.

Maybe I’ll try just one new item per week this year and see if I can make it through the season without getting overwhelmed, throwing my hands up, and quitting altogether. If you have any advice about sticking with the Farmer’s Market habit, send it my way.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Parable

Yes, that’s an elephant on the roof. Today’s post is inspired by an advert I saw recently for a local roofing company. It’s not the roofing company itself that sparked my interest, but rather the idea of an elephant on the roof.

What if, I thought. What if? What if systemic racism in our schools is like an elephant on the roof? That elephant is holding people down. Those of us who aren’t being crushed under the weight of it don’t see that elephant.

We have good schools, we think. Everyone has a chance to do well. They just need to apply themselves.

We don’t recognize what an immense weight that elephant is on everyone. We don’t realize how much effort is invested all the time in trying to hold up our schools under the weight of that elephant. That elephant has been there so long that it is all but invisible to the privileged.

That elephant makes its presence known to those who feel rules applied unequally. It weighs down students who are less likely to be encouraged for academic challenge, more likely to be suspended. It looms large in racist slurs and tiny, hurtful micro aggressions. It throws its weight around in matters of segregation by real estate.

The elephant on the roof holds everyone down. Imagine what our schools could accomplish if the system were not invested in maintaining this enormous burden. Imagine the possibilities of young people flying free of the weight of systemic racism. Imagine neighborhoods, communities, and institutions addressing new challenges instead of struggling to maintain business as usual with an elephant on the roof.

If you’re still with me, I’m going to take the risk of taking this analogy one step further. If we want to get the elephant off the roof, it is our responsibility to get it off. And by “our” I mean the privileged, those  who are favored by the system as it stands. Those who may look at things as they are and just feel like that’s “normal”. Almost every day I read posts online from people who are afraid that if we take that elephant off the roof that there will be less for their children. It is as though opportunity is finite and allowing it for everyone will diminish somebody’s else’s.

As I get down to the nitty gritty in evaluating Board of Education candidates, I am taking a particular interest in those who aware of the elephant on the roof and our responsibility to get it down. I’m not looking at anyone who specializes in stronger roofs. I’m looking for specific ideas in the area of elephant removal.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Out of the Comfort Zone

This morning I served as a very tiny speck in the large organism with many moving parts which is the River Hill High School Indoor Yard Sale. My word, it was amazing. Room after room, tables down hallways and even in the Media Center. Food and drink and bake sale items. (Not in the Media Center.)

My husband was with the students in the GSA who were having a bake sale. I was holding down the choir table. I had an unusual assortment of donated items which I decided pretty quickly were all going to go for a dollar each. Except for that big box of maracas from Mexico. They were two for a dollar, because, for Heaven’s sake, you can’t just have one.

I watched an enormous old school bouncy rocking horse in excellent condition get carried in to be sold. About ten minutes later I saw its new owner carry it out. A little girl who belonged to the table across the way bought my pink ukulele for a dollar. I went over to her dad to make sure he knew it was more of a decorative piece than the real thing. He was cool with that, but he thanked me for looking out for her.

An older woman looked at a pair of men’s shoes that I had. They looked to be new in the original box. She bought them. I said, “Those look pretty nice. I’m glad they found a good home.”

“They’re for Haiti,” she said, putting them in the shopping bag she had brought with her. I was glad they cost her only a dollar.

A married couple came by and looked through the DVDs and Wii games I had. We reminisced over old movies and tv shows. I can’t remember if they bought anything but they were really nice, and funny, too. Another discerning dad happily cleaned out all my Phineas and Ferb items.

Yes. yes, he did.

Many people looked at a particularly nice ladies’ black jacket but didn’t buy it. It was lovely, but too small for anybody.

One woman suggested that I open up a child’s puppy sleeping bag because it was cute and more likely to sell that way. I did what she suggested but I’m sad to report that it hadn’t sold by the time I left.

After a while I began to feel that the world was nothing more than an exchange of brightly colored Duplo bins between unrelated parties. So much stuff. Stuff we don’t want or need any more. Stuff we don’t have but imagine we need to have. Stuff that tempts us. I marveled when I heard one woman explain that she had come to the conclusion that her daughter doesn’t really like dolls. At the front of her display was a shelf with approximately thirty of the same kind of doll in different permutations. It took that many before she realized?

Well, perhaps I should look at my craft stash at all the remnants of crafts begun and left behind before I pass judgement...

I’m not so fond of doing things I’ve never done before with people I don’t know too well. And I don’t think I did anything impressive in the money raising department. But I got better at smiling hopefully and making eye contact and making small talk as the time went by. And I did a lot of people watching. That may have been the best part.

Proceeds from the entire event will go to support the River Hill High School Music Programs. The Music Boosters who ran the thing have my respect and admiration.

How was your Saturday?


I’m kicking off my day by working at the River Hill Music Departments Indoor Yard Sale and then dashing over to the Chrysalis for Milkshake. It’s a busy weekend in Howard County.

I’ll catch up with you for a blog post later in the day.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Meet Me at the Chrysalis

A year ago I was jumping for joy at the prospect of the opening of the Chrysalis. And this year is no different. The Inner Arbor Trust is working with the Columbia Association, HoCo Rec and Parks, and with assistance from the Columbia Festival of the Arts to present a season of amazing children’s programming. 

Wait. Let me say that again. An entire season of FREE children’s programming.

It starts tomorrow with Milkshake. I’ve seen them live and I use their music in my teaching with young children. If you have kids you’ll want to be there. Heck, I’m coming by myself. I might even wear a crazy tutu and bring a big bottle of sunshine.

Back when the story of the Inner Arbor Trust seemed like it was only a twinkle in Michael McCall’s eye, a lot of us in the community attended meeting after meeting to speak in support of the project. One of the things that mattered most to me was speaking up for the people who weren’t in the room: young adults, young parents, young children. What were we doing that would benefit them?

This year’s season at the Chrysalis is bursting out into the world to benefit those who weren’t in the room because they might not even have been born yet. I can’t think of a better way to show how valuable Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods can be in our community. The future of Columbia and Howard County rests in these little folks who will be singing and dancing and playing all summer thanks to the Inner Arbor Trust and its dynamic and creative leader, Nina Basu.

Truth in Advertising: those Dance Parties? I facilitate them. I accept no remuneration. It’s my gift to the park and to the  community. 

I hope I’ll see you tomorrow at the Milkshake concert. Sign up for your free tickets here. (They’ll even tell you where you can park.)

Take a look at what’s coming:

Chrysalis Kids: Milkshake! (4/21 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Kids Dance Party on the Stage (5/12 at 10:00 a.m.) Chrysalis Kids: Opera! (6/9 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Kids Dance Party on the Stage (6/16 at 10:00 a.m.) Chrysalis Kids: Bugged! (Dance) (6/24 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Jedi Academy! (6/24 at 3:00 p.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Grandsons Jr. (7/7 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Kids Dance Party on the Stage (7/14 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Columbia Orchestra for Kids (7/21 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Barry Polisar (8/11 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Kids Dance Party on the Stage (8/18 at 10:00 a.m.)
Chrysalis Kids: Columbia Concert Band Music Around the World (9/9 at 10:00 a.m.) 
Chrysalis Kids: Kids Dance Party on the Stage (9/15 at 10:00 a.m.)

To learn more about the Chrysalis and the Trust, go here,

Thursday, April 19, 2018

On Location

Live from my place of business, it’s Village Green/Town²! I rolled in to work at 5:07 after dropping my daughter off for the choir trip to Boston at 4:40 am. Actually, it was closer to 4:30. She’s a musician, she likes to be early. It made no sense for me to go back home.

Today seemed like a good day to try that gratitude thing (yawn!) so let’s have a little Thankful Thursday, shall we?

Today I’m thankful for:

  • The reliable alarm on my iPad that woke me up on time.
  • The 7-11 in Ashton that is open 24/7 and had fresh coffee available.
  • My digital edition of the Columbia Flyer that shows up in my inbox at five am.
  • Coffee. Did I mention coffee?
  • Nina Basu and the Inner Arbor Trust for putting together an amazing team for summer programming at the Chrysalis. (More on that tomorrow)
  • All the hardworking members of my Village who are working on the Oakland Mills 50th Birthday celebration.
  • The River Hill Guitar Ensemble and their Director Richard McCready for offering their annual free Guitarpalooza concert tonight at 7 pm at RHHS. The most fun you can have at school!
  • All the folks who participated in my Testimonial post for Cindy Vaillancourt and those who offered supportive comments.
  • Sunny Spring weather and extra time on the playground.
  • “My new Raise the Roof!” Merriweather t-shirt from the Downtown Arts and Culture Commission. So cool,
I will attempt to remain thankful for the rest of the day. When we turn out the lights at rest time, though, I may be in trouble..,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Own a Piece of the Tree figure?

A Maryland company can make it happen. Take a look here.

The concept is aimed towards people. Who wouldn’t want a statue of themselves? But I’m thinking it would be fun to have one of Columbia’s People Tree. I’d buy one. Wouldn’t you? Everyone loves the iconic symbol for the New American City.

I’m not sure we all agree on what it means, but that’s another story altogether.

My imagination is running wild with the thought of commissioning the entire Lakefront collection: The Bell Tower, The Hug, The Rouse Brothers, that red thing over by Whole Foods...Am I forgetting anything? They’d make lovely local souvenirs or maybe a great educational playset.

Of course, the People Tree doesn’t belong to Columbia; it’s an advertising symbol owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation. But it seems to me they might be open to the idea if it bolstered their brand. Yet somehow I feel that corporate use of this idea would look more like honoring multimillion-dollar investments with a People Tree statue commemorative gift. You know, kind of like those tote bags that public radio gives, but for developers.

I’m thinking of something a bit different, just a bit of fun for Lakefront lovers.

What (or who) would be your choice for a 3D recreation?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Half Full

I confess that I broke down and had groceries delivered by Amazon last night so that I’d be able to pack lunches today. It’s not a regular occurrence. Something about the exhaustion of a Monday evening combined with ferrying a teenager to rehearsals did me in. I just couldn’t face another trip out.

And so I found myself, as ten o’clock neared, wanting to go to bed but waiting for an Amazon delivery. Just after I got into my nightclothes, it arrived.

“This is silly,” I said to my husband as I climbed out of bed.

“What is?”

“I ordered from Amazon because I was too tired to go to the store, but now I’m just too tired to get out of bed.”

Rather pathetic. A world so small that getting out of bed and going downstairs to collect delivered foodstuffs feels like too much effort. Would I rather they appeared magically in my refrigerator?


Some days it feels as though I can work, or I can take care of all those home/life things like groceries, cooking, cleaning, laundry, doctor’s appointments camp sign ups...I can’t do both. But, like most folks, I have to. And, in truth, my life is comfortable and affords me many conveniences. I move through a world where roads are smoother and doors are held open because of privilege.

I need to do better at this gratitude thing.

Monday, April 16, 2018


While I am usually inclined to show basic courtesy to the Baltimore Sun papers, I will not be doing them the favor of linking to the recent article which made such an unholy mess of the personal health receords of Board of Education Chair Cynthia Vaillancourt and her lawsuit to restore the disability payments which she is owed. That piece is factually inaccurate, incomplete, and shows a journalistic sloppiness that simply floors me. If you would like to read it, you will need to go find it yourself.

The article completely ignores a basic truth. Before anyone can make the judgement that a) being disabled makes her automatically incompetent and she ran under false pretenses or b) she looks just fine so she must be a fraud, one must ask, “who is Cindy Vaillancourt?” The crux of the matter is simply whether or not Ms. Vaillancourt is who she says she is. Period.

I present to you today testimonials written by members of our community who have had plenty of opportunity to observe and interact with Ms. Vaillancourt during her years of public service. What they have to say is a far more accurate picture of her character than what was hung out for public consumption in the press. When I reached out to members of the community for words on Cindy’s behalf I had no difficulty finding willing participants.

See for yourself.

Bess Altwerger, Howard County Board of Education:

We need Board of Education members with a wide range of backgrounds, skills and talents. A single member cannot embody all the skills and expertise needed for this job. Among the current Board are former teachers, current educators, parents of HCPSS students, an accountant, a former government auditor, a small business owner, and a student. All are long time residents of Howard County and are committed to providing the best possible school system for our students, educators and community. Our Board Chair is a leader of the highest caliber, who has expertly and courageously led this school system out of the toughest period in our history, all at a serious cost to her own health. With less physical energy than some, and despite significant medical problems, nobody could have done a better job than Cindy Vaillancourt as Chair of the Board of Education. Board members each have their own limitations, whether it be medical problems, a business to run, a full-time job, or children and families to care for. That is why we have an eight person Board. For a mere $15,000 a year (or a small student stipend), Board members pour their hearts and souls into this job, with Cindy being the best example of that. She withstood years of harassment and unfair treatment by her own colleagues and NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED because she is committed to this school system. She may be unable to visit schools as often, or attend as many community events, or perform mathematical computations, and maybe she needs longer periods of rest and recuperation in-between our numerous marathon Board meetings, but this community owes Cindy Vaillancourt nothing but praise and appreciation for all she has done for our schools, our students, our teachers and for our community. 
Nikki Schmidt, Howard County Parent:

Voices of reason are hard to find on the internet.  On-line the filters are off and we all defend our feelings, prejudices, political opinions and personal beliefs with absolute conviction.  We are confident that Our truth is The truth.  I am often guilty of this, using words to swirl and twist the point I’m trying to make.  As always, truth and reason are typically found somewhere in the middle.  In many debates surrounding the Board of Education, Cindy Vaillancourt is the middle. She is far less concerned with being right than she is with things being true.  She listens, she researches, she studies, she pays attention and she takes time to make sure she finds the truth in each issue.  She expresses these truths with clarity and purpose – using her words and her position to shed light on complex and  
emotional issues.  Over the years I’ve been following BOE issues, I’ve seen her being belittled,  persecuted, insulted, bullied, slandered and libeled.  Through all of it, she kept her head up and acted        with grace.  When I see her name on something – I pay attention, because I know that what I read will not be the off-hand pontifications of a political creature…it will be a well-researched, reasonable take on a given issue, and it will be truth.

Paul Lemle, former President of HCEA:

I’ve known Cindy since 2012, when she approached me about improving the working relationship between the board and its employees. I have always known her to be honest, intelligent, and fair minded. She has been a resolute and diligent board member despite needing more rest than her counterparts. Voters chose her overwhelmingly, and I am 100% certain they’d do it again if she were running because of her kindness and approachability.  Virtually every educator in the county knows and respects Cindy, with good reason.

Barb Krupiarz, former chair of Howard County SECAC:

Special education parents owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cindy Vaillancourt.  Not only has she received thousands of phone calls from us over the years, she always responded to us in an extremely compassionate and professional manner.  I will use my own case as an example.  My son was being significantly emotionally harmed by teachers in middle school. Cindy listened to my stories, apologized for the actions of staff (which greatly helps to diffuse anger, by the way), and walked me through the appropriate school procedures to address each situation.  I followed her suggestions, which resulted in improvements for my son and also improvements for the school - a  win-win.  Over the years, there have been many Board members and staff that have   ignored us, treated us with indignance, and expounded that we are unreasonable.  Cindy has never played politics and treats everyone with respect - even those who have treated her poorly - always taking the high road.  She  and I have not always agreed on everything, but she always treats people with compassion and  respect and makes her decisions based on what she believes are the best solutions for all students.  She will be greatly missed as a Board member by all, especially special education students and parents.

Robert Miller, Howard County teacher, retired:

Having closely watched the proceedings of the Howard County Board of Education for most of the last three years, it is apparent to me that Cindy Vaillancourt has done as much or more than anyone else to fix what was broken in our school system. It took a tremendous amount of courage and integrity on her part to do this given many difficult and uncomfortable situations. Nonetheless, she persisted in doing what needed to be done to turn around the ship, and it is questionable if the most significant improvements could have occurred without her leadership. Recently, a few of her abilities have come into question by some. Ms. Vaillancourt’s actions have illustrated the commonly held premise that when some of a person’s abilities and senses are decreased, other abilities and senses compensate by becoming stronger. Regarding compensation of abilities, maybe this is why as a Board member Ms. Vaillancourt has shown such strong courage, persistence, and judgment. Regarding compensation of senses, maybe this is why her common sense is so strong. Though it can    be beneficial to have members of various abilities and characteristics on a Board, courage,          persistence, good judgment, and common sense are desirable for every Board member to possess, and    Ms. Vaillancourt possesses them in abundance. It is unusual to see an individual public servant make        as much of a positive difference in the lives of so many as Ms. Vaillancourt has. I hope that she realizes how significant her contributions have been to our school system. I also hope that, as she completes the remainder of her tenure on the Board and beyond, she is aware of how many people appreciate her and what she has done for our students, staff, and community.

Lisa Markovitz, President of the People’s Voice:

Cindy Vaillancourt is the epitome of grace under pressure. Many of us watched, as she diplomatically and professionally dealt with seriously unprofessional and disrespectful treatment, during the prior  Board's majority term, and under the prior Superintendent, particularly after election of the new Board. While Ms. Vaillancourt  was even being sued and abused over the years while serving our School System on the Board, she never waivered from the tasks at hand. Realizing that she did this work with a disability, does not fill me with concern. It fills me with even more respect that she accomplished so much at obvious physical cost. Our community is losing a great asset with her choice not to run again, but who can blame her? She has dodged the slings and arrows for a long time, and deserves a break from what must feel like an unappreciated and difficult job at times. Well, Ms. Vaillancourt, I am one who appreciates, and wishes you the best.

Deeba Jaffri, Howard County Parent

The very first time I wrote to the BoE I believe Cindy was the one who wrote back. The very first time I testified she thanked me after the meeting was over. It was a quiet meeting and I had testified about keeping the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a full day holiday. Her grace under pressure and general horridness from previous members of the Board has always impressed me. We agree on most things, disagree on others but always in a civil way and we are always able to talk it out. I often tell the kids "I want Cindy's patience when I grow up." I will miss her a great deal when her term is complete. I hope that we can have that caliber of leadership in the future should we have to navigate  stormy waters again.

Vicky Cutroneo, Howard County Parent

Before 2016, I voted for the Board of Education much like I picked horses for the Kentucky Derby-- which name do I like the most...eeny meany miney mo.  2014 was a little different as I had read a few things about BOE member named Cindy Vaillancourt and a ridiculous ethics complaint (affectionally dubbed condom-gate), filed just weeks before the election.  I remember thinking, wow.. someone doesn't want her to be re-elected--and that is exactly why I voted for her.  Count it as my first, somewhat informed Board of Education vote and a pre-cursor of things to come for Cindy.

Flash forward to 2015 and I am getting no where with HCPSS leadership and Board Chair Christine O'Connor about the poor air quality at Glenwood MS.  After a few weeks, I received a message from Cindy, asking simply, "What is really going on at Glenwood?".  Clearly she wasn't getting the facts and sought me out to get them.  I met with Cindy and Bess that week for hours, they listened to me and more importantly, they validated my concerns and took action.   

"What's really going on at Glenwood" is Cindy personified.  She engages with the community like no other board member, seeking out her own answers, questioning everything.  And she fought for our school community.   For years, she has fought for the entire Howard County school community, enduring continual personal and professional assaults, all while battling very serious health issues that few people knew about. 

She has navigated all of this with grace, dignity and humor.  I  have looked to Cindy's example as a guide for my own challenges.   I thank Cindy for leading us thru a very volatile time, for fighting for teachers, parents and students, for being a great role model and friend.  Our community is immeasurably better because Cindy Vaillancourt  was on the Board of Education and I am going to miss her terribly.  

Lori Scott, Howard County Parent

One thing I have learned in this life is that if you think something nice about someone, you should say it to them. In the simplest of terms, thank you Cindy Vaillancourt for all you have done and will continue to do for our students, staff and families in the Howard County community. Cindy has gone out of her way to explain her actions, thoughts and intentions in many decisions she has made as an elected BOE member. Cindy stood up and in the gap for students, staff and families when the going got rough over the past few years. She didn’t owe all the explanation and time she has given to our community. Many decisions in the past have been made sheltered behind closed doors and away from public input. She has demanded change and access to data and people and held previous administration and staff to the utmost transparency any Board member has ever had to do. Sitting on this BOE in the recent past has been dark times and she has stood up, even when it meant standing alone. Cindy continues to demand and encourage students, staff and parents to put their best selves  forward and she believes in a positive transparent approach to her work on the BOE. She has shown       through her constant persistence that someone should be “nice and effective” as she once told me.    She has demanded action and stood up for what is right and for that, our community should be  forever grateful that we are now on a new path and it is indeed a new day in Howard County public schools.

So there you have it. How short-sighted to consider only two possibilities: that Ms. Vaillancourt is either too disabled to have the job or not disabled enough to receive disability payments. Reading these statements from people who actually know Ms. Vaillancourt make clear the third possibility that has been there all along. Ms. Vaillancourt is exactly who she says she is.  Despite the long-term effects of several serious illnesses which have rendered her unable to hold the kind of demanding, full-time job she once had, she is an intelligent and dedicated member of our community who wants to find some way to use the gifts she is able to give.

And for this she should not be shamed. She should be celebrated.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Democrats and Dilemmas

There’s quite a bit of buzz around the upcoming election for Democratic Central Committee. There are 30 candidates for twenty seats. 16 are running as a slate called HoCo Forward. If you want to learn more about the slate, they are having a meet and greet event today at four pm at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. If I get my Sunday chores done and get my act together, I’ll be there.

What I want to talk about today is an issue which came up for me during the last election. It’s my understanding that the goal of the Democratic Central Committee is to get Democrats elected, and that they are honor-bound to support all local Democrats who are running. So what do you do if you have someone running who has demonstrated poor judgment, or dishonesty, or a lack of responsiveness to constituents, or questionable ethical practices?

Quite bluntly, what if there is a bad Democrat?

I think everyone knows that I’m a Democrat. No surprise there. And I admit that I am much more upset when I find the occasional Democrat who violates what I believe to be core values of my party. It’s true. I get much angrier. I truly believe that Democrats shouldn’t be like that and I feel that candidates/elected officials who fail to represent the best of what our party espouses let me and all Democrats down.

I do not support the tribal practice of “Democrats are my people and therefore even a bad Democrat is better than the alternative.”

Now I have seen a lot of pontificating online recently where local progressives are putting Republicans on the spot for being the party of Trump and, therefore, not to be trusted. “What are you doing to change the direction of your party if you are a Republican who does not endorse the policies and actions of Mr. Trump,” the question goes.

It’s a valid question, although I’m a bit concerned about its almost weaponized use in a non-partisan race like the BOE. But that’s another blog post altogether.

Here’s the thing. If we are to accept that line of questioning as valid, then we must also accept questions about what Democrats will do faced with a bad Democratic candidate. And by bad I do not mean inexperienced, an oddball, well-meaning but long-winded, or generally okay but unlikely to get elected. I mean, what will the local Democratic Party do to reject truly bad Democrats? How do we work to make our party better?

It seems to me that we are great at asking the other guys uncomfortable questions. How do we answer this one? If we want people to place their trust in us when they go to the polls, don’t we need to prove we are trustworthy in the choices that we make?

That’s a question I will be asking candidates for Democratic Central Committee.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Some time during the run-up to the presidential election, I made the acquaintance of reporter Kate Elizabeth Queram—on Twitter. I asked a question about a piece recounting one of Trump’s campaign rallies. She had also covered one, so she responded. She answered all my questions and I started following her, as one does. 

Over time I discovered that she had a wicked sense of humor, and could live-tweet a government  meeting like nothing you have ever seen before. I found myself deliberately going to twitter to follow along with her work for the Greensboro News and Record. I pleaded with her to move to Howard County and live-tweet County Council meetings.

I would even bring her snacks, I joked. We shared a twitter laugh at the prospect.

I almost had my wish. In an unexpected set of circumstances, she relocated with her spouse to Maryland and found herself job hunting. One morning I woke to discover her name in the Howard County Times. Oh, the glee I experienced contemplating the popcorn-worthy public meetings ahead!

HoCo Times threw her right into the deep end covering the student walkouts. She showed her mettle. Next a meeting of the county council and BOE. Locals were taking notice. Last night I reached out to her to see if she would be covering the Battle of the Books. (I still miss former HoCo Times reporter Sara Toth’s enthusiastic coverage of this annual local event.)

It was not to be. Almost as soon as Ms. Queram accepted the HoCoTimes position, she got an interview for a job which is much better suited to her qualifications and experience. I don’t know where that is yet, but, whoever they are, they are very, very lucky.

I was feeling a bit proud there. Maybe a little smug. I had single-handedly recruited an insanely talented journalist all the way from North Carolina. It was going to be so, so great. Alas, she got away. The biggest catch I will ever be in the position to brag about is gone, just like that. Even in the world of BaltSun/HoCoTimes/tronc this is a record.


I wish Ms. Queram the best. She is extremely good at what she does and we are fortunate that she even passed through town. 

And now back to cheering for all the over-worked, underpaid  journos who are tag-teaming our local coverage. We need them. We are incredibly lucky that they stick with us for as long as they do.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Counting Down


It’s almost Spring—the kind of Spring we want, that is. Flowers are coming up and the forsythia is looking good but can’t we just have a warm day that comes back again the next day without the threat of flurries or a startling drop in temperature?

Today might just be that day. Wear your jacket this morning but you just might not need it by this afternoon.

Once we finally reach that magical turning point we’ll be looking for outdoor experiences. Restaurants where one can eat outside will be a popular destination, even if the views leave something to be desired. Outdoor concerts and festivals will start to fill our weekends. Wine in the Woods will return, Merriweather’s roof will be restored, and the Chrysalis will kick off a season of dynamic community programming. Columbia Festivsl of the Arts is gearing up for Lakefest. There will be opportunities to enjoy the outdoors at the Howard County Conservancy and the Robinson Nature Center, as well.

There will be concert dates, festival dates, special event dates. Columbia and Howard County do outdoors well.

A reminder: Spring around here goes into hit and humid pretty darned fast. So, don’t just wait for a special event to get outside. Just go. Seize one of those lovely mornings or golden afternoons and take a walk, go to the playground with your kids, sit outside with your coffee and soak up the joy of Spring weather.

Make your own Spring celebration.

It’s almost here. I don’t know why it seems like we’ve been waiting forever, but, it does.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Grass is Greener

I am having one of those days where I have lots of ideas for future posts, but none for today. Yes, my friends, today is a big fat zero, but those other, as-yet unwritten posts are brilliant!


  1. Those orange signs and their repercussions 
  2. The non-partisan nature of the BOE race
  3. Part II on Columbia’s community/neighborhood centers
  4. Looking back at a year of the Elevate Maryland podcast 
  5. The upcoming family Building Families for Children 5K event 
Looks great, doesn’t it?

See you tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s a fun pic from today’s Facebook memories of me hanging out with some old friends at a HoCo Blogs party at the Second Chance Saloon.

Hmm...might be time for another blog party in the HoCo...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cutting Corners

Once upon a time there was a great disturbance in the force when the Columbia Association decreed that there would be no more free towels at the CA gym facilities. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Are we in such dire financial straits that we can’t provide this simple amenity?” said some. “How can we hope to compete with newer, fancier commercial health clubs appearing on the scene?” said others. It is possible that the name of Rouse was invoked. I can’t remember.

Then came the time that CA wanted a complete accounting of Tot Lots to decide which ones should be removed. They even toyed with the idea of turning some into a different kind of space for older folks. Members of the community wondered why we couldn’t support play spaces for young children. Were they such a drain on the overall finances that we could no longer afford them?

Surely you remember the Aquatics Master Plan, when we were encouraged to think big about innovative and exciting water park ideas, as long as we understood that would mean closing a number of neighborhood pools. That didn’t go over so well. Aren’t we the pools, parks and pathways people? Isn’t that our basic mission? The community didn’t want to sacrifice neighborhood facilities.

Now I hear that CA is looking to close  neighborhood community centers. Columbia now has fourteen. They are looking at reducing that number to six.

Here we go again.

If the Columbia Association is looking for ways to cut costs, I’m interested in knowing why. A lot of why's, actually. Why were community centers created in the first place? Why does CA think they could be cut without negatively impacting that mission? Why are we faced with this choice at all?

Are we in trouble financially? Are the neighborhood centers really not in use to benefit the community? (I’m dubious about that.) Has the Columbia Association changed how it views its mission to the community? And, since we, essence, make up the Columbia Association, what do we think about this proposed change?

I’m aware that budgets are finite. We can’t have all of the things all of the time. We need to make choices. I simply want to know why this particular choice is on the table.

A tip of the hat to Oakland Mills Board Chair Jonathan Edelson for bringing this issue to the attention of the greater community.

Monday, April 9, 2018


Three things are on my mind this morning

A video about early childhood teachers (soundtrack is abysmal.)

Another about the value of recess.

This story.

Somehow I feel they all go together.

Of course, there’s way more to the story than that. But it does make me think about what we, as a society, want to invest in most: developing potential, or incarcerating failures.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


My daughter and I visited UMBC yesterday for their Just for Juniors event. We were there with around two thousand other interested students and families. It was an excellent opportunity to see what a nearby institution has to offer in the areas my daughter wants to pursue.

One thing I did not know until yesterday is that the University of Maryland Baltimore County was founded in 1966. And Columbia Maryland was founded in 1967. Hmm. They’re chronological peers. As we toured the campus I saw examples of growth and change from the original plans. I’d love to learn more about the history of UMBC, especially with an eye to how it compares to our home town in the bubble.

First off, I have to say that those Retreivers are still pretty excited about basketball. And they have good reason to be. They led off their key note event with a promotional film about their Cinderella experience. But they quickly moved on to highlighting a variety of reasons to be excited about UMBC as an institution of higher learning. Overall, they let current students take the spotlight and those students were more than equal to the task.

Whoever is in charge of large admissions events should feel extremely proud of the Just for Juniors event. Whether it was checking in, moving through a breakfast line, signing up for a tour, or finding a workshop location, we were never more than about ten seconds from a human being who was ready to help us. All day long. The amount of planning and execution involved in an event like yesterday’s was immense. These folks know how to provide a positive experience on a grand scale.

I made it through the basic campus walking tour, but when it came to a second one focusing on arts buildings, I was ready for a rest. So I took a break with an iced mocha at the campus Starbucks and read the student newspaper. I think I may have gotten ahold of an April 1st edition.

I wonder if there were any old guard folks who protested the addition of a Starbucks? I wonder if UMBC has experienced those same kinds of growing pains that Columbia is experiencing as it moved from being a young upstart to finding its way in a next generation?

We felt a great sense of community while visiting UMBC. I left wanting to learn more.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


In reviewing my posts over time, many seem to fall into the following categories:

Things I love
Things I’m angry about
Do something!
Stuff you need to know

So, I’m putting this one out there to you all today. I’m asking you to tell me your local Columbia/Howard County items. Specifically, I want to know:

Thing you love
Thing you’re angry about
Your top local action item
Something local you think I need to know

My list for today:

1. The Oakland Mills Village Center on a Friday evening
2. Why is Grace’s Law 2.0 still stuck in Committee with time running out in this session?
3. You can nominate Oakland Mills Middke School for a Verizon Innovative Learning Grant!
4. Local podcast Elevate Maryland is celebrating their one-year “pod-a-versary.”

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday Highlights

I’m sending you over to BaltSun/HoCo Times today for this article which hits all the right Village Green/Town² notes:

Author’s Jamaican roots find fertile ground in Columbia by Janene Holzberg

It contains early Columbia history, Rouse’s vision, a mention of Oakland Mills, an upcoming event at the library, and nods to education and diversity.

As Rowe began making friends from all races and cultures at school — after never before interacting with anyone outside his race — “that’s when [the power of] diversity hit me,” he said.

Worth the read.

There’s a candidate forum tomorrow at St. John Baptist Church.

However, if the weather gets crazy there may be changes, so check the AACHC website for updates tomorrow.

Finally, my Facebook memories informed me that today is the anniversary of of the date in 2011 when I met both Tom Coale of HoCoRising and David Greisman of Columbia Patch at a HoCo Blogs party at the Stained Glass Pub in Elkridge. Neither one of these gentleman is doing the same thing they were doing in 2011. Mr. Coale is now a podcaster and Mr. Greisman is Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications at Columbia Association.
Back then I went to the party as a blog reader. It was at this particular party that David Greisman convinced me to become a blogger. I wonder where we will all be in another seven years?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Creative ReUse

When I’m not teaching, or blogging, I have a soft spot in my heart for something called upcycling. I like to create new things out of old things. Maybe it comes from all my years as a preschool teacher, turning egg cartons into alligators and old lunch bags into puppets. I do know that I love to rescue old things as a way of reducing waste. Why go out and buy new junk when you have so much old junk to play with?

So I was deliriously happy to learn of  Scrap B-More, a store that is run completely on donations of craft materials and sells them at a huge discount. Their goal is to keep unwanted items out of landfills. I loved their sign:

2, 832 chihuahuas! That’s impressive!

I scored some burlap ribbon, a large quantity of white cording, and a book on 1950’s advertising wth gorgeous, glossy illustrations which will be perfect for collage and decoupage. It’s fun to poke around and see what they have. It also makes you realize that you have stuff you aren't using that you’d like to donate. You can learn more about Scrap B-more on Facebook


After feeding our crafty appetites, my daughter and I popped over to Fell’s Point for some lunch. She wanted to show me another kind of creative reuse: the Rec Pier Chop House in the Sagamore Pendry Hotel.  It’s fancy. Here’s the lunch menu.


Thanks to the immense front window we were able to eat lunch inside with an unobstructed view of our car, something you have to do al fresco in Howard County.


I think I’d like to live in this place!   

The food was delicious, the service was excellent, and the atmosphere and wall art are fabulous.


(It changes color.)  

The Sagamore Pendry Hotel will be known to many of you as the police station on the television show Homicide: Life on the Steets. Before that it was a Baltimore City recreation pier, hence, the new restaurant name.

I hope that, as Columbia ages, we’ll see more of our own examples of creative reuse. (Think Whole Foods from Rouse Building.) We’re seeing plenty of new construction these days, but what about some creative preservation? Can you think of a Columbia building that’s ripe for a new incarnation? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Quick Request

My apologies, friends. I am tired beyond tired this morning.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

In the meantime, please write your representative in support of Grace’s Law 2.0. It’s still stuck in Committee and time is running out in this session. From Christine McComas:

Friends, SB726/Grace's Law 2.0 has not made it out of the House committee yet...and the session ends this weekend!
Please follow this link to call or send an email urging passage to your rep:

Also, a super polite nudge to HJC Chair Joseph Valarrio wouldnt hurt:


Thanks. —jam

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

An Unexpected Film Festivsl

File this under things you can learn from Twitter: Columbia is going to have a Film Festival.

Say what? Is this not our beloved Mr. B showing  movies at the Lakefront?

No, it appears there’s a new kid in town this summer. The Lakefront Film Festival has a Twitter account, (@LakefrontFest)  a website (not totally fleshed out) and it appears that they plan to:

...feature over 25 new independent multicultural narrative features, documentaries, animation, experimental, web-series, short films as well as studio sneak previews screening in several beautiful venues within the Town Center. Visiting filmmakers and celebrities will interact with appreciative audiences at screenings and special events.

Does anyone out there in readerland know anything about this? It doesn’t appear to be a part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts. I don’t think it’s part of the Movies at Merriweather, or the multicultural film fest at the Chrysalis. So who are these people who are throwing a Film Festival and want people to buy “Festival Packages” to see them?

I don’t know. I’m curious. Also, a side note: this poster features the American City Building. I had heard rumors that the plan is to demolish it. Where does that stand?

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Denial Dance

Serious case of the I Don’t Wannas this morning. I’m back to work after a lovely Spring Break (yes, my school had one) and the weather is not too cheery.

A few thoughts on the Alec Ross debacle:

Truthfully, my biggest exposure to Ross has been his online ads. And I just don’t like them. They are negative and border on the arrogant. If you know him in real life or have had the opportunity to see him in person you may feel differently. But I haven’t. And, due to his ads, I don’t want to. He may be smart and have great ideas. But, to my mind, the world does not need one more white guy who thinks he knows everything.

And now we come to the situation where he is criticisizing a fellow Democrat with amazingly tone-deaf language.

The campaign of Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a longtime lawmaker who is gay, says opponent Alec Ross, a tech entrepreneur and politcal newcomer, used dog whistle politics when he said that he will get things done as governor, unlike a state senator who “prances around Annapolis talking.”

Whether or not you believe that this was an intentional homophobic slur, you can still look at how Ross responded to this criticism and shake your head. There’s absolutely no sense of understanding that he made a mistake. It would have been so easy to say, “That was a horrible choice of words. I own that and I am going to do better.”

Mr. Ross did not do that. He put forward his running mate, Julie Verratti, to make his case; she’s openly gay. The Ross campaign is suggesting, no, outright accusing, Madaleno’s campaign of “smearing” Ross. 

This is some kind of dance of denial:

1. Say something offensive
2. Get called on it
3.Refuse to apologize
4. Accuse those who call you on it of an aggressively negative campaign tactic 

Now take that mode of behavior and envision it in Annapolis.

I’m not seeing it. Mr. Ross is by all accounts and bright and able fellow but in this incident he has shown exactly how much of a newcomer is is. Maybe he will learn and grow from this. So far it doesn’t look promising.

And another thing. Shouldn’t Democrats be focused on giving voters positive reasons to vote for a different vision of state leadership?