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.

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