Tuesday, June 12, 2018

BOE Forum: Just the Facts

At long last, here are my thoughts on the Howard County League of Women Voters Candidate Forum for the Board of Education. This event took place on June 2nd at Howard Community College. 

First thoughts: It’s a good thing that the primary is coming soon, because all these candidates barely fit at the table! They seemed pretty good-natured about it. Dr. Chao Wu came late due to a family emergency and they somehow fit him in at the end.

Second thought: the mood in this election is very different from that of the last. There is a good deal less anger and, although there are issues of great urgency, the sense of where we are and where we are going felt more like a shared mission than a power struggle. Part of this is because we are all now much more aware of what our challenges are. They are out in the open and up for discussion.

Please do not forget what a huge change that is. And we owe that new transparency to the members elected in the last election, joining with Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt to form a board that is more responsive to community needs. Votes and elections make a difference.

The format was as follows:

Brief introduction by each candidate, then questions on:
Concluding Statements from each candidate

Warning. Everyone running for the Board this year must be an auto mechanic, because I have never in my life heard the word “alignment”so many times. Actions must align with data, expenditures must align with needs. Everything must align with something and, if not, out it must go. 
Also, everyone will either be ready on Day One or ready to hit the ground running and I think one person may have been both. 

(I am not a fan of cliches or education buzz words so I do tend to wince when they come along.)

Here we go. I’m going to be brief, highlighting what stood out to me from each candidate. 

Vicky Cutroneo: parent, advocate,
                             outgoing PTACHC President

Equity— hcpss has “hidden behind the averages”, overall achievement has been artificially boosted by advanced/GT/affluent students and we haven’t addressed the inequities in our system. Meet students where they are and lift them up.
School Safety— referenced PTACHC initiative to present “ Know the Signs” , recommended partnering with County for wraparound services to address student needs. We must work to make schools “safe from within” rather than implementing a model based on the assumption that danger comes from the outside. 
Capacity— advocated for looking at neighborhood feeds when making changes, and she was  adamant in her rejection of “portables” as any kind of long-term solution. It’s a travesty we didn’t redistrict.

Jen Mallo: Former chair of HCPSS's Community Advisory Council.  

Equity—complex, must be reflected in policy, budget, and advocacy.
School safety—begin teaching social skills in elementary school, then digital citizenship. Redistricting is a school safety issue.
Capacity—Redistricting: the devil is in the details. Shouldn’t be a political process. 

Anita Pandey: teaches at Morgan State

Equity—You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference from school to school. Cultural inclusion.
School Safety—We can use community neighborhood advisors, have student committees. Community members can volunteer mental health services.
Capacity—Referenced 7 solutions for sensible redistricting. Mentioned online classes and vo-tech, going to school in shifts. 

Carleen Pena: background in early childhood education and mental health

Equity—must be more than a buzzword. Must adequately and appropriately identify needs then find the resources to meet those needs. Outlined  need for more more grant writers in Central Office.
School Safety—Mentioned mental health background. Tap into community resources. Smaller class sizes. Family supports.
Capacity—We haven’t done the best job at redistricting through the years. We can do better. Look at moving incoming students.

Robert Miller—Retired Music Teacher, HCPSS
                          Former parent

Equity—Equal opportunities for all students not dependent of family income, but “there are some limits.” 
School Safety—Interpret data wisely. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. We shouldn’t have prison-like schools.
Capacity—Likes Jumpstart model rather than magnet schools. Look at demographics vs. neighborhood considerations in redistricting. Atriums would give more space for classrooms.

Danny Mackey—2012 graduate HCPSS 
                             UMD grad, Civil Engineering

Equity—Every student matters. Vocational opportunities. Speaks of his own classroom compared to others, disparity. 
School Safety—referenced his website. Mentioned restorative practices. Better process for reporting bullying—early intervention.
Capacity—Redistricting should have student-centered focus. Rising juniors and seniors  exempted. Refers to State and need for school construction. 

 Sabina Taj—Adjunct Professor, HCC, Arts Integration 
                       Advisor, Braitmayer Foundation 

Equity—look at needs of every child and how they need them to be met. PreK  programs, Implicit bias training.
School Safety—Adding more police in schools is wrong. Make it harder to acquire guns. Relationship-based model/restorative practices.
Capacity— Redistricting responsibly. Build new schools. Address fear in transitions. Specialized academies.

 Saif Rehman—IT consulting, entrepreneur 

Equity—Equal in making decisions, small classes. More minority staff. 
School Safety—used opioid crisis as example.Created by not giving schools resources needed. Mental health supports.
Capacity—Ridiculous that redistricting proposed moving 20 per cent of students enrolled. Too many!

 Mavourene Robinson — Community Advisory Council Vice Chair, 
                                           Operating Budget Review Committee 

Equity— Are the programs we have meeting the needs of students? We must be fiscally responsible. Using tax dollars wisely while keeping an equity focus.
School Safety— need community input. Need data. We have students who feel unsafe in school due to bullying.
Capacity—Redistricting must be done but Feasibility Study done by AAC with members  acting “ for personal gain.” 

 Robert Glascock —former teacher and admin, HCPSS

Equity— we must first define equity. Speaks to Fairness, inclusiveness, access.
School Safety— Safe and nurturing schools. Meeting physical, social, and emotional needs. School climate, student voice. References his years in school system. 
Capacity—Give people more time to get ready for changes. Communication and input. Has a plan.

Chao Wu—Columbia Association Board Rep for River Hill,
                   Operating Budget Review Committee

 Equity—arrived late. Missed question.
School Safety—Addressed physical and emotional safety.
Capacity—Use redistricting policy correctly. Apply evenly. Follow the process faithfully. 

If you have made it this far, congratulations! You’re ready to jump into tomorrow's post  where I will do some analysis and make some recommendations. 


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