Vicky Cutroneo

1. What do you feel is the most important issue facing HCPSS at the current time? What steps should the BOE take to address this issue?

The budget deficit and 500 million dollars in deferred maintenance.  It is near impossible to deliver desired educational programming within the confines of these fiscal constraints.   Increased funding is the usual default, more money will solve our problems.. That may be true, but I believe that we must also look within for ways to save money that will not impact the classroom.

Every year the budget becomes a crisis with program managers trying to find ways to make last minute cuts without any benefit of data or performance measures; moreover there is no strategic financial plan that lays out how the deficit will be paid down.

The deferred maintenance is hard to even comprehend, many of the projects will soon become more expensive emergencies and lead to environmental health issues  if not addressed soon. There are major HVAC renovations that have been deferred since 2009. I find this completely unacceptable and plan on spending time in Annapolis lobbying for extra funding for maintenance projects that impact health.  To me, many of the projects are not maintenance issues, they are potential health issues and should be treated as such.

If we are to advocate for increased funding  I believe that we should do all that we can to be fiscally responsible.. take a look at our professional salaries compared to surrounding counties..we far outpace everyone in most categories, sometimes by 20 percent.  Last year we had almost 1,000 empty seats, yet we have 229 portables filled with students. Just last week it was deemed that a portable needed twenty thousand dollars worth of remediation work done. Twenty thousand on a temporary trailer that one day we will also have to pay to destroy.  When we do not show good faith effort at balancing enrollment, it is more difficult to receive approval for capital funding for capacity projects.

Advocating for increased funding should not come without the BOE being good stewards of taxpayer money and fiscal decision making based on data, not emotion or last minute decisions.

2.  How do you think the BOE should implement Dr. Martirano’s Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion (ensures academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps) across the levels?

Late last month, HCPSS announced the release of PARCC scores.  In this news release, the focus was on how we exceeded state averages and then certain data points were sliced and diced to highlight only the positive news.  In reality, our scores stunk. In reality, we have the second fewest students who qualify for free and reduced meals in the state, so it would be surprising, if our scores did not exceed state averages.  Personally, I don’t think exceeding state averages is anything for a wealthy school district to brag about. Important deficits can easily be hidden behind the averages of a high achieving, wealthy country.

What the HCPSS news release did not share was how the achievement gap between white and black/African American students and Hispanic/Latino students actually EXCEEDS the state averages almost across the board; moreover it has worsened over the last 4 years.  Significant gaps also exist in the English language learner, FARMs and special education student populations.

  1. I believe that measuring the achievement gap based on a standardized test is biased against vulnerable student populations.  Research has shown time and again that a standardized test measures family income more than student achievement or teacher effectiveness/abilities.

  2. I did an analysis of FARMs rate and PARCC scores across the state and almost without exception, the percentage rate of FARMs in a county  correlated with PARCC scores. The counties with highest FARMs rates had lowest PARCC scores and vice versa. We need different ways to measure the achievement/opportunity gap so that we can truly address student needs.  I do not believe teaching to the test, improving test scores will ever address the achievement gap.

  3. The impact of poverty is staggering and unfortunately cannot be fully addressed within the confines of a school day.   That being said, there are school based interventions shown to be effective

  4. Quality PreK:  unfortunately the benefits of Pre-K are soon diluted if the vulnerable student is placed in large classes K-2.    As PTACHC President I led efforts to advocate for funding to maintain class size. Though we were successful, I believe there is more to do, like making class sizes at Title 1 schools even smaller, concentrating on K-2.

  5. Invest in more summer programming for students who live in poverty; two thirds of  the achievement gap between lower and higher income ninth graders found due to to summer learning loss during the elementary years.

  6. Teacher diversity and implicit bias training:  windows and mirrors vital in the classroom, can change the trajectory of a student’s life.

  7. Targeted staffing formulas at high need schools for social and mental health supports.

  8. Research points to a growing body of evidence concluding that poverty affects children’s brain development and the importance of language exposure in early years and cognitive training in middle school.   Programs like Talk With Me that tackle the vocabulary gap and cognitive training in middle school (when frontal lobe develops) help to address root cause of achievement gaps. I’m big into research as it pertains to health and education and the cognitive training has particularly sparked my interest.  No, we can’t solve poverty for our students, but we can find ways to mitigate its impact during the school day.

3. What is your approach regarding school safety plans?

I believe in safety from within;  most external threats to safety at schools across the country have not been due to someone unknown to the school.   We must address root cause and avoid grandstanding elaborate safety precautions that actually do little to make students feel safer.

I also support:

  1. Comprehensive anti-bullying program that includes an anonymous platform for students to report bullying and other serious concerns (for example, suicidal friend).  Text2StopIt is one such program

  2. Restorative practices;  for RP to succeed, it must be fully funded and supported by the community.

  3. Programs like Sandy Hook Promise:  Know the Signs (I had this group speak at PTACHC meeting), teaching children to know the signs of a classmate who needs help.  Programming like this free.

     d. I support SRO’s in schools, play more of social worker/supportive role than police officer

e.. Do not support uniformed police officers in the school

F. Continue to grow mental health, social work and behavioral analyst supports and if    funding not there, continue grant writing and partnerships with outside agencies like the Association for Community services.

4. What are your priorities regarding setting the school calendar?

Our mission is education and contiguous, full days of school as much as possible should be our goal.  Days off should be given for religious observances that would impact school operations if school was held (large percentage of staff would observe).  I appreciate the efforts at trying to honor religious holidays for our diverse student body but am concerned with frequent interruptions to full weeks of school and whether it impacts learning, especially for our most vulnerable students.  We could do a better job of publicizing excused absences and more importantly ensuring that homework/projects/tests also are in keeping with the student’s religious observance. Many students don’t want to take an excused absence because of all the work they will have to make up.

Also important is ensuring enough days are built in for weather within the constraints of the state mandate. Families need reliability, especially at the end of the school year.  To this end, I plan on supporting HCPSS efforts at changing our requirements to be measured in hours, rather than days to provide more flexibility.

5.  How will you address redistricting and improving the balance of socioeconomic diversity across all schools?

My experience as PTACHC President provided the opportunity to become familiar with issues and challenges at the school level, every school has unique challenges and poverty concentration is one of the most impactful as it affects not only our most vulnerable students, but the entire school community.

In schools with less than 7% poverty, 27.6% of poor students and 11% of non-poor students achieved below the national average. But when school poverty levels increase to greater than 25%, then 56% of poor students and 36.9% of non-poor students fell below the national average.  There is not just a linear relationship between FARMs and achievement, research indicates that there is a “critical mass” level.. The point when poverty levels impact both individual students and the entire school community.

HCPSS currently has 31 schools that exceed 25 percent FARMS percentage rate, and of those, 7 that exceed 50 percent.  Becoming an even greater issue is the fact that our schools are getting bigger and big is not better for Title 1 schools… Deep Run ES has 422 students who qualify for FARMs.  Numbers like these make it impossible for a school to meet the needs of students. Housing patterns and development dictate where poorer families live and though it is against the law to base attendance areas on socioeconomic status, I do believe our policies need to be reviewed to evaluate giving greater weight to socioeconomic and racial diversity when drawing boundary lines, certainly these factors can be taken into greater consideration when making decisions.

We are a high achieving and wealthy county which makes it easy to hide school level issues behind the averages.  For example, yes the graduation rate is 92 percent across the country, but it is only 82 percent at one of our schools.  The 92 percent does not tell the full story. I’m interested in the numbers and students behind the high averages and I’m interested in using research, data and best practices to address root cause.

All of this being said, I believe we need to redistrict.  It is not healthy, not safe, nor is it equitable to have extremely overcrowded schools and programmatic/optional solutions are not enough to address the impacts of years of delayed redistricting.