- 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 most important issue is having a stronger hands on management of the School System’s budget. Funding affects almost every other single important issue of concern. We cannot lower class sizes, provide needed programs, improve health or safety issues, or any number of other strong and valid issues without proper fiscal management. Failure to create additional funding, save on expenses and manage strategic partnership opportunities can lead to decreased quality of services. As one of the top school systems in the nation, we are experiencing some growing pains. Additional budgetary skills can help the Board to succeed more strongly and creatively. The allocated budget alone does not fulfill the varied essentials of our growing school system, let alone our desired extras. I can bring the needed business management and financial skills and expertise in procurement needed to assist the Board in creating more resources to address a multitude of important issues.
We desperately need people on the board who have budgeting experience and comprehension. We need outside the box thinking, and strategic partnerships to fulfill needs and create additional opportunities for the school system and to create new opportunities for teachers, providing them with resources, to help attract and retain qualified teachers. We need to create valuable opportunities for students such as apprenticeships, so they are prepared either for college or a career. Procurement management is also a crucial step to ensure we not only get the best service and product providers, but save money due to an openly competitive process, thus eliminating decades old preferred vendor approaches.
One of the most important subset issues, that funding can assist, to provide more specificity, is decreasing class size and elimination of portables, for school safety, health and comfort.
All of these challenges will not happen in a day. But it’s important that we take the first step of electing the most qualified and skilled candidates. These candidates need to be able to make the necessary short term and long-term decisions to achieve everything we are striving for: provide the best possible educational environment for our children to thrive and to become productive citizens.
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?
We lack a mechanism for the Board to stay informed about the progress of the Diversity and Inclusion initiative and the impact it’s having on our students. How are we holding individual schools accountable? How are we measuring progress? By what means are we informing the community about our efforts and our forward movement in this critical area?
I believe it is especially important to look at the curriculum aspect of the Committee’s recommendations. Are we incorporating the “Global Classroom” into HCPSS’ curriculum? Are students systematically engaged in experiences that expose them to cultural diversity? How are we holding schools accountable to offer more World Language options to students?
We also need more information on progress in expanding our diverse workplace. What strategies are we using to achieve a balanced, diverse, and culturally equitable representation among our administrators, teachers, and office staff? Are these strategies working?
These and other questions must be posed and answers sought by the Board to make sure we have all the information needed to implement the important policies to assist with diversity and inclusion. Appointing cultural proficiency liaisons and training all staff members are important first steps also. The Committee recommendations were much more sweeping. Our Board has a responsibility to keep the spotlight on the pace of progress and hold the administration responsible.
Well-renowned organizations, such as the National Research Council, frequently gather information about the development of young children. The results of these assessments can help guide the Board’s implementation of Dr. Martirano’s Strategic Plan.
A more substantive early childhood service system ensures that young children have access to healthcare services, especially socio/emotional development and mental health services.
- What is your approach regarding school safety plans?
School safety plans should come about through a collaborative effort between all community stakeholders, whether they be parents, teachers, students, or safety personnel. We need to be proactive in our thought process. We can’t be reactive and make decisions in haste when it comes to our children’s safety. Since the first school shooting, various school districts have implemented plans that we can learn from in terms of best practices.
At a minimum, we need short term and long term plans to secure the schools. For the short term, we must address physical security needs first, until a long term solution provides results.
Some of the short term plans are tied to our budgeting. Lowering class sizes, more teachers, more school counselors, more psychologists and more resource officers will help identify students that might need support before a situation explodes.
One immediate step we can take is re-evaluating our disciplining policies. Research shows that students who are removed from the classroom due to disciplinary measures are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and become involved in the juvenile justice system. We need to have that in mind whenever we discipline students. Disciplining students in many cases is necessary, but as the research shows some methods can be counterproductive, especially if not done equitably.
We also need to look closely at our Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) policy. Various studies have confirmed that if used incorrectly, the BYOD policy results in increased cyber-bullying.
Another step we can take is eliminating portable classrooms. There must be an active policy in place as to not introduce any new portable in HCPSS and a timeline to eliminate all. Children educated in this environment are not only physically unsafe in the event of an incident, but they are also exposed to health risk like mold. At best, they’re not getting the full experience of an education system that the HCPSS for which we are known.
For long term solutions, we must actively work with the community, parents and organizations to ensure that we understand how to recognize behaviors in our diverse population of students, may it be as a result of cultural differences, special needs or mental health issues. The majority of the problems are a result of activities, situations outside of school boundaries. Therefore, it is more important than ever to ensure that we have a way to communicate, and involve the parents to ensure that we understand the change in behavior in a child and all work together to resolve problems.
4. What are your priorities regarding setting the school calendar?
As the school board approves recommendations put forward by the school system planning committee, the oversight of the school calendar will be limited. Having said that, before approving any school calendar, I’ll make sure that the planning committee addresses all community concerns during their planning process. If their final recommendation fails to take those concerns into consideration, I can’t promise I would vote to approve it. We need to make sure school calendars not only reflect state and federal regulatory guidelines, but we also need to make sure they meet student, teacher, and parent needs.
I believe that the local School Board should have control of our own calendar as well, regarding start and end dates.
- How will you address redistricting and improving the balance of socioeconomic diversity across all schools?
The new board must address redistricting as one of its first priorities. Due to overcrowding in the east, redistricting needs to be from East to West. We must ensure the redistricting process is a fully open and collaborative effort so everyone is aware of the steps, processes, and benefits of the redistricting decisions. Previous boards failed to take that step, despite the yearly feasibility studies and recommendations, especially overcrowding reaching 140% utilization at some schools. With the county adding a net 1,000 students every year, we need to implement short and long term solutions to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes and experience even more overcrowding in the future.
We can take different steps toward these solutions. We can look at current schools to see if there are development opportunities, collaborate with the county council and county executive with development and growth discussions, and we can start the conversation about planning the new school. As the last high school process shows, we need as much time as possible to plan, locate, and budget for school renovations and building.
For Socioeconomic diversity, most of the development decisions made at the County Council level influence people to move into different locations based on affordability. While the Board is unable to address this at the county level, we can definitely provide solutions where our school system represents all walks of life, from different races, religions, and classes. These solutions provide our students valuable learning experiences that can only be achieved in a fully diversified environment. The board can do this by introducing vocational, artistic, and science programs in different schools and opening enrollment so students are free to attend the school or program of interest.