Dan Newberger | IndivisibleHoCoMD Candidate Questionnaire
- 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?
One of the most important issues HCPSS faces today is ensuring a full recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. So many of our students have experienced academic learning loss, mental health impacts, and delays in social and emotional development. So many of our educators are exhausted and feel alienated from district leadership. As much as
we want a swift return to “normal,” it is going to take several years of focused leadership and dedicated resources to ensure a full recovery. To address this, we need to develop comprehensive, tailored, data-driven recovery plans for each individual school in the district to guide their recovery. With input from educators, parents, and community members, and with metrics and timelines to ensure accountability, these plans can be our roadmaps for ensuring every student, educator, and school receives the support and resources they need.
Another critical issue that HCPSS is facing is a looming staffing crisis, both for educators as well as the expert support staff our schools need: psychologists, school counselors, paraeducators, cafeteria workers, even bus drivers. To solve this immediate crisis and to ensure that Howard County’s legacy of wonderful schools is sustained into the future, we must become an employer of choice for educators. This means paying competitive salaries to attract the best talent, and then developing, empowering, and retaining those talented educators by providing the top-tier resources, supports, and professional development they need to develop and hone their craft. This focus on developing, investing in, and sustaining a pipeline of current and future classroom- and school-leaders is absolutely critical to ensuring that HCPSS can provide the best possible education for the children of Howard County today and into the future.
A final important issue that HCPSS faces is making sure that our schools work for every student. We have unquestionably wonderful schools, but too many of our students and families have less than wonderful experiences and outcomes in HCPSS. We must provide every child in Howard County—regardless of their race, ethnicity, zip code, language they speak at home, or disabilities they face—with the resources, support, challenges, and opportunities they need to maximize their potential, overcome the challenges they face, and gain the education and skills needed to graduate and pursue their dreams.
- What is your understanding of social-emotional learning and its impact on education and learning? What should SEL entail?
Social and emotional learning is an essential, integral part of education, learning, and human development. It’s the process by which all children and young adults learn and apply the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are necessary to develop healthy identities, manage their emotions, build and maintain supportive relationships, make responsible decisions, and achieve their goals. Developing SEL skills (which include self-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, responsible decision-making, and social awareness) provides our children with the foundation they need to learn, grow, and achieve in our schools. Hundreds of research studies have shown that SEL leads to improved academic performance, improved behavioral outcomes, and improved school environments. (SEL is even a smart financial decision for HCPSS, as research published in 2015 found that every dollar invested in SEL programs returns $11 worth of benefits!) I am committed to ensuring that HCPSS continues the systemic implementation of SEL at every school across the district. For the Board of Education, this starts with making certain that sufficient SEL resources are prioritized and included in each year’s budget.
- How will you address redistricting and improving the balance of socioeconomic diversity across all schools?
Policy 6010 is the right framework for how we approach redistricting; it provides a balance between the three critical priorities of facility utilization, community stability, and demographic characteristics of student populations. It is essential that we continue to maintain the goal of promoting all three of these priorities when redistricting is necessary to address school capacity issues. If we fail to include demographic characteristics of student populations as one of the three criteria for redistricting, our efforts risk creating greater imbalances of socioeconomic diversity across our schools, and the academic research is clear that students have better educational outcomes in schools that are more, and not less, diverse. When redistricting becomes unavoidable, we do need to use a scalpel and not a chainsaw and aim to balance our priorities in a way that minimizes disruption as much as possible while still achieving HCPSS’s goals. The 2019 redistricting process was unnecessarily disruptive and traumatic for the entire Howard County community, and we need to learn from that process and conduct future redistricting processes with the utmost transparency and respect, keeping community members across the entire county informed and empowered throughout the process and listening to their concerns.
- How do we best support LGBTQIA+ students within the school system?
As a member of the Board of Education, I will be a fierce advocate for protecting the safety, comfort, and healthy development of LGBTQIA+ students. This includes ensuring that
HCPSS continues to develop and strengthen its Rainbow Representative program in every school, strengthens its coordination with community partners such as PFLAG, CARY, and GLSEN, as well as ensures that age-appropriate Rainbow List books are available for our students to access in all our school libraries and available for educators who choose to incorporate them in the classroom. I am also committed to providing the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) with the resources and authority necessary to help the superintendent and our principals build school climates of belonging and cultures of dignity, where all our students and staff feel safe, included, and supported.
- What is your plan to improve access to special education services and special education staffing?
Our special education and English language learners have been especially impacted by school closures, virtual learning, and the pandemic. Their stress translates directly to the educators who support them. At the same time, staff shortages and lack of resources have had a dramatic impact on the county’s special education services. We need more special educators, related service providers, and ESOL teachers to support the individualized needs of every Howard County child. We also need more funding for positions dedicated to casework staff at all levels—school-based as well as in the central office—in order to reduce paperwork for special educators and increase their ability to provide direct support for students. Additionally, we must provide better training and increase pay for our paraeducators and students assistants who work closely with our special education students.
Additionally, I strongly believe that we must end our current practices of seclusion and restraint. It is critical that we explore and implement alternative interventions in our schools in order to avoid the trauma and serious harm that can be caused by outdated crisis management techniques.
Finally, we must explore ways to fundamentally change the adversarial nature of the IEP process. Our current system leaves too many of our parents and special educators alike feeling exhausted and demoralized, and our current “failure model” can be a brutal and dispiriting process for too many students. Instead of an institutional focus on achieving the least expensive path to meeting minimum requirements while minimizing risk of legal exposure, our schools need to be partnering with parents of students with IEPs in focusing on how to provide every student with the services they need to be independent and successful. It is not right or just for families to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire advocates and attorneys in order to secure the services their children desperately need. I am interested in exploring options for establishing an HCPSS “Office of Family Advocacy” that lives outside of the Department of Special Education and can provide advocates and caseworkers who will help families of students with disabilities navigate the IEP process and help secure the services their children need.
- What should the role of parents be in selecting materials or content of instruction (including media center books)?
I do not support changing our current policies and procedures for selecting materials and instructional content. Under our current Policy 8040 – Selection of Instructional Materials, parents play an important role in the district’s procedures for the evaluation, selection, and review of instructional materials used in our schools. The parent members serving on the Instructional Materials Criteria/Review Committee (CRC) and on Curricular Area Selection Committees, along with teachers, community members, students, subject area coordinators, and instructional facilitators, are charged with re-evaluating approved texts, reviewing materials for which requests for reevaluation have been received, and reviewing curricular area selection criteria. HCPSS’s subject area coordinators, instructional facilitators, and curricular area supervisors do a fine job ensuring that the district’s instructional materials are aligned to the HCPSS curriculum, age and grade appropriate, representative and respectful of the pluralistic nature and diversity of our county and our global society, of high-quality content and format, and compliant with all relevant federal, state, and local laws and standards. Additionally, HCPSS’s wonderful media specialists follow a rigorous process to select materials for our schools’ media centers that are high quality, age and grade appropriate, and approved by an authoritative list of approved bibliographic sources and reviewing journals.