Dan Newberger | IndivisibleHoCoMD Candidate Questionnaire 

  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? 

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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.  

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.