BOE Survey James Cecil – District 2
- How long have you lived in Howard County? Which voting district would you represent?
My family and I have lived in Howard County for nearly nine years and I am running to represent District 2.
- What is your experience with and interest in public schools?
I am a product of Maryland public schools and currently have two elementary school students in HCPSS now. I owe so much of who I am today to my experience in public school and have always been an advocate for education. My student development work at the University of Maryland has also led me to immersive experiences within Chicago and Philadelphia schools to witness the impact schools have on their surrounding communities. Successful public education is the foundation that for personal success and one’s ability to meaningfully pursue their dreams.
- Considering many schools are still overcapacity, how should the BOE address this continued concern?
Our current capacity dilemma is grounded in decades of shortsighted capital planning, incorrect school placements, and unwillingness to make substantive adjustments to attendance areas as new schools were opened or high-density development projects were completed. It is important for the Board of Education to make the case and advocate for capital construction funding. HS #13 is a step forward. The Talbott Springs Elementary School replacement and Hammond High School renovation will improve capacity and they have already been delayed long enough. However, the fiscal forecast for capital funding is not encouraging as projects continue to be pushed out and the current COVID-19 crisis will surely interrupt the revenue streams that would support new construction. The Board of Education has already been warned about requesting funds without maximizing current capacity and scrutiny will be even higher. With that, attendance area adjustments will unfortunately have to be a part of the long term solution as there are schools with empty seats in the same district as schools with capacity nearing 130%. Some schools have zero portables, while others have 15. District 2 is acutely affected by this capacity issue and requires relief. It will take a much more inclusive process, presenting a complete case of what the impact really is on the students attending these schools and involving communities to create solutions that make better sense to everyone. We want to see all of our students succeed and there isn’t the luxury of leaving seats empty as they have been for years.
- How should the BOE ensure that resources reach the students who need them most?
This is a data driven issue and it is a matter of using the data we have and determining assessment tools to gather the data that we do not. We see where our achievement gaps are in graduation rates, standardized tests and meeting the needs of our special education students to name a few. However, the resources to address some of these gaps are slow to arrive, if they arrive at all. In fact, some of the efforts to support some of our most vulnerable students have been rolled back in recent budgets. Many of the families affected are limited in how strong they can advocate at the most critical times. Rather than seek these families out, past boards have listened solely to the voices in the room. Our educators know where our needs are and we need to give them a stronger voice, but so do our families and the Board of Education needs members willing to get out and talk to those who our data shows were are not serving to the standard we should. Then it is a matter of creatively looking at ways to re-allocate the resources we have and the way we source the resources we need.
- What should the relationship between the BOE and the teachers’ union be?
It is absolutely critical that the Board of Education has a strong relationship with the teachers’ union. Our teachers are on the front line with our children and deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and admiration. Ultimately, there is a business aspect to the relationship that requires a balance of appreciation and fiscal stewardship, but everyone should be on the same team when it comes to serving our children. Labor disputes between school systems and their teachers’ unions seem to be an all too common occurrence anymore. They have occurred in nearly 20 states over the last several years, with walkouts interrupting instruction for weeks and costly outcomes to get them resolved. Sometimes the relationship may be strained, but we should always avoid getting to a point where it may break.
- What should be the approach to school safety? What is working and what could be done differently?
School safety encompasses a lot of different areas. In terms of our facilities, we have made strides in controlling access. Ensuring that protocols are in place to identify everyone coming into our schools, securing exterior access points, effectively located cameras and managing activities in our facilities outside of school hours definitely need continued refinement. We have to be vigilant in ensuring the safety of our students, but we also have to be mindful that not all students feel safe with some of the measures already in place. I oppose having guns in schools and support the integration of more restorative justice practices. Too many responses operate in the immediate, but we need to help students learn the skills to resolve differences independently, explore root causes and foster reconciliation for better long term outcomes.