- 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?
School capacity is the most important and pressing issue facing HCPSS. We do not have enough seats in brick-and-mortar schools for all the kids, and we still continue to build residential housing without a plan to increase school capacity. We have schools that do not have room for any more portables and residential development continues. Our decreased capacity leads to frequent redistricting. We heard in the boardroom recently about how during a lockdown, kids in portables do not have access to restrooms. Teachers in portables do not have access to the same resources as those in the brick and mortar school. And while we can add portables, it does not increase the size of the cafeteria, auditorium, music rooms, or other spaces where large numbers of students gather. Such overcrowding surely contributes to disease transmission, including COVID. It likely also contributes to behavioral issues. Every year, the BOE asks for the operating budget they need, saying that you can’t get what you don’t ask for. They need to do the same for the capital budget. Every year, they need to send the county council and county executive a budget request to fully fund the building of schools with the appropriate capacity. They also need to send a capital budget for deferred maintenance. They need to advocate to the county council, county executive, and in Annapolis.
2. What is your understanding of social-emotional learning and its impact on education and learning? What should SEL entail?
Students don’t just learn reading, math, history, and science in school. Many of the benefits of school (and preschool) come from the interactions children have with each other, in a nurturing environment. They learn how to interact with others, how to negotiate, how to compromise. Hopefully, they learn how to do these things with diverse students that reflects the people they will work with when joining the workforce. They also need to learn how to regulate their emotions and build their confidence and self-esteem. Much of this is learned early and shown to be important in success later in life and related to “soft skills”. It doesn’t happen on its own, and needs to be encouraged with experiences shaped by teachers through social-emotional learning.
- How will you address redistricting and improving the balance of socioeconomic diversity across all schools?
We need to increase capacity to decrease the need for redistricting. This year, we will need redistricting to balance capacity with the creation of new seats in schools at Talbott Springs elementary school, Hammond High School, and HS #13. We also need redistricting to adjust bus routes for schools to start later, at times that align with students’ biological clocks. I do not think that redistricting balances socioeconomic diversity though. We see all too often in Howard County, entire neighborhoods where the students attend private school instead of the school they are zoned for. After redistricting, we saw lots of people transition to private school or move out of the county. Socioeconomic redistricting is also expensive and difficult. I testified about moves that balanced socioeconomics while also reducing transportation costs and sending more kids to the closest schools, but it took time to identify those better moves–time the board did not spend. Ultimately, the balancing of socioeconomic diversity needs to happen during development and zoning. We continue to concentrate low-income housing in certain areas of the county. We are squandering opportunities to have diversified housing throughout the county with appropriate and adequate public transportation. Instead, we force the schools to fix the problem later, expecting our kids to fix the development and zoning problems the grown-ups created. We are not holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire as we need to.
- How do we best support LGBTQIA+ students within the school system?
We need to support LGBTQIA+ students and families from an early age, embracing all manner of families. Families and students today are diverse, and we need to acknowledge and honor that. Kids need books and curriculum materials that reflect their shared experiences. Both of my kids have come home in the early years of elementary school espousing that only boys and girls can get married, only for me to ask them to explain how their grandmothers are married. My husband and his siblings struggled with explaining their non-traditional family, and kids today shouldn’t have to. For small kids, it is about the love two people share, and we need to ensure that kids know that it is okay whoever they choose to love. We also need to support children of all ages who tackle gender identity issues and transition. We need to honor bathroom and pronoun choices to every extent possible. We need to ensure all kids have access to an appropriate number of unisex bathrooms, for those kids who don’t feel comfortable in either the male or the female bathroom, for whatever reason. We need to have bully-free and discrimination-free schools. We need to have multiple LGBTQIA+ allies in schools and a means for students to be able to identify them to receive support when needed. We need to provide mental health support for all students, including LGBTQIA+ students who all too frequently need mental health support. We need to cherish the diversity that our LGBTQIA+ students bring.
- What is your plan to improve access to special education services and special education staffing?
We need to improve access to special education services through better identification of students, a less adversarial and more inclusive IEP process, early intervention, shifting the burden of proof, and having a program for twice exceptional students. Having a better special education program will improve staffing. But in addition, to improve staffing, we also need a program to train special educators similar to the “Paraeducators Pathways to Culturally Responsive Teaching” program that is a collaboration between HCPSS and Bowie State.
Identification of students: HCPSS consistently under-identifies the number of students who need special education services. Howard County identifies about 10% of its students as needing those services, while that number is 14% nationwide and 16% for neighboring jurisdictions. Howard County doesn’t magically have fewer students needing special education services. The difference between our number and neighboring jurisdictions translates to about 3,000 students who need special education services but aren’t getting them. That matters in numerous ways with respect to the budget since the state funds provided for a special education student are higher than a general education student. This also places a higher burden on general education teachers who teach these unidentified students, since we still expect the same high outcomes for the student.
A less adversarial and more inclusive IEP process: Special education teachers spend a great deal of time and money testing students and sitting in on IEP meetings for students that genuinely need special education but are being denied it. I have witnessed first-hand the incredible amount of time consumed by this incredibly adversarial IEP process, even for children who have medically diagnosed learning disabilities. This leads to thousands of dollars wasted due to the time spent in these meetings, not to mention the mental and emotional toll on all of us. A more inclusive policy would reduce cost and reduce the burden on teachers in numerous ways including ensuring the student gets the appropriate education, ensuring increased resources to educate students with disabilities, and reducing the time spent in IEP meetings.
Early intervention: Early intervention is the least expensive intervention. Yet HCPSS delays and delays until the problem reaches a level that is more expensive and more time intensive to fix. Ultimately, intervening earlier before the problem is severe and before the student is failing, would save money and is also in the best interest of the student. Instead of setting the bar at what is in the best interest of the child, HCPSS sets the bar at the lowest point legally allowed. This is short-sighted with respect to what is truly in the best interest of the school system. The result is that for many kids the situation must get worse and dire before intervention happens. We need to end that practice which hurts students, families, and educators and ultimately is much more expensive. This is also an important issue relating to equity, as some families can afford to get outside medical diagnoses and interventions, but other families cannot. This contributes significantly and substantially to inequities in our education outcomes for lower income families.
Shifting the burden of proof: We need to continue to work on the legislation supported by the BOE, HCEA, the county delegation, and the Maryland House that would provide a three-year real world test of shifting the burden of proof in due process hearings from families to the school system in Howard County.
Twice exceptional students: Lastly, we need a program like neighboring jurisdictions to support our 2E students–those students who are both in above grade level classes while also having an IEP or accommodations.
- What should the role of parents be in selecting materials or content of instruction (including media center books)?
Policy 8040 describes the selection of instructional materials. Parents had the opportunity to participate in the development of this policy (as is the case with all policies) and to testify before the board on this policy. They will continue to do that when the policy is updated. And they can testify encourage that the policy be updated. That policy discusses the use of curriculum area selection committees that are a part of the process to select material and parents (as well as teachers, students, and other community members) be members of those committees. It is also clear that parents can request a review of certain books. In a memorandum on March 16, 2022, the superintendent outlined the results of such a review for three books, which all went before the curriculum review committee, which discussed each title, voted anonymously, and provided a recommendation to keep all three books. I have purchased all three books in an effort to understand the issue fully, as I would encourage other parents to do. Thus far I have only read Out of Darkness, but I can say it is a very good book that addresses the issue of child abuse–specifically of a hispanic teenage girl being sexually abused by her white step-father. The fictional book is a tragedy set during segregation, detailing racism and with several biracial couples. There are many reasons it should remain in our libraries. I look forward to reading Lawn Boy and Gender Queer as well.