BOE Survey Jen Mallo – District 4

  1. How long have you lived in Howard County? 30 years (nearly all of my adult life)   Which voting district would you represent? 4
  2. What is your experience with and interest in public schools?

I have been on the Board of Education (BOE) for 16 months and serve as the Policy Committee Chair for the BOE.  I serve as the BOE’s representative to the Legal Services Administration of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

I am running to be re-elected to the Board of Education because I believe my experience, my knowledge, values, and principles are needed on the Board.  I actively champion progressive values, prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable students, and do the time-consuming hard work that is necessary to be a successful Board member.

While on the BOE, I was proud to lead the effort to reach a compromise solution that successfully implemented a school boundary adjustment that will benefit all Howard County students beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.  Like all public policy compromises, the outcome did not give any constituency exactly what it wanted.  However, I am proud that the final approved plan benefits all students by providing relief to many of the 21,000 students who were slated to be at schools that would have been above 110% capacity next year and by more efficiently deploying resources and educators to provide greater educational equity and opportunities.

Leading up to my time on the BOE, I was the Chairperson for the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), the liaison between the BOE and the community at large.  I served for two years as Vice Chairperson before my two terms as Chairperson for the CAC.  In this role I served on multiple policy advisory committees, reviewing and revising the school system’s policies.  I have been a PTA President, PTA Secretary, Coordinator for the Carson Reading Room at Swansfield Elementary School, Science Fair Coordinator, grants writer and project manager, literacy project lead, Cultural Arts Coordinator, and parent volunteer for individual school-based efforts for robotics, orchestra, and soccer while my own children attended Swansfield Elementary, Harpers Choice Middle and Wilde Lake High Schools.

Prior to serving in these 20 years’ worth of public education roles, I was the President and chief administrator for East Columbia Preschool, a cooperative preschool in Columbia, MD.   Also, during this time I became involved in the Howard County Public School System through the Infants and Toddlers program when one of my children began receiving special education services.

  1. Considering many schools are still overcapacity, how should the BOE address this continued concern?

I believe my leadership of the recent school boundary adjustment process provides me with the perspective and experience necessary to lead the BOE in making tough choices and implementing new procedures to address capacity issues.  The BOE must engage the county and the state in this process to provide necessary funding and must develop and implement new processes to balance resources and capacity.  I look forward to this challenge.

We will enter the 2020-2021 school year over-capacity at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. While the construction of High School #13 will help with capacity at the high school level, it will not address our problems at the elementary and middle school levels. We need additional capacity in the school system – and the safest, most cost- effective way to achieve that is through the construction of new schools. We must, as a community, insist on continued capital investment to address this capacity shortfall. We cannot keep adding nearly 1000 new students to the system each year while only opening additional facilities every 3-4 years. The BOE does not itself have funding authority.  Therefore, the next BOE must take on the role of advocate for greater funding from the county and the state.  I look forward to the opportunity to lead this effort.

Additionally, we must make difficult decisions on attendance areas so that we do effectively use the facilities that we have. The state and county have been clear that investing additional funds in new facilities when many sit under-utilized is unlikely to happen. The next elected BOE should take the time to understand lessons learned and the full impact of the last round of redistricting.  This should happen in the early months of the 2020-2021 school year once things have settled down and the new school year is progressing.  This timing is critical so that any new actions are not knee-jerk responses that would exacerbate problems with the transition to the new school attendance areas.

After that, the BOE should request an accounting and analysis of student placement and student enrollment growth.   This analysis should be used to draw up any necessary plans to move additional students or to direct capital investment for additional portables where needed.

  1. How should the BOE ensure that resources reach the students who need them most?

We need to align budget allocation directly with student needs.  As we add more students who are Black or Latinx, then we need to add more Black Student Achievement Liaisons and Hispanic Achievement Liaisons.  As our enrollment grows and we add more students who are below grade level in reading and math, then we need to correspondingly invest more in reading specialists, literacy coaches, and math coaches.   As we find our special education students’ needs and numbers growing, we need to correspondingly add qualified special education staff.

Furthermore, we should maintain the current delivery model for Title I services.  The most recent changes in school attendance areas made only modest impacts on economic segregation in our schools. The pockets of students in poverty and need remains significantly concentrated within our school system.  We need to continue to use Title I dollars at the elementary schools (where research shows that additional resources have the greatest long-term impact) and at our schools where need is most densely concentrated.  To do otherwise dilutes the impact of the Federal Title I dollars, which are only approximately 0.5% of the total HCPSS budget.  This model also allows Title I-funded educators to work with any student in the school that needs additional support.  Poverty and the need for additional academic supports are not synonyms. There are students who live in poverty and are meeting or exceeding expectations for classroom metrics—these students may not need the additional support.  If we changed our delivery model for services provided with Title I funds, we would likely be missing some of the students who are really benefiting from additional academic supports.

  1. What should the relationship between the BOE and the teachers’ union be?

Given that the teachers’ union represents the educators and speaks for them as a body, the relationship should be one of respectful dialogue—of listening to concerns and identifying solutions.  There must be open lines of communication between the teachers’ union and the BOE and the Board should be open to hearing what the teachers are thinking.  The Board can turn to this valuable resource to inform its oversight of the school system.  That said, it is the role of the Superintendent to manage the day to day operations of the schools and with that–the educators.  The Board serves the school system, including the teachers, best by supporting the Superintendent in this role and not unnecessarily interfering with it.

  1. What should be the approach to school safety? What is working and what could be done differently?

School safety should not leave our schools feeling like a high security facility, locked down, and prison-like.  Any measures that we take should be grounded in data and research and not knee-jerk reactions based on fear and creating a false sense of security.

The increase of police presence in schools is by definition–an increase of law enforcement officers.  Our police are well trained in enforcement of the law, but not necessarily in the community building, de-escalation techniques, and cultural proficiency needed to address our diverse student body. The enforcement of rules with children looks and feels different than the enforcement of laws with adults.

I do not support arming teachers or having guns in our schools beyond our existing School Resource Officers.

We are better served by addressing the social, emotional health of our students at their youngest ages and continuing to help them build skills for coping, learning to engage with their peers, learning how to build and maintain relationships, learning to be civil and civically minded, being good digital citizens, and participating in restorative justice programs.  If we begin to provide more social services through the schools, then we can help our students to be less isolated and more engaged and connected.