Election Day, November 2, 2010, will mark the first time that any members of the Harford County Board of Education will be chosen by the public they will serve. In most other school districts in the state and in the nation, school board elections are nothing new. But in Harford County, where the Maryland governor used to appoint all school board members, the voters will soon elect three new board members, and make a bit of Harford County history in the process.
Readers who are interested in the change from an appointed school board to a blended board are encouraged to review The Dagger’s guide to the 2009 law that brought about the transition in progress. The bottom line: Harford County is moving away from a school board with seven appointed members, to a nine-member board made up of three appointed members and six members who will be elected in each of the six Harford council districts. The transition to the new system will be complete in 2014.
For now, our focus is on the first set of elections being held this year in three Harford council districts – Edgewood/Joppa (District A), Fallston/Abingdon (District B), and North Harford (District D). In the non-partisan primary held in September, voters in each of these three districts narrowed down larger fields of candidates to the top two vote-getters. On November 2, these remaining two candidates in each district will again face the voters of their district, again in non-partisan elections. The three winners will be seated on the Harford County Board of Education on July 1, 2011.
Mindful of this moment in history, and of the relationship between the quality of public education and the quality of life for all, The Dagger posed some fairly pointed questions to the two finalists up for election in each of the three Harford council districts. All of the candidates were given the same questions and while their answers will be published here in a series, all of the candidates’ responses were received prior to publication – in other words, no peeking at one another’s answers was possible.
With thanks to all of the candidates for their prompt responses, The Dagger brings you the following Q & A with the candidates for the Harford County Board of Education:
Earlier, we heard from candidates Cassandra R. Beverley and Ron Eaton who are competing in Fallston/Abingdon District B, and also from Rick Grambo and Lorrie Warfield, the candidates in North Harford District D. Last but not least is Edgewood/Joppa District A, where the choice will be between Bob Frisch, a teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools, and Jansen Robinson, chairman of the Edgewood Community Council. Below are the questions as written by The Dagger, followed by the candidates’ unedited written responses.
Q1. School board members are often called upon to make decisions in areas where they may not have experience or expertise, such as the school curriculum or the capital budget program. Briefly describe how you would make decisions in areas outside your personal expertise.
Board of Education members cannot be expected to be experts in all topics brought before them. That said, I intend to do whatever is necessary to reasonably educate myself on those issues pertinent to conducting school system business. Knowledgeable Board members who understand the many aspects of operating a large school system is a requirement to insure the most productive and efficient delivery of services to the students of Harford County schools. When necessary I will seek advice from outside the school system to gain other perspectives. Being well versed on the relevant topics allows Board members to more accurately question and assess proposals and policy recommendations submitted by the Superintendent and his senior staff. Knowledge is the foundation of sound decision making which needs to start with Board of Education members. Previous management and current educator experience leaves me well positioned to immediately assume school board decision making responsibilities.
Facilitate community involvement in decision-making. Utilize the highly talented workforce at APG and the private sector that is closely aligned with the work being conducted at this facility.
Engage the Educational Community, starting with HCC.
State Board of Education to determine how issue was addressed by other districts in the state.
US Dept of Education, to determine how issue was addressed by other districts in the nation.
Other education-related organizations such as the Unions, and non-profits groups
Q2. The State of Maryland has adopted new education reforms calling for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student performance. Baltimore City has recently begun to develop their evaluation criteria and all local school districts will have an opportunity to do the same. Other than test scores, what are some student performance measures that you would consider to be valid for the purpose of teacher evaluations?
Test scores alone do not measure the value of classroom teachers. Federal and State education authorities have already recognized this flaw in the current legislation. A more appropriate yardstick would be to measure individual student progress. Such formulas are already being developed. Students entering a teacher’s classroom with significant academic deficits may well advance significantly but still be below grade level expectations at year’s end. Good teachers are not afraid to be evaluated. The issue is the equity of evaluations between academic and non-academic classes, or tested and non-tested subjects. What level of support and interest do students receive at home? Student attendance issues, poverty and factors beyond a teachers control need to be considered in any evaluation process to be fair to both teachers and students. To accomplish this all stakeholders (teachers, administrators, Board of Education members, and parents) need to jointly participate in developing an evaluation system that is both reliable and equitable for all.
Teachers should be part of the team that develops the measuring instrument. And, since 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is tied to student performance, we should measure those things that a teacher either controls/influences that contributes to student performance. Because whether or not a student achieves in school can be influenced by many different factors. Some factors include the student’s health, the degree of family involvement in school, the school environment itself, as well as the expectations that teachers have of each individual student.
Explore (with our teachers) the use of other performance evaluation methods, such as the “value-added” method of teacher evaluation. Value-added analysis uses standardized tests to estimate teacher effectiveness. This evaluation method employs advanced statistical techniques to project the future performance of individual students based on their past performance. The difference between the projected and actual performance of students determines the value added or subtracted by the teacher.
Simply stated we should measure how much each child improves over time, instead of simply how high they score, because it accounts for where kids started from. We should be measuring teachers by how much they help each child grows.
Other areas of measurement would include what the teacher controls that influences that growth, such as:
– Teacher Attendance
– Teacher Certification/Training
– Classroom Management
– Quality of Teacher/Parent Interaction
Q3. Maryland school boards are charged with many responsibilities. Among them are hiring the superintendent, setting both capital and operating budget priorities, formulating policies for school system operations, and establishing local curriculum guides and courses of study. Are there any previous decisions made by the Harford County Board of Education that you would seek to review or overturn?
I have had the opportunity to speak with many parents, school system staff, and students about our school system. While most were pleased with the system overall there were some areas of common concern. The elementary school Every Day Math program and the high school Living In A Contemporary World course are just two examples of discontent. Another area of frustration is the mandatory four period block schedule for high schools. I am a firm believer that communities and relevant stakeholders should have a reasonable voice in determining the makeup and direction of their neighborhood schools. I believe it would be reasonable to at least take another look at these and other issues to determine if they are effective and serve the best interest of students and the affected community. The school system does not have all the answers and it is necessary to listen to what our parents, students, classroom teachers, and taxpayers have to say. Cooperation builds commitment between parties and leads to more successful outcomes.
· Review the proposed 2011 operating & capital budget with the County Council, and the Administration to collectively identify cost-saving measures. We can’t continue to conduct business as usual.
· Review teacher compensation package to include the Employee Health Insurance Decisions.
· Review the Extracurricular Activities Policy to determine the impact that this policy is having on the entire “School Community”. For example, we should be working with the law enforcement community to determine if this policy, as it is written, is aiding “gang” recruitment. Remember Schools are a Reflection of the communities that they serve.
· Review the Bullying Policy (with all stakeholders) to ensure that we have developed a Smart Policy. If it occurs in the community, it’s occurring in our schools. Schools are a reflection of the communities that they serve.
· Review Student Dress Code Policy. We must do what is reasonable-but necessary. This issue is closely aligned with gangs and bullying.
· Review Redistricting Plan to ensure that each community and law enforcement is seated at the decision-making table.
· Explore (with our teachers) the use of other performance evaluation methods, such as the “value-added” method of teacher evaluation. Value-added analysis uses standardized tests to estimate teacher effectiveness. This evaluation method employs advanced statistical techniques to project the future performance of individual students based on their past performance. The difference between the projected and actual performance of students determines the value added or subtracted by the teacher.
· Policy on Board Meetings: To help encourage community participation, we should hold our regular Board Meetings in the community, instead of asking the community to come to us. We should also encourage the PTA’s to do the same. The board must take the lead in developing a better understanding of the community that each school serves if it to enact effective policies.
· Community Involvement Policy: Create a vehicle that will facilitate more community involvement in the decision-making process. Effectively utilize the highly talented workforce at APG and the private sector companies that are closely aligned with the work being conducted on APG, to help us find solutions to education issues. Engage the Post-Secondary Education Community to help us conduct research and bring more information to the discussion of education issues, starting with our own Harford Community College.
· Last, but not least I would request a thorough Review of the Policy governing the tenure of School Board Officers. Specifically, what was the “Compelling Reason” for the change in the term of the current president?
Q4. Adequate funding is a perennial concern for school board members. Next year, HCPS expects to face an operating budget deficit, estimated at nearly $14 million, if additional funding cannot be secured. What cost saving measures would you be willing to consider as a member of the school board? Please name at least two specific examples.
In tight economic times we must find ways to control the budget without jeopardizing the quality of education our children receive in the classroom. We must remember that the primary purpose of our schools is to provide students with an education that prepares them to pursue higher education or be workforce ready. All decisions must be made under the guiding principle of how does this benefit the students in our classrooms? We must be willing to look at all aspects of the budget not directly affecting students, from facilities to administrative staff to unnecessary academic programs. During a recent candidate forum I gave a specific example of where the school system was spending over one thousand dollars per classroom for new electronic Whiteboard technology. I was able to demonstrate that this same technology could have been obtained for under one hundred dollars per classroom. It is my everyday familiarity with the classroom that gives me the background and knowledge to recognize this and other cost savings opportunities.
Again, review the proposed 2011 operating & capital budget with the County Council, and the Administration to collectively identify cost-saving measures. We can’t continue to conduct business as usual. The overall goal has to be cost-saving without negatively impacting the classroom, and that is everyone’s responsibility. Nothing should be off the table to include County-Wide Cost savings measures, to free-up funds for local schools.
We must look down the road to the possibility of local governments having to pick up at least a portion of teachers’ retirement costs. Many of these measures should also be applied to the county-wide budget. The school board and county government should discuss cost-saving measures in public rather than behind closed doors.
– Ask the employees, of the school system and the community where we can save money.
– Explore an increase class size in areas that have minimal impact on teaching and learning.
– Reducing administrative positions
– 4 Day school-week (increasing the number of hours each day to compensate for lost classroom time (Reducing costs associated with the fifth day of school)
– Modification of the annual work schedule/ Employee Furloughs as a cost saving measure.
– District-wide hiring freeze
– Minimize travel and conference expenses
– Reduce the number of employees with take home vehicles.
– Elementary reconfiguration and more efficient tiering of our bus routes. If done right we could add students to full day kindergarten without out adding staff.
– Filling empty seats could result in adding students without adding staff.
– End school three-five days earlier and increase time to each day
– Reduce the number of Snow days and/or the number of staff development days.
– Get the Right Person for the Job. This is perhaps the most important step that we can take to ensure that we run an effective school system. In many school systems there is a tendency to elevate educators to non-teaching positions/management positions. Oftentimes these educators lack the appropriate education, training and experience to perform effectively in these non-classroom management functions, resulting in bloated school systems.
– Create a vehicle for continued employee and community involvement in the cost-savings process.
– Combine services/functions provided by both the County and School System (Share services)
– Take steps to control wasteful spending and explore opportunities to better use and manage its resources through privatization of some support services.
– Review eliminating special programs that provide minimal benefit to students
– Reduce Energy Costs
– Manage Workman’s Compensation Costs
– Use State Contracts to acquire goods and services
– Review Revenue Collections Process
– Control Overtime via Planning & Management
– Minimize Unemployment Insurance Costs
– Contain health insurance costs
– Credit Card Accountability to minimize the risk of error, misuse, overuse and fraud
– Develop a long-term capital plan to manage their capital assets adequately and efficiently. The plan should be linked to periodic needs assessment (what do we need) and the budgetary process (what can we afford).
– Explore electronic banking as a faster, easier, and more efficient substitute for paper transactions.
– Establishment and effective administration of a fleet management program can have a positive impact on the cost effectiveness and efficiency of a locality’s fleet operation.
– Evaluate Solid Waste Collection Options
– Going green may turn out to be the most affordable option for school districts
– Frequent auditing help ensure a prudent use of taxpayer dollars, provide a sound internal control structure and safeguard district assets, for the benefit of our children and our communities.