In the upcoming primary elections for Harford County School Board, four candidates will be on the ballot in District D, which includes Jarrettsville, Norrisville, Whiteford, Street, Dublin, Darlington, Level and Forest Hill.
The field of four is comprised of incumbent board president Nancy Reynolds, former HCPS teacher Chris Scholz, engineering technology company project manager Mike Simon and university student Tishan D. Weerasooriya. The top two vote-getters in the June primary will face off in the November general election.
The Dagger’s Q & A with school board candidates continues below, with responses from the candidates in District D:
Dagger: School board members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such as curriculum, facilities or the budget. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the school board and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Reynolds: After serving on the Board of Education since 2011 as a member, as the Vice President and currently as the President, I feel that I bring a unique set of skills to the position. Prior to my appointment to the school board, I worked for Harford County Public Schools for 30 plus years in a wide variety of roles from language arts teacher, reading specialist, assistant principal, principal, principal mentor and county-wide service learning facilitator. Among my responsibilities during my tenure in many of these positions were the implementation of curriculum, the operation of a facility and the maintenance of a budget; however, as a principal, I was accustomed to working with a much smaller budget than that of the Board of Education.
In order to educate myself further regarding the budgeting process on a system wide level, I have actively sought input from staff, parents, community members, civic associations, elected officials and fellow board members. In addition, I have closely examined and studied the operating and capital budgets recommended by our previous superintendent and our current superintendent and have sought clarification when necessary.
As a grandmother of two Harford County Public School students, a retired educator, a Board member and a longtime resident of Harford County, I have a vested interest in ensuring that all of our students receive the best possible education and that the budget is fair and equitable in the delivery of this education; therefore, I continue to seeks ways to expand my knowledge regarding the budgeting process as well as best practices in education.
Scholz: I started teaching in technology education in 1984. I have taught a wide variety of classes from computer integrated manufacturing, AutoCAD, construction and drafting in several districts in MD and DE.
I was the east coast sales manager for a company which sold equipment and curriculum to school systems. I conducted presentations at national trade shows to large groups, as well as individual teachers on our product line usage. Outside of teaching, I have a working knowledge of construction trades and business practice.
I have worked on many committees and organizations as chair, co-chair and past president on Tech. Ed. Assn of MD.
With regard to areas outside my expertise I will reach out to other boards of educations as well as input from our constituents. This job requires the decisions to be made with public input.
Simon: After spending the last decade involved in the financial and accounting sector, I bring fiscal conservatism and long term budget management abilities to the table. While economic issues may be my strong suit, I’ve also had experience in facilities management. I spent four years with WaWa acting as the Facilities Maintenance Manager at the Hickory location. I also have experience with multiple curricular formats. I am proud graduate of North Harford High School, but I also spent grades 3rd through 6th as a home-schooled student. I believe that learning through a variety of channels provides me a broader perspective on learning.
When it comes to big time decision making I’ve always found success in studious examination of the subject matter. Learn everything you can about the topic, listen to the concerns and needs of parents and teachers, study case examples, observe opposing views, and examine history to see what lessons we have learned from the past about such matters. With this acquired knowledge it greatly helps in making an educated assessment of the situation, determining the appropriate course of action for moving forward, and providing the students of Harford County with the best education possible.
Bio: Currently a double major in Psychology and Political Science at Towson University with the intent of attending law school. Member of Pre-Law Society, Kappa Sigma Fraternity as well as a Senator in the Student Government Association. Works in the Maryland Senate for State Senator Victor Ramirez and obtained the rank of Eagle Scout in 2008. Previously attended West Virginia University before transferring to Towson University, were I majored in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and played rugby for the school.
Through my work in the Maryland Senate, I have become extremely good and experienced at balancing budgets while protecting and enhancing our most valuable assets (our teachers and students). I realize the delicate game that must be played in order to receive more funding from the state and ease our taxpayers. Through this work, I am developing and perfecting a keen sense of how to effectively cut excessive waste out, while protecting the budgets most valuable assets, which in the Board of Education’s case are always its teachers and students.
One grave mistake the current Board of Education, along with President Nancy Reynolds made, was when they decided to skip the funding hearing for our public schools in Annapolis due to inclement weather. Two other members of the delegation braved the conditions however, and was able to testify for additional funding that Harford County Schools desperately needs. How can the entire Board of Education, members whom always state that they need additional funding for our schools, not attend the very hearing that would garner these additional funds they all promised they would get?
Being so young, I realize that there are areas of responsibility that will fall outside my expertise. I will not hide from that. However, I can promise you I will not make decisions on topics regarding our schools and our children which fall outside my expertise without consulting the very people of District D as well as counsel from leading individuals with experience in the particular area. I believe that very people of District D elected me to represent them so it would be foolish and ignorant of me not to consult them on issues regarding them. I plan on holding monthly or bi-monthly town hall meetings where you can voice your concerns to me and together we can go to the Board and get problems resolved. For far too long I have watched to current Board of Education shut out great ideas coming from the very people we represent in order for them to follow their own flawed ideals.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Board of Education with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Reynolds: I strongly agree with the decisions and the process recently implemented by the Board of Education in the selection of a new superintendent. When Dr. Tomback announced his resignation in February, 2013, to be effective June 30, 2013, the Board began the process of hiring a new superintendent. The Board had several purposes: to seek meaningful and extensive community input in order to create a profile of the desired candidate; to ensure a transparent and impartial process; and to hire an individual who had the necessary skill set to move the system forward. We announced in February, 2013, that an interim superintendent would be hired for one year; this would allow us sufficient time to conduct a thorough and intensive superintendent search to begin in the fall of 2013. After interviewing several consulting firms, the Board hired Ray and Associates, a nationally renowned firm, in October, 2013 for Phase 1 of the process. Ray and Associates created an on-line survey, facilitated numerous focus group meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders, compiled the results and presented the information to the Board. The overwhelming consensus from all of the data collected was to offer the interim superintendent, Mrs. Barbara Canavan, a four year contract effective July 1, 2015, rather than extend the process to Phase 2 which would have entailed a nationwide search.
Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important decisions any school board can make; I thoroughly agree with the thoughtful, deliberate process that was created and implemented by this Board that led to the decision to hire our current superintendent.
Scholz: I overwhelmingly support the board decision to hire Ms. Barbara Canavan. I am so glad that we did not let her get away from Harford County as others have.
Simon: An issue that I feel very strongly about is the Common Core curriculum that is being pushed nationwide and is set to be implemented here in Harford County. The new, so called, “standards” are completely substandard and if we allow this type of mindless drudgery to infest our school system we can kiss a generation of great minds good bye. The only reason this new curriculum is finding its ways into our school systems is because of the promise of federal money that schools will receive by agreeing to implement these new standards. Not only do these new standards alienate anyone who may have an opposing view point of a topic, but the overall process of implementation will end up costing the schools more money to meet the needs of the new curriculum than the amount of federal money they would receive for it. Common Core is a lose-lose for Harford County.
Weerasooriya: Last year, the Board of Education, along with the County Executive and County Council, passed a budget, which cut 46 teachers, no increase in teacher salaries and the establishment of Pay for Play for our children. Despite pledges from these elected officials that education was their top priority, the budget was still passed.
This issue prompted my desire to run for the District D seat on the Board of Education. I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch what was happening within my county. Cutting teachers and freezing their salaries for another year is a disgrace to this county as well as to the county’s students. The fact that Nancy Reynolds, the President of the Harford County Board of Education, supported this along with other Board members is an explanation as to why teacher morale is at an all-time low.
The Board of Education must not only be charged with protecting and enhancing our education curriculum and our teachers, but also protecting and enhancing our rewarding extracurricular activities. Not only do our kids learn valuable life lessons from these activities, they will also develop lifelong friends and memories. How could the current Board of Education even consider passing such a reform in the mist of such fiscal trouble many families are experiencing across our district and our county?
Dagger: Maryland school boards are charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Hiring the superintendent, setting capital and operating budget priorities, determining school attendance boundaries, and formulating school policies. Looking ahead, what issues within the board’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Reynolds: Two areas that are of intense interest to me as an individual Board member are setting capital and operating budget priorities and formulating policy; both have a profound impact on the quality of education within our school system.
It is vital that the HCPS Board of Education provides an adequate salary and benefits package that will attract and retain highly qualified teachers and staff. Studies have shown that there are numerous factors that contribute to high student achievement; foremost, however, is the parent and then the classroom teacher. In the past few years, our neighboring counties have been able to compensate their teachers at a higher rate than HCPS; regretfully, we are losing and will continue to lose teachers and staff if we are unable to offer competitive wages.
Technology requests are addressed in the capital budget; our needs are great in this area because of the increased demand for the use of technology with the implementation of Common Core and the PARCC assessments as well as the underfunding of technology in previous budget cycles. Every student in every school deserves the opportunity to access technology throughout his/her daily classroom instruction.
Adequate funding for our students and our staff is a top priority; I will continue to advocate on their behalf with our funding authorities and with our community.
Reviewing, revising and creating policy are major components of the job responsibilities of a Board member. I chair the Policy Review Committee which meets regularly and I encourage our community to review and comment on these policies when they are discussed in open meetings and posted on the HCPS web site. These policies drive the operation of our schools.
Scholz: Setting budgets that allow us to maintain our high standard as well as develop a the technical programs for all our students to have a wide variety of options and reasons to stay in school. We need to develop strong funding streams so that we can keep our schools strong.
Simon: Among the top issues facing the board I feel as though I would be best suited to take on the task of setting capital and operating budget priorities and also formulating school policy. I am well versed in budget management and my common sense approach to policy makes my skill sets an excellent match for the Board of Education.
• Unfreeze teacher salaries and give the raises they deserve and were originally promised
• Include sufficient funds within the budget so teachers will never have to spend their own hard earned money on supplies for their classrooms.
• Place a police officer in every school in order to insure the safety and protection of our children.
• Increase of funding for after school programs in order to ease the schedules of working parents by ensuring that their children has a safe environment to play and complete homework.
• Include a basic financial class in high schools in order to prepare our children on how to budget their earnings, how to file taxes and the basics of stock market and wise investments.
• Research methods and launch pilot programs into incorporating vocational schooling tracks into our high schools.
• Launch a task force into how to intrinsically motivate our middle/high school students and determine the best strategies on implementation of the findings.
The freezing of teacher’s salaries over the last several years is an outrageous act that has been committed by our current Board of Education. Teachers who have signed contracts, which guarantees step raises, have been lied to. I intend to restore the faith and our word that was originally given to our teachers by the current Board of Education. Not only will teacher’s morale steadily rise after they have been at an all-time low, higher teacher salaries will attract the very best teachers from other counties and states and make Harford County Schools the best in the state and the prime example for other counties.
Adequate Funds for Classroom Supplies
When I was a student four years ago, I heard an appalling amount of stories regarding teachers using their own salaries for purchasing markers and other essential supplies for their classrooms so they can effectively educate their students. The current Board of Education, in addition to the state and local government, constantly proclaim how much they support our teachers and then in practice and don’t provide adequate funds for basic items such as markers or chalk. This hypocrisy must end and once I am elected to the Board, I will end it.
Police Officers in Every School
The issue of school safety has become an essential issue following the horrific events at Sandy Hook and other schools around the country. By placing a police officer in every school, it will help ensure public confidence in the safety of the children. Additionally, these officers can work in order to promote a safe and healthy school environment by ensuring a drug free environment as well as an atmosphere of reduced violence. If schools within the city can supply their public schools with police officers for student protection, then there is no reason why Harford County should not adopt this concept as well.
Since a student finishes his or her day before their parent(s) complete their workday, afterschool programs have become essential. However, inadequate funds have been appropriated to these programs, which makes it harder for the program to achieve its full potential. With more funds flowing into afterschool programs, more students will have the opportunity to participate, allowing them to safely play on school grounds and complete their homework and giving their parents peace of mind that their child is in a safe environment.
Another concept that I have been researching and would like to implement is a basic financial class designed to teach our high school students the importance of budgeting their money and financially planning ahead. A complete understanding of the concept of credit will be taught and the importance of maintaining a good score is. Other topics will include step-by-step procedures on how to file taxes, as well as how to fill out a FAFSA form. An understanding of the stock market and how to wisely invest and research stocks and other ventures will be included in this class as well.
Schools should not only teach our children the concepts of math, science, reading and writing, but should prepare them for other aspects of life. One of these aspects should be understanding the financial system and how to properly budget thusly protecting them from falling into debt and the stress of having financial problems.
Vocational Schooling Track
Vocational schools greatly enhance an individual’s prospects of finding employment right out of high school. It is worth researching into various methods of incorporating vocational schools within our high schools. This would mean a student will have the opportunity to continue down their respective academic track, or they can switch tracks into the vocational classes.