Waves of reform are coming to education, and Ellen Giles wants to be part of the work that still needs to be done to prepare students for the future.
"This is a seminal moment," she said. "We're looking at huge changes as we position ourselves to be world-class."
Part of moving the system forward, Giles said, is to raise the standards for everyone, and to do that, the system has to know what tools and supports have to be in place. One of those tools, Giles said, is standardized testing.
"Think about tests being a minimal threshold," she said. "You don't want any teacher teaching to the minimum. You want everyone to be reaching beyond and farther, but at the very least, we want students to be proficient in these particular skills and these standards."
Every person needs to be able to read, write and do basic math, Giles said; for example, a person can't pass the apprenticeship test to become an electrician without knowing the skills taught in Algebra 2.
Another asset of standardized testing, Giles said, is that such tests provide a way to measure and compare the success of county students to students across the world.
"How will we know if we compare if there's no metric?" Giles said. "But still, those tests are bottom line — I hope students exit with the confidence in their own skills."
Gains are being made in narrowing the achievement gap, Giles said, and it must continue to narrow. Personal connections and individual assessments can help address the issue, she said.
"We have high expectations for each child," Giles said. "There are unique challenges for every child, and we need to find out what they need to get them where they need to go."
87, Ellicott City, former Board of Education member 2000-2010, former Maryland Association of Boards of Education chairwoman
A concern about infighting and bickering on the current Board of Education was enough to draw Patricia Gordon out of retirement, she said.
"There's a lack of focus," she said. "What we should be focusing on is the education of our children. I never hear board members talk about their curriculum."
A tense environment on the board should be calmed, Gordon said, and she said she could be that calming influence.
"If someone says a controversial thing, there should not be a response because one thing leads to another and things escalate," she said. "Anything like that should be put aside to be discussed in private. A public business meeting is no place to discuss personal problems."
Gordon said she feels she would be an asset to the board because of her knowledge of the county and her ability to work will with central office staff.
"There isn't attention paid to the reports given by staff," she said. "Instead of asking how plans can be improved, (board members) point out what staff has done wrong. I have a good relationship with staff. I've worked closely with them. I haven't looked for their weaknesses, but instead applaud their strengths."
Gordon said she has spent much time in county schools, and has never seen a teacher "teaching to the test," a practice several candidates and current board members have condemned.
"I don't know what they mean by that," Gordon said. "Teachers aren't standing in front of the class drilling the test into students' heads."
It is necessary to teach every child according to his or her strengths, Gordon said.