Scott, Neil among school board candidates making first runs at public office

For someone who has never run for public office, Jackie Scott apparently knows how to make an impression on the local electorate.

This week, the Howard County school board candidate from Columbia picked up an endorsement from the Howard County Education Association, her second of the campaign. She was recently endorsed by the African American Coalition of Howard County.

Also receiving endorsements from both groups was first-time candidate Ann De Lacy, the former HCEA president. They are among four of the 14 school board candidates who have never before sought public office; the other two are Mary Jo Neil and Olga Butler.

Said HCEA President Paul Lemle in a statement: "Jackie knows quality education starts with great educators, and that their creativity and innovation come from support from the entire community."

Added Lemle of De Lacy: "No one in the race can touch Ann De Lacy's passion, her advocacy work on behalf of educators, nor her grip on education policy." HCEA also endorsed school board candidate David Gertler.

Scott said of the teachers union endorsement, "I am honored and humbled. From a personal side, my mother is an educator. I grew up going to PTA meetings, teacher meetings and union meetings. I have so much respect for teachers, and to know that they have enough belief and confidence in me to back me in this campaign is a tremendous honor."

Those who have never run for office hope to spur interest among voters in a field that includes three incumbents, returning candidates and candidates who have served in other parts of government. Six of the 14 candidates will advance past the April 3 primary and vie in the November general election for the three open seats on the board.

"Having a lot of candidates, I'm sure we start sounding alike after a while," said Neil. "It's going to be very hard for voters to really hone it. I hope they do, so that the county is able to have the best representation, the best school board that we could possibly have."

Scott is an adjunct professor of health law and policy at the Georgetown University Law Center; she also earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the school. She has served as a member of the Howard County zoning Board of Appeals and on the senior leadership team of the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Scott said that though she has never run for public office, her background in public policy and advocating for children and parents has enabled her to connect with voters in public forums and one-on-one conversations.

"Everybody who runs for public office has reasons for running," said Scott, "but when it comes to something like the school board, I think people really want to know you genuinely care about and are willing to fight for the children and families that the system serves every day.

"I've just tried my best to present that authenticity to them," Scott said, "and I think people recognize that I am trying to bring a rational and objective view to this work, coupled with the passion that I'm committed to working hard."

Neil said she aims to get across to voters her more than a dozen years of experience working on PTAs as well as participating on the Maryland Parent Advisory Council, where she was chair of the subcommittee on education. She helped address concerns about parent involvement at state and local levels of education.

"We advocated for having a parent on the state board of education," said Neil, "because having that relative parent helps understanding of the decisions you're making at the state or the county board level." She said the council also recommended that two or more parents serve on education-related committees.

"I understand how groups work," Neil said. "I do have a ninth-grader in school, and it's always wonderful to have a kid in school because they open up your eyes and give you a whole different viewpoint of things you've never considered."

Scott said she grew up in a politically active household and has spent time working for other candidates' campaigns. She believed that this year it was time to forge her own way and was also drawn to run because of the issues the school board will likely face regarding funding.

"I think this has always been in my blood," said Scott. "I'm an advocate at heart. I have been looking at the opportunity to move from the background side to the forefront."

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