Gertler brings focus on STEM to school board run

Latest on a series of school board candidate profiles.

With a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, David Gertler has brought an unusual approach to campaigning in his second run for the Howard County Board of Education.

Gertler, along with colleagues in STEM fields, has been hosting a series of STEM appreciation nights at local libraries and churches, for students and their parents to learn about careers in the field. The idea behind these events, Gertler said, is to create a more service- and student-centered campaign and, ultimately, to inspire students.

"If I wanted to get as many votes as possible, this probably isn't the most efficient way to do this," Gertler said. "But this adds value to individuals' lives, and it adds value to my life, and it's a good thing to do. It's more about quality than quantity. ... This is a chance to really inspire someone, to share a passion or interest and really turn them on to something cool."

Gertler, 50, of Ellicott City, ran for the Board of Education in 2010 but did not get enough votes for the general election. He is an adjunct professor of mathematics at Towson University, a former technology executive, electrical engineer and crypto-mathematician. He said he wanted to share his interest in those fields with students to "re-ignite the wick, get them excited about" STEM.

Three sessions already have been held, and two more are scheduled on Sunday, Oct. 21, 1-2:30 p.m. at the Elkridge Branch Library and 3-4 p.m. at the Glenwood Branch Library.

"David knows that, to succeed in the 21st century global economy, our young people will need a 21st century education, focused on developing each and every student's innate leadership potential," said Jay Bonstingl, of Columbia, a former county teacher and currently an education consultant. "When kids start thinking of themselves as leaders, they step up and become more responsible and more engaged in their academic work. ... When young people get excited about learning, the world becomes their schoolhouse. David's favorite mantra is 'learn, learn, learn,' and I like that very much. Nothing is more important than learning."

If elected to the board, Gertler said he would immediately start working on building relationships with board members to accomplish goals that would benefit the system, including putting together a comprehensive plan about where technology factors into education in a "cost-effective, results-oriented, student-centric way."

Redistricting is another priority, Gertler said, and addressing that issue "is a matter of understanding what the trade-offs are, where the knees in the curves are, and looking at balances. ... We can't ask for 'a plan,' we should have an (analysis of trade-offs)."

When it comes to redistricting, Gertler said he wants to focus on keeping communities together and maintaining continuity and stability.

Issues like teacher evaluations, school and student performance, budgeting and redistricting all have several things in common, Gertler said. Not only do they impact the school system, but all are influenced by metrics and mathematical modeling.

"If you consider budgeting, it's a matter of understanding numbers and being comfortable with the process," Gertler said. "With redistricting, with an over-strained system, how do you provide a fair model that's equitable for all?"

With teacher evaluations and school performance, Gertler said, the answer lies in combining "hard and soft" numbers.

"People talk about the metrics, the average SAT score was X and it went down by Y and teachers are doing Z," he said. "Those are hard metrics, but there are soft metrics, too. How do you capture a teacher being awesome, tutoring students after school, inspiring them?"

The way you measure it is simple, Gertler said: have an administrative team comfortable in providing qualitative, not quantitative feedback.

"You have principals sitting in the classroom, not just filling out forms, but saying 'I like what you did there,' " and creating a network of collaboration and trust among teachers across the county, and not just within their individual schools, Gertler said.

Gertler said he also wanted to help create an environment where teachers were comfortable in taking appropriate, innovative risks when it comes to their work, collaborating even more than they're doing right now.

"It's hard to measure but it all ties back to student performance," he said.

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