Latest in a series of school board candidate profiles.
In her run for a third term on the Howard County Board of Education, Ellen Giles brings more than 25 years of experience in Howard County schools to her campaign.
Giles, 62, of North Laurel, has been involved in Howard County schools first as a PTA member, then on the Community Advisory Council for 16 years.
In her second term on the Board, she has served as chairperson from 2010-2011. Currently, she serves as the board's liaison to the PTA Council of Howard county, as well as the chairwoman of the board's policy and audit committees.
Giles believes the wealth of institutional knowledge she has is an asset.
"I think part of that is also the nature of my work," said Giles, who is an editor and analyst of energy for a division of McGraw-Hill. "I'm an analyst, and I assess all pieces that play into a different scenario, from financial to personal. ... I think part of it is my nature, and part of it is my general interest (in the schools)."
Her participation in dozens of committees as a volunteer led her to run for the board for 2006.
"Education is critically important," Giles said. "It's the most important thing we do as a society in preparing the next generation. But it's shared responsibility, with people in the community. It's something we all need to work together on to ensure the best outcome. It means, for me, learning as much as I can as to what can make a difference, and what's going on and where we're going."
Giles' campaign treasurer and long-time supporter, Joan Lancos, called Giles' progression to the school board a "natural progression."
"She can tell you — from policy to procedure, anything the board does — how it will affect everything else across the board, in a broader perspective," Lancos said. "She's in the schools as much as possible because she's genuinely interested. She's not just talking the talk, she's walking the walk."
If re-elected, Giles said she wants to continue to focus on building partnerships with the community — especially when it comes to community programs that already exist.
"Especially in hard times, we have to leverage the programs we already have," she said.
Giles was part of the board that signed on the controversial Race to the Top program in 2010, but Giles said the "jury is still out" on the program's effectiveness, and by signing on early, the county was helping set the standards nationwide, and not just county students.
Giles also wants to help the system move forward into the digital age, with the caveat that technology is a problem-solving tool in education, and not the solved problem itself. Learning how to use technology is more applicable if a student is learning how to do something with it, in context, Giles said.
"It's not just about having the technology, it's saying, how do I use it in situations, to solve particular problems, to convey my message most effectively, or to reach my objective," Giles said. "It's not about using, it's about applying the skills and knowledge you have to do something."
That extends to all skills and lessons taught in school, Giles said, which is key to preparing students for life after graduation. And when it comes to teachers and students alike, it's about "finding the right fit, for what works for each child and each teacher."
"We have to support our teachers, too, to make sure they're getting what they need," she said.
The school system can do a better job of providing opportunities for students, Giles said, in areas like webinars and supervised online learning, with a teacher facilitating a digital classroom. That would create more leveraged, equitable offerings for classes, Giles said.
"It's about options, building things that will work for different kids," Giles said.
Giles said community involvement and parental interaction are key in ensuring students' success, through initiatives like the Black Student Achievement Program, and better communication with parents. Something as simple as posting each school's improvement plan on that school's website, which she said she helped do, helps.
"You have to let people know what's happening," Giles said. "We can't do it all separately. ...You have to communicate."