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French seeks fifth term on Howard school board

Candidate is 'very proud' of board's efforts over 20-year tenure

By Blair Ames, bames@tribune.com

7:05 AM EDT, May 29, 2014

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Sandra French has served on the Howard County Board of Education since 1992, a span that includes two six-year terms and two four-year terms.

She did not serve on the Board from 2004 to 2006, but over her 20 years on the Board, French said she is "very proud" of the board's efforts each year.

"In every term, as a board, we accomplished a lot of great things and incrementally, they all built toward this wonderful system that we have," she said.

French, 70, is now one of 12 candidates, and one of two incumbents, seeking one of the four open seats on the seven-member Board of Education. The primary is June 24, where eight of the 12 candidates will advance.

"I just love it so much," she said of serving on the board. "I really do believe in service to the public and of giving back and this community has been so wonderful and giving."

French, a retired educator who started her career as a teacher in Glen Burnie, has served as chairman of the Board of Education four times throughout her tenure, including during the hiring of Superintendent Renee Foose.

French said Foose has done a wonderful job in her nearly first two years, specifically citing her five-year strategic plan Vision 2018: Fulfilling the Promise of Preparation.

"I would like to be there in fulfilling this promise," she said.

She has two grown children, both of whom graduated from the Howard County Public School System.

"My two children prospered here and I would like to see every child prosper," she said.

French, who lives in Ellicott City, called the staff within the Howard County Public School System the "best in the world."

"I'm seeing that firsthand through the simulated congressional hearings," she said of the annual events allowing students to play the role of Congressional scholars, which have been held at county schools in recent weeks.

French said that she is very proud of the teachers' efforts in implementing the Common Core State Standards, but acknowledged that it is still "too much, too soon, too fast."

"The last two years have been very difficult for them [teachers]," she said.

She added that it could not have been slowed down by the school board, as it's part of state and national mandates.

French believes teachers certainly need an increase in compensation, but questioned whether the timing for a multi-year agreement is appropriate.

"Is it right for outgoing board members to promise something that they cannot commit or fulfill," she questioned.

Instead, French prefers the school board and teachers union negotiate a one-year pact and next year work with the new county executive and possible new county council members on a muilt-year deal.

Something French has been interested in for quite some time is creating parent volunteer space within each school building, providing a space for PTA files and a place to lock up valuables or supplies when in the school.

"We owe them that respect," she said. "We couldn't do it without the parents."

After 20 years on the Board, French says she is still as committed to public service and to serving each child as ever.

"To some people, [this] sounds like platitudes, but I live it and I really like people, so I enjoy visiting the schools, meeting the parents, listening to the teachers and learning from them so that I can help implement or decide policy in a more effective way."

This is part of a series of profiles of Howard County School Board candidates.