Sporting a Maryland flag bow tie and carrying a Diane Ravitch paperback under his arm, Mike Smith says education today isn't nearly as rigorous as it should be.
"Rigor has been distilled in the school system, it's not as demanding as it could be," said Smith, one of 13 candidates for four open seats on the Howard County Board of Education. "I think we underestimate the ability of our children to learn."
Smith, an Ellicott City resident, is an attorney in Towson representing and advising companies in employment and labor law matters. He's practiced law for nearly 40 years.
Smith, 65, said his run for the Board stems from a lifelong interest in education, which originated from work as a student at Colgate University and the fact that his parents were the first in their families to go to college.
"I've always viewed education as a great equalizer," he said.
The Indiana native has three grown children, two of which graduated from Centennial High School.
Although his children attended Howard County schools, Smith said he's "not sure" about the education his children received.
"I don't think they did enough homework as I would have expected," he said. "They all played sports, but I think more could have been expected of them."
Smith considered a run for the Board of Education in 2010 before he accepted a position with the American University of Afghanistan. For nearly a year, he served as executive assistant to the president, advising on legal issues.
His candidacy for Board of Education represents his first run for political office.
As an attorney, Smith believes he can be an asset to the Board as it grapples with legal issues.
"Because of my background in employment law, obviously, I'm familiar with personnel issues and all the implications of dealing with the union," he said, citing his four years of work with the National Labor Relations Board.
Smith considers himself a "staunch advocate" of the Common Core State Standards.
"I think if done properly, the implementation of the Common Core provides us with a real opportunity to get back on the right track," he said.
In regards to the current disagreement on teacher salaries between the superintendent and the teachers union, Smith said it would be "irresponsible" for the school system to commit to a multi-year contract beyond what is currently budgeted.
"The union has to be realistic about what the superintendent can do," he said.
Smith added that teachers are underpaid in Howard compared to their peers on a national level and he wants teachers to be compensated in a matter that attracts the best educators.
"Teachers ought to be paid commensurate with the role they play in our education system," he said.
Smith said he thinks School Superintendent Renee Foose has been doing a "pretty good job" during her tenure.
Smith believes the school board has a responsibility to educate the public on education issues, one area where he said the current board could improve.
"I hope I'm able to talk about the issues in a productive way and that my candidacy helps educate voters about where we are and where we've got to go," he said.
This is part of a series of profiles of Howard County School Board candidates.