Coverage of BCPS has gotten too political

We live in a hyper-partisan age in which politics has oozed its way into every corner of our world. While it’s foolish to assume there are still precious spaces unaffected by political motivations, it’s completely practical and necessary for us to recognize its presence. It is also incumbent upon us to reject its intrusion when possible.The schoolhouse is one of those places.

The New York Times ran a hit piece on Baltimore County Public Schools last week that attempts to paint a picture of our schools which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The article, an opening entry to what the author herself describes as a “riveting series” inspired by her personal views on technology, is evidently a vendetta for those who contributed to it (“How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom,” Nov. 3). The piece discredits the work of the community leaders, charities and educators who are advancing our school system as, to paraphrase, the byproduct of a kickback scheme with technology industry titans. It decries investments into technology and cries foul over the development of partnerships with innovators and resource providers. While logically confounding, it seems somewhat fitting for a once proud organization now struggling to adapt to advances in technology. Perhaps if the Times had attempted to embrace innovation and technology, the sinking ship would not need to depend on injecting politics everywhere it can to help sell more newspapers and stay afloat.

The Baltimore Sun followed suit with a piece of its own. It was rushed to print unwilling to wait for feedback from those involved because their national counterpart had already beat them to print with a story. Clever headlines and misleading language made for great “click bait,” but was a similar disservice to our local educators that presupposes that any interaction with education businesses must be corrupt and evil (“Baltimore County school leaders Verletta White, Dallas Dance were paid by tech industry group,” Nov. 8). I had the chance to speak with many people around the system who were approached or interviewed and each seemed distraught by bully-like questions that were clearly designed to support a narrative rather than attempt to understand the work that these people are undertaking.

Now, this is not to say that criticism of school budgets is not warranted. It’s also not to say that criticism of staff or decisions should be off limits. But at least take a moment to consider the facts. We as a community in Baltimore County have an arduous task upon us. It is an expensive proposition to modernize an aging school system increasingly asked to carry a heavier load as the population and economy changes. It will take support and participation from all stakeholders to make it work and the administration should be listening to all voices. Yes, those voices need to include our nation’s leading minds from technology and other education professionals.

It is absurd to condemn our local educators for participating with industry expert and focus groups to attempt to improve the quality of our programs, resources and approaches. And we should be celebrating if our educators are doing this on their own time, using their own vacation days to do the work and paying for their own travel expenses as not to incur additional expenses for a cash-strapped school system.

Baltimore County Public Schools has served as a model for public school systems across the country for decades. We do not need to apologize for making investments into our classrooms in support of our teachers and students, nor in strengthening our schools through the support of businesses through charitable giving in our local community.

There are 112,000 students in rhe system. Many are just starting their education for the first time as kindergartners this fall. Many others will leave our schools in the spring as they receive hard-earned diplomas. All of them deserve every resource we can afford to provide during the time that they are with us. BCPS committed to investing $200 million into digital resources for our children during their time in our schools and we should be proud of it. It is an announcement to our children and our community that we have their backs in preparing for jobs of the future.

While that sounds like a scary number, that breaks down to roughly $150 per student per year for the duration of their public education. Or, about the same as what the New York Times and Baltimore Sun asks of its readers for subscriptions each year. We’re giving children resources necessary for achieving success with that investment. The papers are apparently using it to pick on educators and the charities that support them. Schools that encourage children to safely “hug” their devices to prevent repair costs and charities that organize fundraisers to raise money for grants and scholarships should be applauded, not mocked.

Shame on you.

It’s been a politically charged year in general, but I can recall few years that have been so partisan for Baltimore County Public Schools. We need to cut it out, and the school board can help us set the tone for doing so immediately before the system is only further politicized by more than half of the board being decided by contested political election for the first time.

For all its noise, former superintendent Dallas Dance’s abrupt departure looks to have provided the school system a blessing in the form of interim-superintendent Verletta White. And regardless of whatever The Sun decided to ignorantly report, Ms. White is universally respected and praised within the local community. The school board should call a vote right now to remove the “interim” status and confirm Ms. White as our superintendent for years to come.

Doing so would be a rejection of politics and a win for our school system. Ms. White is a homegrown talent who was a Baltimore County student, turned teacher, turned administrator who sends her own children to Baltimore County Public Schools. Her commitment to being in Baltimore County long term could not be more clear and her intentions could not appear more genuine. Her use of her vacation time during the past several years is just further proof of it. This is a stark departure from her predecessor, who was long presumed to be a temporary fix before seeking greener pastures. Her vision for the system is one that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone disagree with: We must do a better job on the basics. That starts with stronger culture, cleaner environments and improved literacy.

Should the school board opt to open an executive search for additional options for the position, it will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting and headhunting fees that could be applied to the resources we so desperately need. Should the board not, we’ll watch our homegrown first ever female superintendent become the most sought-after talent in the country.

I hope my fellow residents of Baltimore County will help us to keep the political agendas like the one demonstrated by these articles out of our classrooms. In my opinion, providing a show of support for our incredible leaders like Ms. White is a great place to start.

M. Timothy Bojanowski, Towson

The writer is president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce and board member for the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.

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