Fourteen vying for three seats on school board

Jim Adams

70, Ellicott City, retired auditor and accountant, three-time former candidate for District 9 seat in Maryland Senate

The focus of Jim Adams' campaign is simple: the student.

"That's the most important thing," he said. "I'd like to develop an individual that has a lifelong love of learning, with a critical mind, who is willing to be creative."

Curriculum is the most important aspect in developing that student, Adams said, and teachers are also a component.

"We have to find the most excellent teachers," he said. "That's the most critical part, but excellence isn't quantifiable. It's subjective, not objective."

There's a need, Adams said, to get away from concentrating on test scores and focus more on the liberal arts. The system has to perform at a higher level, Adams said, in order to produce students who are capable of success in a globally competitive environment.

"Financial incentives should be used, as far as (teachers') own performance in class," Adams said. "And if we find schools in the county that aren't doing so well, we have to find people that might want to move to those schools, if we make it reasonable for them."

Adams supports meaningful community engagement and a more open board.

"When decisions are made, the board has to inform the parents, the residents, the community of those decisions. But more than that, they have to explain to the community why those decisions were made," he said.

In addressing student success, Adams said it was important to look at a micro level, on a one-on-one basis.

"There are limited resources, but one-on-one is influential," Adams said. "The kids want to know that you care about them. That's why projects like Black Student Achievement Program are good: It's one-on-one. It's about people.

"The system should be able to provide every student with one moment, a light bulb moment."

Corey Andrews

17, Elkridge, senior at Howard High School

As a student, Corey Andrews sees the problems in the school system day in and day out, and he wants to bring that perspective to the Board of Education.

One of the problems, Andrews said, is behavioral. Bad behavior and disrespect disrupt class time, he said, but instilling respect and responsibility earlier could help ease that problem.

"In high school and middle school, teachers talk about respect in every class, so it becomes a habit," Andrews said. "If students are misbehaving at the elementary level and we teach them about respect, by the time they grow up it's going to be in their mind, remembering those lessons that they were taught."

As a student in Elkridge, Andrews said he also sees the impact of overcrowding, such as packed classrooms and hallways, which can exacerbate behavioral issues. The board, he said, should be addressing over-capacity schools with more foresight.

"We're not planning far enough ahead when it comes to things like school construction, or looking far enough down the road for new school sites," he said.

Andrews said he would like to see a renewed focus on career education, or what is traditionally known as vo-tech. There aren't enough options for students who want to take that path, he said.

"More can be based out of the individual school, instead of the (Applications and Research Lab in Ellicott City)," Andrews said. "More basic classes can be school-based, like the culinary arts, which would free up space at ARL for things like automotive ports."

Andrews criticized the culture of teaching to the test, saying teachers should focus more on students fully comprehending what they're being taught.

"We should set our own goals for ourselves," he said. "Bring in educators and administrators to figure out how to evaluate ourselves without using test scores."

Bob Ballinger

45, Ellicott City, congressional staffer for Rep. Joe Pitts, a Republican from Pennsylvania; two-time former board candidate, Special Education Citizen Advisory Council member, Howard County Autism Society member, Operating Budget Review Committee member

Making sure every student receives a quality education is at the top of Bob Ballinger's list of priorities, along with fiscal responsibility and making sure parents' and teachers' concerns are heard.

Ballinger, who ran in 2004 and 2010, said he had no plans to run for the board again. But he was prompted by what he considers the current board's dysfunction, and its unwillingness to allow parents and teachers to be more involved in decisions..

"For some reason, our board today believes that the central staff and the direction of the superintendent is the way things should go," he said. "They seem to believe in their recommendations over those of the teachers in the classrooms."

There is also a growing need to be more fiscally responsible, Ballinger said, especially considering an anticipated revenue problem and the possible shift of teacher pension costs to the county level.

"We cannot have a budget that spends more money each year than what the average citizen's rise in income is, or a budget that's more than what the county government can afford," Ballinger said. "I'm not saying 'cut, cut, cut,' but we have to evaluate our programs and make decisions of what's best for the students."

The board needs to work better together, Ballinger said, and that can be done through compromise and cooperation.

"I'm willing and able to give and take, as long as I believe that the outcome is good for all," he said. "You have to understand that compromise is important."

Ballinger said that if he's elected he will seek input from all stakeholders before making a decision.

"I listen first, and make a decision based on the information given me," he said.

Olga Butler

35, Elkridge, Long Reach High School Booster president, Long Reach High School PTA member, Inter-Scholastic Athletic Advisory Council member

The need for collaboration and cohesion on the school board is one of the reasons Olga Butler decided to run for the Howard County Board of Education.

"The board needs to work together as a team," she said. "We all have a common goal for the students of Howard County. Working together is a big challenge because if we can do that, we can then talk about all the other issues, like instituting effective policies and programs. Those things can be done with better working relationships, between the board and the system, and educators and parents."

Input from the community is also important, Butler said.

"Board members would be able to respond better to the community through effective communication and team work if they collaborated with members of that community," Butler said. "We would be able to meet the goal of providing the students with a quality education."

Part of providing such an education, Butler said, is through programs like the Black Student Achievement Program and the elementary world language pilot, which she wants expanded. But it's not always clear if a program is working or not, she said, and the board needs to be able to evaluate a program's effectiveness.

"Some programs are working, and they're good programs that should stay in effect," Butler said. "Others may not be working for various reasons, and we may not have the data to prove why or why not. I'd like to see the system have some way to measure the success of programs and policies."

Making sure every student receives a quality education is a priority of Butler's, she said, and she understands the need for standardized testing — to a point.

"Tests have such a weight on students' grades," she said. "But every student is not a test-taker."

Ann De Lacy

61, Columbia, retired Howard County teacher, former Howard County Education Association president, Operating Budget Review Committee member, Harpers Choice Village Board member

Because the schools belong to the community, the board must work toward better transparency, better collaboration and better education, Ann De Lacy believes.

In closing the achievement gap among students from different backgrounds, De Lacy said, the board and system must look at data from sources other than standardized tests.

"It's almost as if the county doesn't know how to do a scientific study," De Lacy said. "What's the data relating to the Black Student Achievement Program? How did the BSAP effect student achievement? There are no real metrics as far as I can see, other than AP exams or standardized tests."

De Lacy said she would also like to push for universal pre-kindergarten for students at age 3, better career education and more e-learning.

"We need to do distance learning, for more access to AP tests, for more opportunities and more access," she said. "We could do so much."

A more open process with more interaction with the community is needed for the system to move forward, De Lacy said.

"I would look at things from a broader perspective," De Lacy said. "I would ask for everyone's input, not just (central office) staff. ...You can't fix something unless you know what the problems are."

De Lacy would like to see students take fewer standardized tests.

"The kids don't like school (as a result of the tests) and we're not challenging them in the ways they need to be challenged," she said.

The board and system need to re-think the approach to education and be more innovative, De Lacy said.

"We should challenge the federal government; we should challenge the Maryland State Department of Education," she said. "We need to be challenging. We need to think out of the box."

Allen Dyer

64, Ellicott City, lawyer, current Board of Education member, former River Hill High School Boosters teen driver safety coordinator, former forward air controller combat pilot, former U.S. Air Force Academy flight instructor

Allen Dyer's platform is the same now as it was when he was elected to the Board of Education: closing the achievement gap, focusing more on vocational education and fighting for transparency on the board and in school system.

For the first time, Dyer said, he is not worried about name recognition in a campaign. Now, he said, the public can judge him on his record, of which he is proud. He said he would continue working toward greater transparency within the board and school system, something he did even before he was on the board.

"That's something that I believe in as a citizen — you don't have to be a board member to do that," Dyer said. "But being a board member offers a different perspective on how flawed the operation is, so you can do more."

In regards to the achievement gap, Dyer said resources must be moved around to address the persistent issue.

"The kids that need the better teachers aren't getting the better teachers," Dyer said. "We have to provide some sort of incentive to teachers to get them to the students that need them. ... If you're going to be serious about the achievement gap, you have to move the better teachers around."

Recess and related arts are portions of the school day that must be protected, Dyer said. In addition, he said, he has always believed in manual skills training — like vocational education — which he said is overlooked in national programs and curricula.

"I see a failure to address the physical needs of our body, working with our hands," Dyer said. "The idea of doing things with your hands in a directed, focused manner teaches you how to exist in the physical world. ... We don't have that embedded into the curriculum in the way it should be."

David Gertler

49, Ellicott City, former Board of Education candidate, adjunct professor of mathematics at Towson University, former technology executive, electrical engineer and crypto-mathematician

Technology is poised to transform the way education is consumed and delivered, David Gertler said. The only questions are how soon and how well, and whether there are people on the board who understand technology's capabilities.

"We have a lot of technology in use in the classroom right now, and that's good," Gertler said. "But in the future, there will be a real transformation ... it's not the technology that limits us. It's the policies, it's our willingness to adapt to change and address the very important consequences of that change."

Gertler said he has the experience and background needed to help address those changes. Many possibilities exist for technology in the classroom, Gertler said, and he wants to help build a plan to use them.

Teachers could individualize learning even further, tailoring lessons to the specific needs of each student with tools like self-correcting homework that adjusts to and addresses students' strengths and weaknesses, Gertler said.

"This is not fantasy," Gertler said. "We could have this in place quickly."

Innovations in technology can even address issues like school overcrowding, Gertler said.

"We're still behind the curve," he said. "We still have schools that are significantly overcrowded and others that are under capacity. There is no one perfect solution, but it's about building better projecting models that give you greater insight into what's coming down the road, and then acting on those in advance."

New programs combine learning with fun, and if those programs are implemented, Gertler said, education would become more interactive and engaging, which would in turn raise the level of achievement for all students.

"If you can engage kids — regardless of their backgrounds — and you can inspire them and get them excited in a productive, educational way, the bar will be raised for all of them," Gertler said.

Ellen Giles

61, North Laurel, editor and analyst for McGraw Hill, current Board of Education member, policy and audit committees chairwoman, PTA Council of Howard County liaison

Waves of reform are coming to education, and Ellen Giles wants to be part of the work that still needs to be done to prepare students for the future.

"This is a seminal moment," she said. "We're looking at huge changes as we position ourselves to be world-class."

Part of moving the system forward, Giles said, is to raise the standards for everyone, and to do that, the system has to know what tools and supports have to be in place. One of those tools, Giles said, is standardized testing.

"Think about tests being a minimal threshold," she said. "You don't want any teacher teaching to the minimum. You want everyone to be reaching beyond and farther, but at the very least, we want students to be proficient in these particular skills and these standards."

Every person needs to be able to read, write and do basic math, Giles said; for example, a person can't pass the apprenticeship test to become an electrician without knowing the skills taught in Algebra 2.

Another asset of standardized testing, Giles said, is that such tests provide a way to measure and compare the success of county students to students across the world.

"How will we know if we compare if there's no metric?" Giles said. "But still, those tests are bottom line — I hope students exit with the confidence in their own skills."

Gains are being made in narrowing the achievement gap, Giles said, and it must continue to narrow. Personal connections and individual assessments can help address the issue, she said.

"We have high expectations for each child," Giles said. "There are unique challenges for every child, and we need to find out what they need to get them where they need to go."

Patricia Gordon

87, Ellicott City, former Board of Education member 2000-2010, former Maryland Association of Boards of Education chairwoman

A concern about infighting and bickering on the current Board of Education was enough to draw Patricia Gordon out of retirement, she said.

"There's a lack of focus," she said. "What we should be focusing on is the education of our children. I never hear board members talk about their curriculum."

A tense environment on the board should be calmed, Gordon said, and she said she could be that calming influence.

"If someone says a controversial thing, there should not be a response because one thing leads to another and things escalate," she said. "Anything like that should be put aside to be discussed in private. A public business meeting is no place to discuss personal problems."

Gordon said she feels she would be an asset to the board because of her knowledge of the county and her ability to work will with central office staff.

"There isn't attention paid to the reports given by staff," she said. "Instead of asking how plans can be improved, (board members) point out what staff has done wrong. I have a good relationship with staff. I've worked closely with them. I haven't looked for their weaknesses, but instead applaud their strengths."

Gordon said she has spent much time in county schools, and has never seen a teacher "teaching to the test," a practice several candidates and current board members have condemned.

"I don't know what they mean by that," Gordon said. "Teachers aren't standing in front of the class drilling the test into students' heads."

It is necessary to teach every child according to his or her strengths, Gordon said.

"It starts in the classroom," Gordon said. "Take an interest in the students, and they will take an interest in you. Especially in the elementary school, (teacher interest) forms a basis of mutual understanding and respect."

Owen Hanratty

BIO: 35, Ellicott City, former candidate for Baltimore City Council, Ellicott City Business Association member, Cacao Lane Restaurant owner

If elected to the Board of Education, Owen Hanratty said he would like to see a focus on special education and a better economics curriculum.

Hanratty said one of his biggest priorities would be establishing a stand-alone high school financial literacy class that would be required for graduation, and focusing on such instruction throughout elementary and middle school as well.

"Financial literacy is so important," Hanratty said. "It's helped me my entire life, it's what's on the news every day, and it's so important to understand."

Hanratty said he'd also like help improve interaction between the board and the community.

"The largest program the board is facing right now is that of public perception," he said. "That's the number one thing I hear from voters, and I would like to help change that. No one should fight like that in public."

The system needs to prepare itself better for the Common Core standards being mandated by the state, Hanratty said, which are supposed to take effect this upcoming school year.

"There haven't been programs to address that," he said. "We need to focus on the deadline for things we know are coming. ... I think the core is a good thing, overall, but it's something different, and we don't know how to react to it yet. It's like getting used to anything new: We have to figure it out."

Striking a compromise between individualized learning and ensuring student success on mandated tests may be a long process, Hanratty said, if it's a matter of keeping every student on the same level — even those falling behind and those going beyond expectations. However, Hanratty said, the right educators can strike the correct balance to make sure every student succeeds.

"There are creative teachers and creative administrators who can teach to the test and cover their own curriculum," he said. "It's a compromise, but you can do both."

Leslie Kornreich

39, Hanover, former Board of Education candidate, former Spanish teacher, served on Elementary World Language Committee

The central theme of Leslie Kornreich's candidacy for the Board of Education is personalizing education.

"The board has to have a long-term vision for how to best serve the student," Kornreich said.

Kornreich said she would like to the see the system move away from teaching to the test and bring back a more well-rounded curriculum.

"We should give our kids choices as to what they're focusing their studies on, to include vocational education and specialty programs," Kornreich said. "Programs that don't require prerequisites, programs that aren't labeled as G/T, would expand the menu of choices."

Schools are moving in the direction of "one-size-fits-all" education, Kornreich said, as more and more standardized tests are mandated. Personalized education is key, and technology can help, Kornreich said.

"Individual applications, mobile devices in classrooms can move us from the model we're stuck in," Kornreich said. "Let students use the media they learn best with."

As a resident of Hanover, and mother of two students, one at Elkridge Elementary and one at Howard High School, Kornreich said she has seen the effects of the overcrowding in the region. She said more foresight is needed on the part of the board and the school system.

"You can only put so many students in a building and make it manageable," she said. "Route 1 used to be the only issue, but overcrowding is reaching across the county."

Increasing technology and easing overcrowding would also have an impact on achievement, Kornreich said.

"Overcrowding, increasing class size, impedes the ability of teachers to differentiate instruction," she said. "And one of the big answers to the multifaceted question of achievement is using technology to personalize education. If each student is allowed to learn on their own and at their own pace, they'll succeed more."

Mary Jo Neil

50, West Friendship, former board of directors for National PTA, former bylaws and policy chairwoman for National PTA, former Maryland Parent Advisory Council member, Maryland Alliance for Family Involvement in Education co-founder

Ensuring community input is heard and focusing the educational system on the child are the two main concerns of Mary Jo Neil's campaign.

She believes she knows how to help accomplish both.

"If there's an issue, let's find out what the community thinks, but let's look across the country, too," Neil said. "Let's find out what's worked. Tap into these resources that are there. And I have those resources in my background, and a desire to incorporate parent and community involvement at the decision-making level."

No one knows a child better than their own parent, Neil said, so parents should be involved in creating a more individualized learning system.

"Kids all have their own motivations, and working with them and their parents to find that motivation and encourage them, their skill levels and strengths, that will work," she said.

It's hard to accept, that students are graduating from Howard County schools and then being forced to take remediation classes at college, Neil said. Schools should offer a wide range of opportunities while still providing a strong core foundation, she said.

"Whatever grade you're at, get through it and get through it well so you'll be comfortable and have a strong foundation for the next year," she said. "It's about encouraging teachers and working with them to encourage them to find new ways to reach kids."

All students, she said, need a solid foundation — especially the ones "in the middle," not in special needs or gifted and talented students.

"Some students struggle," she said. "We need to find a way to reach the students to help them believe in themselves."

Jackie Scott

45, Columbia, Atholton High School and Clemens Crossing Middle School PTAs, founding member of Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club of Howard County, Health Law and Policy instructor at Georgetown University Law Center, Business Leadership and Organizational Development Instructor at Nyack College

Jackie Scott is running for the Board of Education on a platform of access, accountability and achievement.

The factors needed for all three to happen, Scott said, include discourse with the community and parental involvement.

"There should be a call for accountability at every level of the school system," Scott said. "From the board, staff, teachers, parents and students."

The role of the board, Scott said, is to ensure that policies are being developed and implemented that allow students to achieve at their highest level. Part of achievement, Scott said, is for students to have equitable access to the resources they need to succeed.

"You can be No. 1, and still have kids that are left behind or not prepared," Scott said. "It's important to close the achievement and resource gaps that exist."

Flexible curriculum development would help, she said , as would more individualized student attention as a result of that flexibility.

"We have to engage students where they are," Scott said. "We have to figure out how to balance the need for students to have access to resources, and measure how kids are progressing with their various learning styles and strengths."

Board members, Scott said, should seek ways to be innovative with technology and curriculum, but should move forward with the caution necessary to prevent just following trends.

"There should be careful, measured understanding — so the system doesn't leave people behind in a rush to meet the next change in the curriculum," she said.

Scott said she wants to have an impact on the future of education in Howard County, with the help of the community, parents and teachers.

"I'm willing to spend the time," Scott said. "I'm willing to listen."

Janet Siddiqui

50, Clarksville, Board of Education member since 2007, former board chairwoman and vice-chairwoman, office medical director for pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Odenton facility, part-time faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

The well-being of the whole child — including the child's education, health and future — is the focus of Janet Siddiqui's bid to be re-elected to the Board of Education.

"A pediatrician can bring a different perspective for the whole child," Siddiqui said. "A perspective for the developmental, social, cognitive and emotional aspects and challenges that students face."

Siddiqui said she would like to see the creation of a nutritionist or wellness coordinator to look over the school system's wellness policies, and wants increased physical activity integrated into the high school schedule.

As for narrowing the achievement gap among students of different backgrounds, she said expanded preschool opportunities and early interventions could help.

"If you catch students early, set better foundations, you have a better outcome," she said. "We've known a lot of that, and community groups — like HeadStart — do help. ... We have to maintain the successes we've made, but take it to the next level."

Balance is also important in eliminating the gap: a balance between the right leaders, highly qualified teachers and elected officials, Siddiqui said.

"Students see role models in teachers, and I'd like to see more African American males as teachers in the system," Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui said she would also like students to learn languages needed in government and business, like Chinese and Arabic, as well as the Romance languages traditionally taught in schools. In addition, she wants a renewed focus on art, incorporating an "A" in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives.

"With STEAM, we could use critical thinking skills and creativity to help all students succeed," she said. "These are things like art projects as experiments in elementary science classes, music in physical education — things that make learning fun for students."

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