With focus on children's health, achievement gap, Siddiqui runs for reelection

Latest in a series of school board candidate profiles.

The next four years are going to be critical for Howard County schools, said Board of Education incumbent Janet Siddiqui.

A new superintendent is at the helm, the federal Common Core Standards — essentially a new curriculum — are being implemented, the achievement gap among different student groups remains and technology is quickly changing education. And, to address these issues, Siddiqui said, the board needs members who can work well with the superintendent, and who understand the issues at all levels.

"What the community needs now is sustained leadership, not a revolution," Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui, 50, of Clarksville, has served on the board since 2007, when she was appointed by County Executive Ken Ulman to a seat left open by current County Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty when she joined the council. Since then, Siddiqui has served as both chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the body.

Siddiqui is the office medical director for pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Odenton facility, and a part-time faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Siddiqui said it was her expertise as a pediatrician that first got her involved in the workings of the Board of Education, when she was consulted about 10 years ago on a policy for automatic defibrillators in the schools.

Her background as a pediatrician is also an asset, Siddiqui said, because she "understands the whole child, the physical, social, emotional, cognitive components."

For example, Siddiqui said, the school system's wellness policy is coming up for review, and she would like to see more focus on nutrition.

"We've had some recommendations come through from the Nutrition Advisory Committee, and I'm hoping those will be incorporated," she said. "I would like to see more physical education in the high schools, in terms of requirements, because right now I believe it's only one required semester freshman year.

"We need to look at what's best for our students. ... We also certainly need to do more for our school cafeteria lunches. (Staff) has done an excellent job, but we need to look more into the details of the presentation and quality of the food, how we can better use the commodities we get from USDA."

There are many areas in which the school system can make great strides, Siddiqui said, especially when it comes to eliminating the achievement gap.

"We have a lot of potential in looking at some of our student groups, and making sure resources are in place," she said. "We need to raise the bar for the Hispanic group, for the African-American group, and set in place those tools to make that possible. We have to make sure the programs are quality, and make sure that we're measuring things to make sure they're effective."

Support is needed at many levels, Siddiqui said, and the schools must work with the community on extended learning programs.

Siddiqui said she wanted to look at universal pre-kindergarten, because "research is showing that if children are identified early as being at risk for learning problems based on socio-economic needs, and we need to get them in earlier."

Siddiqui said she also would like to see a year-round budget process, to foster a more comprehensive understanding among members of the public and the operating budget review committee.

Like the budget, she said she would be interested to see the process of redistricting be extended as well.

Siddiqui described the implementation of the Common Core Standards as exciting and challenging, as it "raises the bar for all students," but also carries the weight of student performance on assessments being used in teacher evaluations.

"I think the way (teacher evaluations) will be set up will be an opportunity for everyone," Siddiqui said. "It's an opportunity for the students to make improvements and an opportunity for a teacher to learn (better practices). We're not penalizing anybody; we're trying to make teachers more effective."

Siddiqui is a member of the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club of Howard County, a group that only endorsed challenger Jackie Scott in the April primary.

But Ethel Hill, president of the club, said she supported Siddiqui.

"Janet's patient, and a good listener, and I think she brings a very good perspective to the board because she's a medical doctor," Hill said. "She brings a look at the whole perspective to the student that no one else brings. I think it's a plus, looking at the whole child."

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