Candidate profile: Communication, collaboration and advocacy center of McLaughlin's campaign

Editor's note: On March 9, Michael McLaughlin announced the suspension of his campaign. Below is a profile posted before that announcement was made. Read about McLaughlin's decision here.

Michael McLaughlin has been a long-time advocate for students inPrince George's Countyand now, he's taking his message of communication and collaboration to the campaign trail for the second time, as he again vies for the District 1 seat on thePrince George's CountyBoard of Education.

McLaughlin, 58, lives in Laurel with his wife and two of his three children, and said his journey as an advocate for all students began with just one child: his younger daughter, Erin, who is 14 and has Down syndrome.

"I realized very early that the best way to advocate for Erin is to advocate for all kids," he said. "That's what it's all about, when it comes down to it: making good things happen for the students."

McLaughlin, who is a former neighborhood columnist for the Laurel Leader, currently serves on the Maryland Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition; and from 2003 to 2005, he served on the Maryland State Department of Education's Maryland Parents Advisory Council. He is now involved in an offshoot of that council, the Superintendent's Family Involvement Council.

He is also the chair of thePrince George's CountyDisability Issues Advisory Board, which advises the Board of Education, and was chair of the county's Special Education Citizens' Advisory Committee. He also serves on the board of directors for the Arc of Maryland and the Arc ofPrince George's County.

Because of his ongoing advocacy work, the Arc ofPrince George's Countyhonored McLaughlin with the 2011 Award of Excellence in Advocacy.

McLaughlin and another 2012 primary candidate, David Murray, both ran in District 1 in 2010, but McLaughlin lost in the primary. Out of seven primary candidates, McLaughlin came in fifth with 10.55 percent of the votes. With a smaller field of candidates, and the support of former candidate Chonya Johnson and current District 1 school board member Rosalind Johnson, McLaughlin said that by default, his odds are better this time around.

Still, he said, he was hesitant to run again — at least at first.

"(After 2010) I decided I wasn't going to run again, but I was encouraged by people who I admire and respect," McLaughlin said. "It's like starting from scratch, but I had always had the question — even before I decided to run — of what would it be like to an advocate on the inside (of the system), as well as the outside?"

His work advocating for students has parlayed into what McLaughlin said he sees as his biggest strength: the ability to communicate and collaborate.

"There's no individual authority for school board members — it's all about authority as a team, as a group," he said. "You have to be able to communicate and collaborate and come to a consensus to make good decisions. That's what advocacy is about."

Beyond the collaboration that should occur between board members, McLaughlin said, is a need to engage the public for its input as well.

"I've been banging that drum for quite a while," he said. "We need more reaching out to the public and in the way of technology. We can do more than what we're doing now. To improve communication is to improve trust in the school system."

There's a story to be told in the school system, McLaughlin said, and currently, it's not being told well.

"We don't do a good job of telling our story to the parents and people inside the county, and outside the county," he said. "There are good things that are being done, whether it's the fact that high school students can take classes at Prince George's Community College and graduate with a high school diploma and two-year associate's degree or college credits beyond (Advanced Placement) classes, or the (Universal Design for Learning) leadership happening in the county."

UDL is a framework that encourages and accommodates flexible, individual learning styles, and McLaughlin has long been a supporter of its principles for his daughter and other students.

"Special education is a microcosm of all education," he said. "You see the same issues going on, the lack of trust and the importance of getting information to parents."

Communicating with parents, McLaughlin said, is more than getting out the "good news." It's also a way to encourage them to participate in their child's education.

"If they're participating — if they're empowered — people will have a better idea of what's going on in the school," he said.

"It's a constant difficulty to keep parents involved. But it starts with information. They have to know what's going on in the schools."

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