The field of candidates for the Carroll County Board of Education race in 2020 is set.
With the Jan. 24 filing deadline now passed, five candidates will vie for two seats on the board. The primary is scheduled for April 28 to narrow the field to four before the November election.
Both incumbents, board President Donna Sivigny and board Vice President Marsha B. Herbert, are running for re-election. They are being challenged by former board member Virginia R. Harrison, who served from 2008 to 2018, Mary Kowalski, and Stephanie R. Brooks.
Herbert was elected to the board in 2016. She taught in Carroll County Public Schools for over 41 years and has operated Country Hill Farm in Westminster for over 30 years.
She has a long list of current projects and future goals for CCPS that she was eager to discuss when reached by phone.
“I treat this like a full-time job,” she said. “I’ve got a lot planned. I’ve got a lot more to do.”
In her first two years on the school board, she felt that most of what they did was ”picking up the pieces from school closures," she said. “We were fixing up a mess.”
Now, some of her priorities include continuing measures in transparency, student and educator safety, college and career readiness, and accountability in budgeting. She said she’s excited that the proposed budget for this year includes more staff positions in special education, an area in which teachers have been “under duress,” juggling their obligations to their students and to paperwork and documentation.
She talked about standardized testing scores — where CCPS was rated number one in math and number two in English language arts in the state — and said the school system would not take that achievement lightly or stop working to improve.
Looking to the future, she talked about the importance of compensating teachers fairly. “Making sure we retain our educators, that is one thing we really need to work on," she said.
Other priorities of hers include integrating technology into education, special education, gifted and talented education, and the renovation of the Career and Technology Center, which is scheduled to break ground in June.
Harrison first joined the board in 2008, when she was appointed by the governor to fill a vacated spot. She went on to win two consecutive terms on the board.
She summarized her three priorities coming into the school board race: commitment to student achievement, maintaining qualified teachers and communication at all levels.
She keeps a busy schedule attending events in the community, she said.
“I feel like every time I leave my house, I’m campaigning,” she said.
Brooks is the chair of the Community Advisory Council, which the CCPS Central Office often consults for community input.
She also has served on the CCPS Security Advisory Council. Her leadership in CCPS activities began in 2016 when she joined the PTA of her child’s school and took on fundraising duties there, which she continues today.
Two of the biggest pieces of Brooks’ platform are breaking the stigma around mental health and wellness, and strengthening community and business involvement with CCPS.
She wants to see schools teach students tools to help cope with stress and anxiety by “really building that into the curriculum,” she said, especially in physical education, health and arts classes.
She sees resources such as school counselors and the Sources of Strength program becoming a part of classroom curriculum. And this focus should start early with activities that are appropriate even for kindergartners, she said.
More business involvement with schools in their area could help fill in the small gaps for funding in school budgets for items like sheet music or window blinds, she said.
Sivigny, the current president of the Board of Education, said student achievement is “without question” her number one priority.
"That’s an easy thing to say. And I think all of the other candidates are going to echo those words,” she said. “But executing on those words requires leadership, planning and accountability.”
She said her plan differentiates her from other candidates. “We've been executing on that plan for the past three years. And we're going to continue to execute on that plan moving forward,” she said.
In the past three years, CCPS has developed and begun operating with a strategic plan “with measures of success that drive accountability throughout the organization,” she said, while maintaining “with full transparency and collaboration with the staff, community members and local businesses.”
Looking ahead, the school system is investing in a state-of-the-art career and technology center, developing and executing an overarching technology plan, and developing and staffing improved special education services.
Kowalski did not respond to an email or call for comment.