In running for a seat on the Howard County school board, Elkridge resident Corey Andrews says he understands concerns of students in an area of the county where some residents feel their voices often go unheard.
After all, Andrews is still a student himself.
The Howard High School senior, 17, who once ran unsuccessfully for the board as a student member, is among three Elkridge-area residents in the 14-candidate field vying for three seats in April's primary. He turns 18 before the general election in November, making him eligible to run.
"I'm a little concerned with what's going on with the school board, but I'd rather not be on the sidelines watching," said Andrews, who added that he plans to attend Howard Community College after graduation. "School overcrowding is a big problem, especially in the eastern part of the county."
The other residents from the Elkridge area running for the board are Olga Butler, 35, who is a member of the parent-teacher organization at Long Reach High School in Columbia, where her son attends, and Leslie Kornreich, who lives in Hanover, which is part of the Greater Elkridge community.
Butler, a Wilde Lake High graduate, has spent much of her career working in the human services field with crime, domestic violence and sexual assault victims and now works in private industry. She said it is her first attempt at seeking public office and added that she became interested in school board policy and procedures last year after her son began attending Long Reach.
Kornreich, who ran last year, said that though the current school board field is "crowded," it reflects voter discontent.
"The fact that three people are running from Elkridge gives a sense that we've got issues, people are starting to recognize it and we want people to pay attention to it," Kornreich said.
The three hail from a community where county officials recently completed the sale of land for a 600-seat elementary school on Ducketts Lane that will open next year.
The Ducketts Lane site was chosen after plans to put the school on Coca Cola Drive were dashed amid concerns about, among other things, its proximity to a proposed CSX intermodal rail station.
During the process, Elkridge parents argued that their concerns are often not heard by a board with no members from their community. Late last year, County Executive Ken Ulman created a school commission to examine changing the school board to a hybrid model after concern by some residents over lack of racial and geographic diversity on the board. A bill was introduced in the General Assembly to change the makeup, but it was ultimately dropped.
Both Butler and Andrews say that they can relate to the concerns of parents in the community.
"It's one of those things where in my neighborhood I realize how many buses it takes to pick up students to go to one school, how far some buses pick up students to go to Long Reach High School," said Butler. "Because I see that every day, I can understand the frustration of people in Elkridge about many on the board who don't see that.
"Having some representation on the board, whether it be from Elkridge, Columbia, Western Howard County, North Laurel, it's all part of the county, but it does bring to the table the different and diverse issues that affect those different parts of the county."
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Butler said she believes that among the board's priorities should be "building healthy relationships."
"We can successfully do that within the board, within the school system and it trickles down to our teachers, our parents and our students," she said.
Andrews said that he believes the board would be better served with representation from various parts of the county. "I don't think there is a good representative for Elkridge on the board," he said. "I think that at all levels Elkridge hasn't gotten the same treatment as the rest of the county has. I think if you just look at Route 1 compared to Columbia and Ellicott City, you see that it really hasn't gotten the same attention."
Andrews said that as a student he also can shed light on an issue he said he rarely hears mentioned among school system officials: behavior and discipline in schools.
"This is where I think I bring a younger perspective," he said. "Behavior and discipline is so bad in schools, even here in Howard County, that every day it interferes with instructional time. I think the way to deal with is at a very young age instill values like respect and honesty in students.
"The way the school system deals with it now is to put police officers in the schools, and I don't think that's a solution. I think it's a temporary Band-Aid for a big issue."