The Nov. 3 general election is less than a month away and, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some voters in Howard County have already received their mail-in ballots.
This week, the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier is publishing the answers to a questionnaire sent to every Board of Education candidate in the five district races. Today’s answers are from Jolene Mosley — one of the candidates running in District 3.
Mosley, 40, easily won the District 3 primary with 66% of the vote, while Tom Heffner, 40, finished second to also advance to the general election.
In early September, Heffner announced the suspension of his campaign and his endorsement of Mosley in a social media post, although the deadline to remove his name from the ballot had passed.
“District 3 is in good hands with Jolene,” Heffner said.
The winner in District 3, along with the winners of the other four districts, will make up the first Board of Education in Howard County to be voted in by residents in a district instead of the entire county.
The other races for the Howard County Board of Education are: incumbent Christina Delmont-Small and Matthew Molyett in District 1; Antonia Barkley Watts and Larry Pretlow II in District 2; incumbent Jen Mallo and Sezin Palmer in District 4; and Yun Lu and Cindy Vaillancourt in District 5. Current Vice Chairperson Vicky Cutroneo and member Chao Wu will remain on the board through 2022, serving as the first two at-large members in the new system.
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Below are the answers from Mosley. They may be edited for clarity and style.
Why are you running to be on the Howard County Board of Education?
Jolene Mosley: For many in our community, it is no surprise that I finally decided to run for the Board of Education in District 3 given how active I have been over the last 13 years. I have supported public education by representing my children’s schools in [Howard County Parents for School Music], GT Parent Academy, PTA volunteering, chaperoning field trips, as well as helping in the classrooms. I have supported the [board] through being a general community member on the Policy Review Committee, member and vice chairperson for the [Community Action Council] and a representative on the [Operating Budget Review Committee]. I am running because: 1. I realized that District 3 has been historically underrepresented on the board and needed a strong voice of an engaged HCPSS parent and active community advocate. 2. I believe my professional background as a data scientist will be a tremendous asset. I will bring evidence-based decision making that is thoughtful and well-reasoned combined with vast K-12 school system experience as an HCPSS parent to the board. 3. My life experiences as a parent with GT and special needs children, my experience of having a child who survived cancer [and] my experiences of having four children who range from 4 to 17 years old all give me a unique perspective from which to advocate for all children.
The board voted over the summer to have school in Howard County be 100% virtual through January. Did you agree with that decision? Should the school system start a hybrid model sooner than February?
Mosley: The Board of Education voted to have school 100% virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently impacting our entire world. The school system closed for a couple of weeks in March and came to the understanding that they were not able to reopen safely at that time. The school system, within a few weeks, created a continuity of learning plan to work through to the summer. At the same time, the school system began its longer term planning for virtual learning. The school system purchased Chromebooks to move closer to a 1-to-1 ratio — an investment that was long overdue. Currently, virtual learning is 100% for the first semester and the school system has also implemented a [semester-based] schedule for [middle and high school] students. I agree that this was the best course of action for prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved in our school community and reducing the risk of COVID. I would like to see specifics on what the school system considers the best hybrid model and how the health and safety is going to be evaluated and enforced before knowing if the plan is a good one or not. They are also working on plans for small groups to return. I have worked in the health care field for several years now, and I know from experience that it can take a while to gain a full understanding of it means to provide safety and healthy standards and that it can also change over time.
The redistricting process in 2019 was a controversial issue in the community. Early construction on a 13th high school is underway, and it’s likely that the winners of this election will decide on how to populate that school. What did you think of the school system’s redistricting process last year? Do you support using redistricting as a way to further the school system’s mission of equity?
Mosley: I believe the triggers for redistricting are appropriate in [the school attendance areas policy]. This policy is clear about what triggers the redistricting process and what aspects for which the school system should be held accountable when making a redistricting plan and implementing that plan. I would, however, like some changes to the process. I would like to see a data freeze from the time the feasibility study comes out through the whole redistricting process. The changing enrollment and capacity data as well as the differences in definitions of suppressed data made the data aspect of the process more complicated than it needed to be. Another process change I would like to see is a more iterative approach to the creation and changes of the redistricting plan. I would like the process to be a whole plan per iteration, incorporating [board] work and public input each time before it is returned with another whole plan. This will allow more accurate impact analysis and more targeted issues reviewed.
The school system is currently reexamining its school resource officer program. A vote to remove SROs from Howard County schools failed in September, and the next vote is set for January. Do you support removing SROs from Howard County schools?
Mosley: The reexamining of the SRO program has been long needed for our school system. The intention and the implementation need to be examined and the program changed. There are currently SROs in every high school and in a few of our middle schools. When reviewing the arrest and suspension data from our schools, we know that Black and brown students as well as special education students are disproportionately impacted compared to their peers. We also can see from the data that the SROs are placed in middle schools that have higher than county average Black and brown student demographic populations. Current students and HCPSS alumni have reflected and shared their interactions with not only the officers but with adults in the building that show bias toward them. I think in this revision of the SRO program, we should not have armed police in our schools during the day. We should continue to build community with our police department through community engagement where the pressure of a student’s learning isn’t in the equation. We need to work on our school culture so every student, educator and staff are valued, included and accepted.
What is one issue/topic you are passionate about that you will try to bring to light as a school board member?
Mosley: I would like to see a review of the overall school system with a goal of identifying pain points the system has been dealing with and access the root causes of these symptoms. These root causes will then be analyzed and steps prioritized to repair these issues as well as minimize unintended consequences. The board should create policies to support funding formulas towards school demographic-based needs. More specifically, the policies should identify and implement funding formulas, not just on overall enrollment projections, but specific to programs that target more vulnerable populations so these programs are supported and the students are graduating with success. In this approach, I would like to see diversity, inclusion and tolerance initiatives prioritized. This should include changes in policy for the inclusion of new diverse materials in classroom teaching. This will align with training and workshops for whole-school culture building that welcomes inclusion, diversity and tolerance. The purpose of this policy would be to approve more diverse materials for curriculum and also fund the materials and time to incorporate them into the curriculum taught at all of the schools.