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Howard County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles is running for reelection this year, she said, because “there’s still so much to be done.”
Howard County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles is running for reelection this year, she said, because “there’s still so much to be done.” (Nate Pesce)

Howard County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles is running for reelection this year, she said, because "there's still so much to be done."

Giles, who was first elected to the board in 2004 and is finishing her third term this year, said that she has been involved in the county's school system for decades, as a parent and as a volunteer, because she cares deeply about public education.

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"It's the great equalizer; it opens doors," she said. "You can go where you want to go with it."

Giles said that Howard County schools are making progress in terms of preparing more students to learn in kindergarten, closing gaps in graduation rates between different demographics and making advanced classes more accessible.

"So more students are seeing themselves as capable and taking advantage of those opportunities," said Giles, 65, whose four children graduated from Howard County schools.

All this has happened, she said, while student enrollment continues to grow and diversify.

"We've seen change, and we've seen progress," said Giles, who recently moved to Ellicott City from Scaggsville, where she had lived for more than 20 years. "We're still the highest in the state on metrics, while we've changed our demographics and while we continue to put more kids into the mix."

However, Giles believes there is still more work to be done to narrow the achievement gap, by increasing parent engagement through outreach and by providing students with the support they need to overcome disadvantages.

"The teacher, parent and child have to believe the child is going to succeed," said Giles, who works full-time as a financial and energy policy analyst.

Reaching out to parents, she said, means facilitating their exposure to school system resources and their understanding of educational tools as simple as a report card.

"Everyone wants to help their children," she said. "But they may feel out of their depth."

Giles believes the school system needs to regain public trust, which she said has "broken down" since the mold controversy centering on Glenwood Middle School surfaced last summer.

"For parents, that was the trigger," she said. "For maintenance it was something to be cleaned. But something on the ground may impact people there in a way you don't understand."

The school system has already begun working to restore public trust, she said, pointing to the work of the Indoor Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, which recently released guidelines for bi-annual inspections of schools to be piloted this spring and fully implemented in the next school year.

"Nobody likes where we started," she said, "but I like where we are now."

Giles said that the school system is looking at ways to make public information requests more accessible and user-friendly for the community.

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"We need one person looking across the system at consistent application of standards," she said.

Howard County school board election seen as way forward

At its first forum of the election season Tuesday night, in front of an audience of more than 90 people, all 11 Howard County Board of Education candidates answered questions about how the school board could better communicate with and involve parents and educators.

In the future, she said, the school system and Board of Education need to conduct more listen-and-learn sessions in order to connect with the community.

"We need to look at ways to let people know that we want to know," she said. "If I don't know about the issue, I can't do anything about it."

All in all, Giles is confident that Howard County schools will continue to progress.

"If we work together, we are going to have a world class school system for all children at all levels," she said.

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