The four Howard County school board candidates squared off yesterday in front of a roomful of volunteers, community advocates and service providers, detailing how they would work to ensure better collaboration between schools and community if elected in November.
Virginia Charles, Patricia S. Gordon, Jerry D. Johnston and incumbent Stephen C. Bounds are vying for two seats on the Board of Education.
The forum, hosted by the Association of Community Services, was held at Owen Brown Interfaith Center. The association is a network of Howard County human services providers, community organizations and citizens advocates.
At the forum, each candidate discussed problems in the school system and what can be done to combat them.
Bounds, of Woodbine, said the school district has community partnerships to deal with issues such as tutoring, safety, after-school programs and health care.
"We need to address them [the problems] inter-agency and communitywide instead of trying to do it all ourselves," Bounds said.
An audience member told Bounds that there should be uniformity mandated by the school board about what community partnerships are offered at which schools because principals may overlook some programs.
Bounds said he would not advocate such a policy.
"The board doesn't run the individual schools," he said. "And it would be a mistake if we tried."
Charles, of North Laurel, told the audience she was "the perpetual volunteer."
"If you need something, call me up and I am usually there," she said. "I am all over, working with kids and working with teachers in the schools."
She said adults must volunteer, and be a role model and a constant presence in children's lives to counter images and negative ideas that come from television and other young people.
She said that, if elected, she would attempt to have published and distributed a pamphlet of school and community service phone numbers so people would have a list of places to call for help.
Gordon, of Ellicott City, began by telling the audience about her background in education, which spans several decades. She also said that before she became a teacher, she worked in a center for troubled girls and is familiar with the need for mental-health services to work with schools.
She said if she were elected, she would want to ensure that schools did more to identify problems in children before those problems escalate.
"Suspensions, to me, are actions taken much too late," Gordon said. "It's a finger-in-the-dike solution. We have to offer the child all of these [community] services. And, of course, we also have to offer the parents all of the services."
Gordon said she would like to "rethink our guidance program" because one of her granddaughters told her that in the middle school she attends, pupils don't seek counselors' help. The children said guidance counselors deal only with discipline and behavior problems.
"We are not to be firemen running around putting out fires," Gordon said of counselors.
Johnston, of Ellicott City, said he had firsthand knowledge of the role of community services in running a school system. As the father of a retarded child, he said, he has had community help for years and has sometimes been frustrated by a lack of synergy between the two.
"We in the school system can help bridge that gap," Johnston said. "And we can do better."
Johnston said issues such as transportation for students who stay late at school could be addressed by communities.
"The standard book response to that [issue] is it costs too much," Johnston said. "Well, perhaps we could work together with parents to help facilitate that. I'm willing to listen to ideas."
He said that, if elected, he would want more problems to be solved by principals and school staff members.
"We need to have more input from the school level as to what happens at that school, instead of it happening from the top down," he said.