Lansdowne High, superintendent search key issues for new school board member for Catonsville, Arbutus

Lisa Mack, one of seven newly elected members of the Baltimore County Board of Education in Tuesday’s election said she did not expect to win.

On Election Day, the candidate running for Council District 1 school board seat, stood in the rain outside Woodlawn High School, talking to voters. She felt good engaging them in conversation, but then worried when she saw her opponent, Matt Gresick, handing out campaign material with an endorsement for him from the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

“By no means was I confident,” said Mack, 60, a former adjunct professor at the Community College of Baltimore County and retired Verizon executive, who lives in Catonsville. “The thing I was confident about was that I did my best. But was my best good enough, that was the question.”

But in the end, Mack garnered 19,045 total votes to Gresick’s 12,715. Mack signed a sworn affidavit saying she spent and raised less than $1,000 during the campaign. Gresick spent just under $400 and finished the campaign with over $6,000 in his campaign account.

“I’m exhilarated. I’m also honored and humbled to think that that many people would vote for me,” Mack said the day after Election Day.

Mack was one of the first seven people from seven council districts ever elected to the school board in Tuesday’s election. The hybrid board was pushed for years by education stakeholders to bring greater accountability to the 12-member board. In 2014, the General Assembly passed legislation to allow Baltimore County to have a partially elected board. Four are appointed by the governor and there is one student board member.

In addition to the Teachers Associaton, Gresick, 38, a Catonsville resident and teacher in Howard County, was endorsed by a handful of local politicians. Mack was endorsed by the Common Sense Caucus of the Board of Education, a group made up of the four current Board of Education members, who say they’re “running against the entrenched status quo,” but said she preferred to stay away from endorsements because she does not think her votes are influenced by outside groups.

Mack credited her victory to her being a long-time — and involved — resident of Arbutus and then Catonsville, where she moved in 2015, which allowed her to form a deep network of connections and supporters.

Gresick said he was glad that while running he and Mack could have “civil and open conversation about education” in the county. He plans now to spend time with his family and put his energy into his teaching.

“I’m wishing the best for Lisa, and I hope our board puts students first,” he said.

Nicholas Stewart, the outgoing board of education member for Council District 1, who chose not to run for the seat and retired from the board, endorsed Gresick.

“I have to be hopeful that once new board members have a chance to put the glare of the campaign behind them and its relentless desire for sound bites, they will be able to see that the needs of our system, like our children, are incredibly diverse, and we need deliberative problem-solvers to address them in open-minded ways,” Stewart said.

When the new school board is seated in December, they will have to grapple with issues of facilities management, technology use in schools, school safety and searching for a permanent superintendent. One of the issues that will be at the forefront of Mack’s agenda is ensuring a new Lansdowne High School gets built.

Going forward

Mack said she wants to be able to address constituents frankly and openly. “I don’t stand on formality,” Mack said.

She also said she wants to push to reduce chronic absenteeism and to not promote students to the next grade if they can’t demonstrate true proficiency.

“If kids need more time in a grade, we need to give them that time,” Mack said.

The Board of Education in May voted against awarding a contract for renovations at Lansdowne High School and instead set its eyes on getting funding for a replacement school. The vote, celebrated by some community activists pushing for a new school, did not guarantee funds would be put toward a new school.

What could be Lansdowne’s best bet for getting a new school is now a wider process that BCPS is undergoing to address crowding at its high schools. The county has contracted with SAGE Policy Group to find solutions to overcrowding in county high schools. Sage presented its findings at community meetings in September and October.

Mack said she supports Scenario B, which includes new construction for Lansdowne High School and Western School of Technology, and includes boundary changes between Lansdowne, Western Tech, and Catonsville High.

That scenario is the priciest of the three that were presented clocking in at about $628 million. SAGE is expected to present its findings and make recommendations to the Board of Education in December.

Mack does not think elementary or middle school students all need individuals devices in the classroom, and said she would want to work on a plan to phase out Baltimore County’s one-to-one device policy but ensuring that all students should have access to computers in the classroom.

Mack said that she can see, however, how technology “is more relevant for high school students.”

Mack said she would like to see the county set stricter expectations for behavior so disruptive students know there are consequences if they act out and so that teachers can focus on instruction rather than disciplining students.

“I wish I didn’t have to think that, but I do think that,” Mack said.

Mack would like to see an external firm conduct the search for the county’s next superintendent and include eligible internal candidates, including Interim Superintendent Verletta White as a “professional courtesy.” The new superintendent must be named by July 1.

“I would support her being one of the candidates on the slate,” Mack said. “I would never support ‘let’s just stick with her.’”

cboteler@baltsun.com

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