On the eve of ending his tenure on the Howard County school board, Brian Meshkin recounted what he considers accomplishments and challenges while on the panel — offering glimpses into a system regarded among the best in the state but that he said is often hindered by personality clashes.
He said he relished being part of the school board's efforts to implement cost-saving measures during the recession while upgrading its digital technology; yet he bemoaned a board atmosphere he described as acrimonious and dysfunctional, and included himself in his assessment of a panel that he says is made up of "good people" who don't always work well together.
Meshkin, elected to the board in 2010, officially stepped down Tuesday with about four months remaining in his term. His family is moving to California, where his company, Proove Biosciences, has its headquarters.
On Monday, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman nominated former school board candidate Larry Walker as Meshkin's successor. The nomination must be approved by the County Council.
Meshkin had announced his resignation in February, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. That initial decision, he said, came after pondering key questions.
"If I were to run again, why would I run again?" said Meshkin, 38. "Would I still bring value to the school board?
"I ultimately determined that, yes, I still brought value to the school board," Meshkin said. "But then we started talking about some of the family dynamics, and with my company growing at the pace it's growing in California, it has required me to do a lot of travel back and forth.
"My wife and I started talking about our kids and the things I was missing. … It really does take at a minimum 20-30 hours a week of time to be a school board member," Meshkin said. "After talking about it and praying about it, I just thought that my kids being this age is really just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I didn't want to miss out on all these years with my kids."
The Glenelg High School graduate said that when he began his tenure as a board member he saw classroom technology in some schools hadn't changed much. "I saw chalkboards and overhead projectors in the classroom, and I said, 'Gosh, this is the same stuff we had 20 years ago. We've got to change this.' "
Meshkin advocated programs and practices implemented by the school system during his tenure, including digital education, processes to streamline the district's operations and a task force for student mental health. He also took part in board meetings via digital conference and said he engaged in efforts to establish transport for students taking evening and weekend classes.
Among his regrets: voting to approve a middle-school studies program two years ago that eliminated traditional reading classes in favor of an option of taking literacy-based courses.
"I look back now and see it was a mistake," Meshkin said. "I think anything like that we should pilot before rolling it out full-scale. It was too hurried."
Meshkin also said he also regrets not doing more to alter what he termed "abrasive conflict between people on the school board."
He said during a recent school board retreat, members took a self-assessment survey, and "the major finding from the assessment was that all the school board members thought they were very good school board members — but they thought we as a school board didn't work well together."
"There is such a dysfunction in the way the group works together, and it's unfortunate because I think you have individually good people that aren't able to work together," he said.
"I think it's a failure in leadership, and it's a failure in understanding truly what the role of the school board is," he said.
Meshkin said the board needs to be more collaborative.
Making reference to board chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles and vice chairwoman Ann De Lacy, he said, "I think that the chairperson and the vice chair need to represent the board and not just act unilaterally."
Giles responded, saying, "We are a diverse group of people and we don't all agree all the time. Sometimes, that can lead to group discussion and better decision. I'm sorry that his view is that that made us dysfunctional, because when the board worked together and tended to act uniformly or in unison, people accused us of being a rubber stamp."
De Lacy alleged that Meshkin was the source of some conflict, saying, "When [legislation] was voted on by a majority of the members to forward, if it wasn't something that Mr. Meshkin agreed to, then he would set out — and this is solely my opinion — to undermine what we had agreed on."