Baltimore County executive: Model civility for our students

“Civility is about more than just politeness. … It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same.”

— The Institute for Civility in Government

Although my grandchildren may not agree, as someone who spent 30 years in Baltimore County Public Schools, I still find the first few days of a new school year exhilarating. The energy and optimism are palpable. It is in that spirit that I reach out to all of those who care deeply about BCPS: students, teachers, administrators, staff members, parents, grandparents, volunteers — thankfully our educational community is vast. More than half of the county’s budget goes to support public education, and that makes me proud.

During my 30 years as an educator, I learned a number of very important lessons. They all begin with one core belief: Students come first. That is the glue that holds it all together.

In more than 170 county schools, there are teachers and administrators who care deeply about our children. The central office is staffed with individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving the educational experiences in our schools. PTAs are full of parents who work tirelessly on behalf of their individual communities. Superintendent Verletta White, whom I’ve known for more than 20 years, wakes up every day trying to improve BCPS. I recognize that not everyone will agree with every decision a teacher or administrator makes; some will disagree with a proposal from the superintendent, and that is the way it should be. Honest, open discussion about things we care deeply about is important. But how we have those discussions and debates is equally important.

I also learned over the years that young people look to the adults in their lives for guidance, not only about how to read their first book or solve a quadratic equation but also to show them how to treat one another. We have a responsibility to teach those in our care what a supportive and nurturing community looks like. The adult community needs to show students that we can disagree without being disagreeable and that we are able to move past preconceptions to find common ground. Is this work difficult? Yes. But it is well worth the effort.

So, as we welcome back more than 113,000 students to the Baltimore County Public Schools, I respectfully ask that each of us take a pledge to model civility in our discourse. Let’s be respectful, particularly on social media where it is very easy to be anything but. Let’s choose our words carefully in public forums. Our actions and our words matter.

Board members, elected officials, community leaders, moms and dads — every single one of us can, and must, do better. Baltimore County is a wonderful place to live. I am confident we can do this. Let’s all be the teachers that our children deserve.

Don Mohler is the Baltimore County executive and may be reached at don@baltimorecountymd.gov.

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