Q: What are your top three priorities if elected?
1) Improving the Success of the Middle School Students:
Middle School education is the key to improving the performance of our schools. Quite often, the gains obtained in the elementary school are obliterated during a students sojourn through the middle school. The transition from elementary to middle school is a critical period for students. However, this is also the most important period for their academic development and will set the course for their academic performance in high school. This was the reason I had chosen to serve on the Middle School Science Curriculum Review Committee of BOE. My major priority, as a BOE member, would be to strengthen the Middle School curriculum and instructions.
Middle school is sometimes also a very difficult period for some of these students as they transition from childhood to adolescence. Also, a move from their familiar elementary school environment, coupled with physiological changes they are undergoing may cause anxiety and decline in academic achievements. Thus these students need a very encouraging and supportive environment.
These problems are even more acute for youngsters from disadvantaged socio-economic background; including poverty combined with: a single parent household often doing two jobs, low education level or illiteracy of parents, non-English speaking households, etc. Special attention needs to be paid to these students to provide them opportunity for a good education. After school programs need to be developed to assist these children to achieve their full potential. Teachers, parents and staff have to work cooperatively to create such a supporting environment for the students.
Smaller class sizes and enrichment classes in Mathematics and Reading are crucial. Besides the core curriculum, layered enrichment curricula should be developed to channel the energy and aspirations of the Middle School students. Students coming from the Elementary School Gifted program should be offered advanced level courses, so as not to negate their academic achievements.
2) Reading, Reading, Reading!
One cannot emphasize enough the necessity for proficiency in reading as a fundamental to learning all other subjects. The following statistics are quite an eye-opener:
Of the FCPS graduates entering the Frederick Community College:
64% needed Math remediation;
18% needed English remediation
33% needed Reading remediation
These statistics would probably be direr if one includes students who did not pursue further education, obtained admission in other community colleges or found employment.
To resolve this serious situation, we need ‘out of the box' thinking to develop novel approaches to help students be proficient in reading and prepare them to be successful in High School and beyond. One approach would be to use story books familiar to and popular amongst students.
3) Promote school and classroom environment conducive to learning:
A: Maintain classroom size optimal for each subject being taught. Teachers are already overburdened by non-curricular requirements and student discipline issues. Proposed increase in classroom sizes may be appropriate for some of the academic areas but would certainly be detrimental to subjects like reading, mathematics, and science.
B. Promote parent volunteering in classrooms to act as aids to teachers. As mentioned above, teachers are overburdened by non-curriculum activities and this cuts into their time for interactive teaching with their students. Many of the teachers work overtime or take work home to compensate for this extra burden. Perhaps, PTAs could help promote increased parent volunteering in schools.
C. Promote student behavioral decorum in school, both, in and out of the classrooms. Discipline issues are not only a distraction to teachers but disruptions for other students. Strategies need to be explored to channel high level of energy of students in to other productive areas.
Without these fundamental changes, most of our efforts at improving education would fall short of the desired goals.
These are some of the many issues we must deal with to maintain and constantly improve the high standards of education in FCPS. We should avoid a ‘one shirt fits all' policy. We need to put in place programs to meet the academic needs of ALL students so that they grow up to be responsible, productive citizens ready to confidently face their world of innovation technologies.
Q: What can Frederick County Public Schools do to ensure the hiring and retention of quality teachers, and in what way does compensation play a role in doing so?
A: Recruitment as well as retention of high-quality, experienced teachers is dependent on many factors, including well developed recruitment processes involving experience teachers, conducive and supportive environment in the school system as well as optimal teaching loads, salary levels and prospects for recognition and promotions, health, retirement and other salary related benefits, and the availability of support for continued education. Entry level salaries have to be competitive with those in the surrounding counties to attract better qualified young teachers and competitive salaries and other benefits are crucial to retaining experienced teachers.
Q: Several of Frederick's school buildings are in need of repair and construction dollars from the state and county are scarce. How do you propose providing safe and appropriate educational facilities for school children?
A: It is true that several of the FCPS school buildings are in need of repair and are overcrowded. Examining this issue, one needs to bear in mind the realities of difficult economic environment we are facing. With the limited construction funds available, FCPS has already made or is executing plans for renovations of three schools: New Lincoln ES (2012), Oakdale ES addition (2012) and New North Frederick ES (~ 2014) and the plans for Frederick High being in the works. Getting additional construction funds from the MD State is not going to be possible. Hence, no major initiatives are possible at present. The School Facilities department will have to keep up with the needed repairs to keep the schools safe.
Q: Do you believe No Child Left Behind should be reauthorized? If so, what needs to be changed? Assess the law's effectiveness. Should Maryland apply for a waiver from NCLB requirements?
A: Unless substantially modified, based on the experience so far, the law should not be reauthorized. Based on the evaluation of the results of the standardized tests, the requirements of the law have not helped improve public school education. Using standardized test results to evaluate teachers is not fair because many socio-economic factors impinge upon a students' learning. Also, the law has forced teaching to tests, creating a very narrow band of learning rather than a broad grasp of math and science.
Q: Do you support expanded charter school options in Frederick County? Explain your position.
A: In principle I support Charter schools. They provide experimentation in education (similar to the Gifted Program in elementary school) and provide competition to the public school system. They are not tied down by rules and regulations which public school systems, of necessity, must abide by. The problem to consider is to decide how many charter school and how many students in charter school should be in Frederick county. Other issue is the complexity of funding. FCPS is already suffering from shortage of funds and redistribution of funds to Charter school would create budgetary difficulties. Also, since each student moving from a school would carry per pupil budget to the charter school, without the corresponding decrease in the needed funds for the public school (because a small number of students leaving a public school does not decrease the need for teachers, administration and facilities) it puts the public school at a disadvantage. On the other hand, Charter schools also are traditionally underfunded because of a smaller number of students, because the school has to maintain a certain level of infrastructure. They are also not able to offer the same type of educational facilities as the larger public schools. My approach would be to not be opposed to Charter schools in principle, go slow and examine all the above issues as a community.
Q: In recent years the subject of educating children of illegal immigrants has become a hot topic in Frederick. What role should the School Board play in addressing the concerns of those who believe taxpayer dollars should not be used for this purpose?
A: Children of illegal immigrants can be classified in two categories: those children who were born here and are, therefore, US citizens and those who came here with their parents as illegal immigrants. Children in either category are not going to be returned to their country of origin, simply because of the large number of illegal immigrants and failure of the Congress to pass the laws regarding illegal immigrant status. It is therefore preferable, and is in the interest of our nation, that these children grow up to be well educated, productive, responsible, and tax paying citizens. It is in the interest of the children and society to provide them good education.
Q: Do you believe the current content in Frederick County textbooks is appropriate? If so, explain your position. If not, what should be changed and why?
A: My children graduated from FCPS many years ago, and since I substitute teach math and science, I am not familiar with textbooks in other subjects. The math and science textbooks generally meet the requirements.