Q: What are your top three priorities if elected?
My own goals are well-aligned with FCPS’ Master Plan. They are:
1) To ensure that every student, at every school, is afforded equal educational opportunities, facilities, and resources, and that they are receiving the challenge that meets each of their unique learning needs. While school communities are different and have different needs, I would like to see every student able to fully participate in and take advantage of all that FCPS has to offer, regardless of which school they attend.
2) To keep abreast of the changes in our curriculum and daily instruction as we move towards the full adoption of the Common Core Standards. I would work to ensure:
a. the changes we are making are more than adequate to meet these new standards and provide our students with appropriate levels of rigor and challenge,
b. that students will be prepared to meet the new bar set by the Common Core Standards, and
c. that those standards are preparing them for entry into colleges and/or the workforce.
3) To better engage all sectors of our community in the education of our children with more structured and regular opportunities for significant, two-way communication between the Board and teachers and staff, parents, the business community, non-profit service providers, and our county government.
These relationships are critical to helping FCPS forecast student, family and community needs and in marshalling the resources within the county to serve students, our families, and our employees. Successful communities have a strong partnership between all these sectors. Everyone in Frederick County, whether they have students in the system or not, has a vested interest in the success of the school system.
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: Because I want the best teachers for our system and I want to preserve the investment we have made in the teachers we have working for us now, my long-term goal would be to raise FCPS’s competitive edge in recruiting new teachers, and retaining them, by working with my fellow board members to ensure our salaries are competitive with other systems in the state, particularly those systems that neighbor Frederick County. I will look at ways to possibly restructure our pay schedule or create a new base salary for incoming teachers, which could include other benefits, to make our teaching positions more attractive.
I also want to ensure that new teachers receive the support they need, both being new to the profession as well as to the system. A more attractive initial offer, as well as the promise of strong support for new teachers would help to bring new talent to FCPS. Of course, these are just a few preliminary ideas and I would be open to looking into others.
Why is this issue so important now?
No amount of state-of-the-art equipment, facilities, or the best classroom resources are effective without a well-trained, highly qualified, dedicated teacher to utilize them. A teacher is the most important resource in the classroom. It is imperative for a quality school system to retain its greatest resource, as well as to attract new talent.
Unfortunately, over the last four years Frederick County has lost ground in this area. While our school system regularly loses teachers, through retirement, relocation, long-term health issues, or changes in profession, as most organizations do, the last few years show some worrisome trends. And part of the reason has to do with our salary structure.
Of the 24 school systems across the state, FCPS ranks last in starting teacher salaries. It’s important to note that our neighbor, Washington County ranks 6th. And while the picture gets better as our teachers rise in the profession, obtain certification and advanced degrees (our top teacher salary ranks 8th statewide), we are still at a competitive disadvantage.
Last year, FCPS offered 111 new teachers to come and interview with us for a position. Ninety-one of them declined to come in for the initial screening interview.
Not only is our candidate pool shrinking, we are losing teachers that we have invested in over multiple years. In 2009-10, 2 out of 10 teachers left to teach elsewhere. Just last year, 3 out of 10 of our teachers left the school system to teach in another system, and over one-third of those who left went to Washington County.
On top of this, FCPS is ranked in the bottom quarter for the number of teachers and staff per 1,000 students. So not only are we paying teachers less than other counties, there are less of them to serve greater numbers of students.
Additionally, as we move to the more rigorous Common Core standards, the academic challenges we must meet will be increasing. Our county is also growing in terms of students that require higher interventions and specific skills the number of students living in poverty and who are English language learners is increasing. We will need highly trained, passionate, and highly skilled teachers to meet our student population growth and the challenges the future holds.
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: The school system should set the repair and construction priorities, which I would place in order of critical need. However, because this county continues to grow, we are sometimes forced to balance the need between repairing or renovating our older facilities with keeping up with housing growth and constructing new schools.
It is imperative that the school board stops merely trying to keep up with housing growth and development, and start shaping it. As a Board of Education member I will work in cooperation with other entities (County Commissioners, developers, the community at large) to ensure that we have adequate facilities and that we continue to meet the safety and instructional needs of the students in our existing buildings, while working to support economic growth through new school construction.
This balancing act will require community input, and reliance on the expertise and guidance of FCPS facilities staff to help us to prioritize our system’s needs and to ensure that our construction and maintenance priorities support our instructional goals for students while providing them with safe learning environments.
In addition to that, we could examine “stand-alone” programs housed at specific schools currently, which could be relocated to make use of available, appropriate space. This would require careful consideration and community input especially from the students and families that would be affected, and a thorough examination of the potential impacts and implications that would result from such a move.
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: The intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and its reauthorization in 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has admirable goals but was flawed in many ways. It has helped to focus us on the achievement gaps in education for our most vulnerable students and focused our schools on improving achievement for all groups over time. But, among its problems, assessment requirements seemed too broad and black and white. Schools were labeled as failing, even when they might have missed the bar by only two or three students. There was no mechanism to differentiate between different types of schools, with different populations and challenges. And assessment tools were left to individual states, which resulted in inconsistency.
While I do not necessarily feel the need for a full reauthorization, as we are nearing the 2014 deadline set by the bill, there are certainly amendments that can be made to make improvements on its flaws. Further, we can examine better funding formulas for allocating federal funds to schools.
I do think one of the great benefits of NCLB has been that assessments shined a bright light on different groups of students, their performance and their academic growth over the years. This has allowed schools to see where the gaps lie and to address those students’ specific needs.
I am wary of supporting a waiver from NCLB requirements, particularly in assessments because I would hate to lose the focus on the progress of our most vulnerable groups of students. However, the reality is that our schools are facing great stresses over the next two years, having to prepare for the new Common Core standards and assessments, and keeping their eye on meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures for NCLB.
I would support a waiver that required the continuation of MSA assessments, so we could continue to track student achievement, but that would alleviate schools from the punitive sanctions that would be imposed on them for failure to achieve (AYP), unless the failure were substantial.
Q: Do you support expanded charter school options in Frederick County? Explain your position.
A: There are many examples of successful charter school models across the country and our own charter school, Monocacy Valley Montessori (the first charter school in the state of Maryland) is one of them.
I believe charter schools can play an important role in education and serve to benefit not just the children who attend the specific school, but all the children served by the school system of which it is a part.
First, charters can provide models of instruction and school governance that differ greatly from the traditional schools present in the larger school system. Models around the U.S. show us that charters can provide students with excellent alternative educations as well as innovative ideas that can be utilized by the school system at large.
Second, for failing schools, charters can provide new directions that could result in better outcomes. This model seems to be the one that is familiar to most people.
In Frederick County, our schools are not failing, so the model we would benefit from would be the first. And I would fully support those charter schools that, in their application, meet all federal, state, and local mandates and provide one or more of the following:
o outstanding levels of instruction and rigorous curriculum founded in extensive research;
o an instructional or governance structure that is much different than that provided by traditional schools already existent within our school system; and
o outcomes that would ensure students enrolled would perform as well at if not better than their peers throughout our school system.
Budgets are tight and the costs of opening any new charter schools must be weighed against the costs of serving the entire student body of Frederick County. In such a situation, we must take into consideration the number of students served by a charter school versus the number of students served by the school system as a whole.
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: The role of the school system in our society is federally and state mandated. Put simply, the school system is charged, both by the federal and state governments, to educate every single student that walks through a school building’s doors and registers. Until changes are made at the federal and state level, the school board’s focus must remain on its mandate to educate every student, regardless of the student’s status whether they need special services due to any physical or learning issues, legal status, income, etc.
There has been a demand by some to have our system provide the numbers of those students who may be in our country illegally. If you look at our school registration form, there is no way to determine the legal status of students. And, I believe that on one form collected at the beginning of the school year, parents are asked if the enrolled student was born in the United States or in another country. Last year, 94% of students answered that they were born in the U.S. That is the only piece of information the school system can use to determine if a student is a U.S. citizen.
But we cannot determine the legal status of the remaining 6% of students who indicated they were not born in the U.S or didn’t answer the question. There are students who are in this country legally who are not yet full citizens. Their parents might be here on a work visa, or their parents might be in the process of earning citizenship, which takes several years.
And, there is no way to verify those “yes” answers. FCPS forms require proof of age (in order to place children in appropriate classes) and proof of residence (to make sure they are registering within the proper school attendance area). Parents/guardians can provide any number of documents to prove these two required pieces of information and none of them can really verify whether a child has legal immigration status or not.
This might lead some to question why then do we not ask for legal status on our registration forms? Because each piece of information on those forms serves only to establish what the law requires so that the school system can provide the mandated education to registered students.
The form is not like forms a job applicant or a new employee might fill out. Workplaces need to know an applicant’s legal status because they are required to, also by the federal government and the state. They are also required to collect that information for tax purposes.
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: First, I would like to define what I believe to be “appropriate” content before answering this question.
Appropriate content for our county’s textbooks should:
ź align with FCPS’ curriculum and the sequence in which concepts are taught
ź be age appropriate in terms of vocabulary, developmental ability / level of student’s understanding
ź have data and information that is accurate
ź provide adequate rigor and challenge, while meeting curricular goals
ź reflect cultural diversity and (if applicable) a range of perspectives
ź be accessible for ALL students (e.g. usable by Special Education students or highly abled students)
ź be written and formatted in a way that is engaging to students, and easily navigable.
Our textbooks are one of the tools and resources available to teachers, and we must keep in mind that no teacher opens one textbook on the first day of class, and teaches page by page throughout the year. Text books, like all the resources available to teachers, are used in a dynamic and varied way by teachers in order to support the educational goals set by FCPS for each subject and grade level.
While I have not reviewed all the textbooks currently in use in our system, the textbooks I have seen have appropriate content. I am familiar with the process FCPS uses to choose textbooks for our system and the process is one that should ensure appropriate content.
First there are specific guidelines regarding appropriate content for primary and supplementary texts. Second, the review process is always done by committee or group, consisting of one or more teachers, principals, parents, as well as an outside expert in the text’s subject area, and an FCPS curriculum specialist. Third, once a text is chosen, it is available for public examination and comment before it is recommended for adoption by the board.