On certain days, one wonders about the advantages of an elected versus an appointed school board. Sometimes, one ponders the benefits of humans as compared to animatronic platypuses as board members. The Multi-Village Sponsored Howard County Board of Education Event (Cluster-Forum for short) invited all sorts of odd musings.
Was the forum, held at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills, informative? Absolutely. Was the audience packed with local luminaries, community activists, thought leaders, public officials, educators, parents, students, looky-loos and hangers-on? Definitely. Was it a draining and slightly disheartening experience? Unfortunately, yes.
Rather than craft a novella, I will explore some of the highlights:
The candidates were unafraid to engage in comparative politicking. In their introductory statements, which included a verbal response to one of five questions for which they also provided written answers, Bess Altwerger talked about the high quality of teachers found in schools across the county (a rejoinder to Allen Dyer’s perspective, articulated in earlier forums, that the best schools were…essentially… hoarding the best teachers). Mike Smith stated that there were some “misrepresentations” regarding Common Core, which he supports. I don’t know if he mentioned Altwerger by name, but his comments were clearly directed at her.
Author’s note: Mike Smith also said that, under certain circumstances, having 35 students in a classroom is “OK.” Then again, he did admit to being “mathematically challenged.” So perhaps he doesn’t grasp the absurdity of his position.
Dr. Zaneb Beams probably had the best night. She received applause, twice, during her introductory remarks. She offered up a seemingly heart-felt request that we think of students as people (I believe the sentence was: “We don’t have FARMS students, we have students who are receiving help with food.”) Many in the audience also reacted favorably to her belief that “Scores don’t make us great, dreams (and doing?) make us great.” Call me a cynical jerk who has been in and around politics too long, but I thought the second line was a bit schmaltzy.
Tension in the room. There were accusations expressed by some audience members that certain candidates were expressing opinions that were not aligned with the facts on the ground. There was a vividly worded query about the best way to “stop the bloodbath at the central office” that evoked some emotional responses from multiple candidates. There were concerns articulated about the role that developers play in our political process. There was an excellent question about the idiots (author’s note: my characterization) at Glenelg High School who were sporting a Confederate flag; some on the stage handled this topic better than others.
Democracy can be messy and the School Board is not meant to be a gathering of best friends. I get those realities. Nonetheless, the present dynamic appears rather corrosive. Passions seem to be running high and the current mix of personalities, with their differing perspectives, histories and talents seem to be intruding upon the Board’s ability to set “local education policy consistent with state and federal laws governing public education.” (this one-sentence summary of the Board’s job description can be found at http://www.hcpss.org/board/).
Who, if anyone, is to blame? I am certain there are a variety of answers to that question. That is not the point of this post. My intention is to move the dialogue forward and ask, given where we are and given the pressing issues facing HCPSS, which four candidates, if elected, will do the most to help improve our schools?
With that in mind, I am likely to state my preference(s), for whatever that information is worth, next week.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.