Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Road to Ellicott City (2016): Part Two

First, let’s review the questionnaire I developed for the Howard County Board of Education candidates.

“1) Thought experiment. Much is made of the Board of Education acting as a collaborative body, but it is one comprised of unique individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents.  With that in mind...

What if you can replace, immediately, all of the other board members with clones of yourself.  Assuming you can work collaboratively with your other selves, what specifically would you want to accomplish in the next two years? In the next four?

2a) If you are an incumbent:  Why should we trust you with another four year term?

2b) If you are a challenger:  Why should we trust you with a four year term?

3) What is the single biggest dysfunction impacting the Board and how can it be resolved over the course of the next four years?

4) The HCPSS lists, among a set of “guiding principles,” the following:

“Fostering a culture of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility” (source:

Thinking about the past four years, Please provide one example of how the Board advanced that principle and one example of how the Board acted in a manner that ran counter to that principle.  Please elaborate on both examples.”

The first question was designed to identify the agenda and vision of each individual candidate. 

The second question assumes that public trust in the Board has taken a hit in recent years, and that it would be instructive for voters to hear from the candidates how they intend to earn the public’s trust.

The third question does not presuppose that the Board is dysfunctional, although I believe that argument can be made, but for the candidate to 1) show their thinking regarding the single biggest dysfunction and 2) their ability to identify a solution to fix the problem. 

The fourth question is intended to shed light on their perceptions of what the Board has done well, and where the Board can improve, regarding that important guiding principle. 

Following the receipt and review of their questionnaire responses, I will definitely be marking my primary election ballot for:

Kirsten Coombs.  I know Kirsten as a community activist and chronicler of local events.  Her background as an accountant and experience as a member of Citizens' Operating Budget Review Committee are also compelling reasons to cast a ballot for her.  In addition, she can ask direct, informed questions while still being able to work with others in a respectful, collegial manner.  She has a deep understanding of education issues.  She received the endorsement of the Howard County Education Association.  I believe Kirsten, alongside like-minded colleagues, can help the Board chart a new, more productive way forward. 

Her answers on the questionnaire reflected a much-needed emphasis on promoting transparency, on “data based decision making,” and on accountability.  Her support for a “tracking log of Public Information requests that would allow people to track the status and resolution” of such requests strikes a chord.  Her stance on the reinstitution of “in-house counsel” is smart while her call for helping “parents of children with special needs” is compassionate.

Moreover, she was willing to acknowledge when the Board advanced the principle of collaboration, citing the occasion when the Board “acted unanimously to listen to the community’s concerns about the calendar including non-Christian holidays.”   This demonstrates an ability to be fair-minded, which I believe to be an important characteristic for any Board member.

Mavis Ellis.  Mavis possesses impeccable education credentials.  Her years as an educator, her long track record of professional accomplishments, and her leadership roles inside and outside of the classroom amount to an ideal candidate for the Howard County Board of Education.  Her reform-minded perspective and considerable subject matter expertise are attributes the Howard County Public School System needs.  Her endorsement by the Howard County Education Association is well deserved.

Her responses to my questionnaire were extremely detailed and thoughtful.  Her call to reinstate the Citizen’s Operating Budget Review Committee, for the HCPSS to provide an “inclusive curriculum,” for the “parents of students receiving Special Education” to know that “the Board will listen to their concerns without being judgmental,” and for a “listening campaign” to gather perspectives on “education priorities” from organizations around the County show her commitment to respecting the opinions of others.  It is evident that, if elected, she will be a constructive collaborator. 

I think both Kirsten and Mavis would be excellent Board members.

What about my third vote?  That will be the subject of Part Three.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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