Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Road to Ellicott City (2016): Part Three

I set fire to three earlier iterations of this post.  Then the Middle Tennessee State 24-hour Dysgraphia hit.  I shall never visit Murfreesboro again.

Let me go straight to the headline: I am undecided on my third vote.  As of this writing, I have four serious contenders for the third choice.  I have ruled none of the challengers out, but there are four tiers:

Tier Four [Definite No]

Dump DeLacy/Dump Siddiqui (sung to the tune of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp).”

Also Bedolla.  No response = an automatic no vote.

Tier One [Definite Yes]

Coombs and Ellis.  Awesome Squared.

Tier Three [Maybe, but not terribly likely at the moment]

Ponnuri:  Tech guy.  His questionnaire focuses on several broad themes, including “independent thinking,” “accountability,” and “empathy.” Not much in the way of specifics.

Would he be a good member of the Board of Education? Probably. Am I buying into his campaign’s value proposition yet?  No, not right now.

Andrews:  Definitely a stronger candidate compared to his 2014 bid.  He believes we “must address the discipline gap if we want to close to achievement gap.”  This writer strongly agrees with this sentiment.  He re-visits the importance of “respect” in his questionnaire, this writer also agrees with that line of thinking. 

I am not convinced that he is the right person for the job in 2016, but I respect his growth as a candidate for the Board of Education over the past two years.  He deserves serious consideration.

Tier Two [Perhaps]

Giles:  Yes, I am considering voting to re-elect one incumbent.  I think she is smart, capable, and has an impressive record when it comes to public service, most notably as it pertains to education issues. 

Her responses to the questionnaire were thoughtful.  Her stated “first year” priority to “restore public trust in our school system by engaging our staff and community to better inform us as we make decisions” indicates an awareness of the larger institutional challenges facing the Board of Education.  In terms of policy, I am in agreement with her when it comes to “expand[ing] elementary world language so that all students can graduate proficient in a second language.”

I found it interesting that while multiple candidates mentioned the Glenwood Middle mold issue as an example of the failure to follow certain HCPSS Guiding Principles, Giles defended the approach to that problem, citing the “quality of the report and the inclusive nature of the plan.”  She did note that “we (presumably the Board of Education) must improve our processes for fulfilling public information requests so that the responses people get answer their questions fully and promptly.”  I don’t believe I am with her on the former point, but I concur with Giles on the latter.

The concept of “right association” is a big thing in my corner of the world.  If I thought that the Board, and the County, would get the Best Giles along with the election of two reform-minded candidates, I would probably vote for her.  Pound for pound, her credentials compare favorably to almost every other possibility.  But elections are more than just resume evaluations.  There are other well-qualified alternatives, and perhaps we need three new reform-minded voices on the Board.  This brings us to the other candidates.

Miller:  Great background as an educator.  Very detailed responses.  Talks about needing to develop an “atmosphere of trust” and an “atmosphere of openness.”  I agree. Beyond that, he says we should “develop/re-start a budget oversight committee.”  Yes, indeed.  He wrote that we should “enable the public to be assured that the students are attending ‘healthy schools.’”  He says we should “cultivate a partner-like atmosphere with parents of special education students.”  He wants to “reduce the amount of instructional time lost to standardized over-testing and a poorly-conceived teacher (and administrator) evaluation system.”  He indicates that we should “resist unproven fads and the tendency to ‘fly planes while building them.’”  No disagreement there.

I am not sure about his concerns about the “World Language component of the Elementary School Model” where he says that “with the knowledge I presently have, I would not continue the program as it presently exists.”  Assuming my interpretation of his statement is accurate, I believe I am more aligned with Giles on that particular issue.  That said, I am not a subject matter expert on this topic…perhaps I need to read more on this specific debate.

His passion for education is evident in his responses. 

His belief that the “single biggest dysfunction impacting the Board is a lack of commitment to complete integrity.”  Strong words, ones that (I believe) represent the opinions of many of our neighbors. 

So why not Miller as a lock for the third choice? I don’t know.  His mastery of detail is impressive.  Perhaps he could have articulated those elements as the supporting points of an overarching Plan or Vision. 

He is in the running, but I am still considering two other challengers.

Cutroneo:  “Building back trust is the number one priority.”  She recommends “education town halls throughout the county.”  She is calling for, “with each new initiative policy, a more formal process in decision making…”  It is clear that she wants to open decision-making processes up, so the widest possible array of community members can have a voice, as well as access to the data used to inform policies. 

She indicates that she “would reinstate a BOE auditor or ombudsman type position.”  Sounds good to me.

She notes that “instead of jumping on the bandwagon for the latest, greatest, and glossy curriculum, we need to look at best practices throughout the country and grow from within.”  I appreciate this perspective.

On the Guiding Principles question, she reflected upon “the case of a special ed parent [name known but redacted] trying to obtain [a] special education audit.”  She believes, in this case, “that the Board acted in a manner that ran counter to the principle of collaboration, trust, and shared responsibility.” I agree with her on this point.

So why not Cutroneo for the third vote?  As of this moment, it is because she is running on a slate with Christina Delmont-Small…and I believe that while both have impressive advocacy credentials, Delmont-Small’s are slightly stronger.  That said, I haven’t made up my mind…yet.

Delmont-Small.  Right now, at this very minute, she is my third vote. 

First, her PTA and PTACHC experience is great, as is her work on the Operating Budget Review Committee.  Her backing by the HCEA is important in my household.

She pulled the old Kobayashi Maru on me on the questionnaire.  Basically, for non-Star Trek fans, she refused to accept the premise of my clones question.  Importantly, she did so cleverly.  Essentially, she used the question as an opportunity to reflect on the necessity of “different opinions and ideas on the BOE and a BOE that will embrace respectful discussion of opinions and thoughts that are contrary to their own and be able to disagree in a respectful manner.”  Well played.

Beyond that, she hit the high notes regarding the need to “increase transparency and accountability,” calling for a “student/school focused approach,” and the need to “change/improve relationships.”  As part of that third platform element, she correctly noted that “the superintendent is accountable to the BOE on all matters related to the operation of the school system.  The superintendent is not an elected member of the BOE, she is an employee of the BOE.” Obvious to many? Yes.  Needed to be said?  Absolutely yes.

She talks about the importance of “electing individuals to the BOE who will bring the voices of parents, teachers, and administrators to the BOE and will ask the hard questions and ensure that the school system operates in a manner that is accountable and transparent.” 

So why not Delmont-Small for the third vote?  Honestly, I would have loved to have seen a bit more policy in her responses.  A bit more detail.  She had the “vision thing” down cold.  I believe she gets the nitty-gritty, but she kept her responses focused on broader, bigger themes.  That said, I think she would make a great Board of Education member.  That is why she leads the Tier Two pack. 

Of course nothing is a lock until I vote. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


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