Thursday, March 15, 2018

HoCo Board of Education: Grading the Candidate Questionnaires.(Part One)

Some ground rules/guiding principles:

1.       The focus of this essay is on exploring- briefly- how well each BoE candidate fared in terms of crafting a questionnaire response that appeals to the electorate.  Will their replies help them earn votes or no?

2.       It is not about grading the candidates themselves. This isn’t an endorsement post.

3.       I will be assessing communications as much as policy, so the grades should not be perceived to be based on support for, or opposition to, any particular policy stance. Again, see Point One (above).

4.       I don’t give A+ grades.

With that said, here are (in no particular order) some topline reflections on the completed Andrews Questionnaires:

1.       Timothy Hamilton.  Incomplete.  Did not respond to the survey.  On an unrelated note, he established a Twitter account for this “campaign.”  It has one lonely tweet.  He and Ian Bradley Moller-Knudsen must be off strategizing…somewhere.

2.       Sabina Taj.  A.  Bearing in mind audience, context, and purpose, I think Ms. Taj’s questionnaire was very focused from a messaging perspective. Her treatment of equity was thoughtful, demonstrating a depth of knowledge on the topic.  I think there was an appropriate balance in terms of addressing the needs and interests of various stakeholder populations.  She conveyed her qualifications in a way that linked to her background to specific outcomes and topics about which voters care.  I believe her “healthy schools, healthy students” articulation of that priority (Question 8) is a well-constructed point of differentiation.

3.       Jen Mallo.  A-.  Her questionnaire reflects both her serious credentials and that she has given a great deal of thought to challenges and potential solutions, with her responses to the budget and financing issues (Question 4) being a high-water mark.  The 12-point Equity response (Question 6) she wrote works better as a speech.  That said, the “cultural competency” verbiage and other language revealed a very reflective, comprehensive grasp of equity.  I am certain the “Teacher Empowerment” priority will appeal to considerable swathes of the electorate.  Compared head-to-head, I think Taj’s handling of equity (and related solutions) was slightly stronger than Mallo’s.   

4.       Mavourene Robinson.  B+.  I would have liked to have seen more detail on Question 4 regarding “operational efficiencies.”  Some examples would have been helpful here.  Another sentence (growth areas, perhaps?)  on Dr. Martirano would have been nice, just to get a forward-looking sense of what Ms. Robinson thinks Dr. Martirano should be focused on in year two (and beyond).  Granted, Mallo’s response on that question (Question 5) was similar in length but it seemed slightly more detailed. I think Ms. Robinson’s thoughts on equity raise more questions than answers (“conduct personal research”).  Being fairly well-informed on the equity issue – I get Mrs. Robinson’s point-of-view but it sounds as though she is attempting to strike a balance where one doesn’t need to be struck.  I think the “unwise programmatic investments” statement is a bit of a straw man argument. Even some policy attentive voters might wonder where she really comes down on equity policies, based on the response she crafted here.  Her top three priorities, essentially, boil down to identifying and rectifying inefficiencies, advocacy, and dialogue/relationship building.  It seems like that third point could be consolidated with the second into one mega-point: Advocacy and Engagement.

5.       Robert Miller.  B-.  Mr. Miller, being candid here, can be a little prolix in his responses.  Oddly enough, his reply was not the longest submitted (more on this later). But let’s get back on track regarding political communications.  His handling of the responsibilities question (Question 2) was a long bullet pointed list of duties…not an ideal presentation.  On Question 4, the budgeting and finance issue, he writes about waste (bringing to mind the old joke about there being a budget line item called “waste, fraud, and abuse”), but I don’t think he handled the safety argument well, particularly in these times.  While he was clear to caveat his point by calling for a review of security to ascertain what is truly effective, the line “saving money in the area of security” simply does not read well.  Yes, the rest of the sentence modifies the point, but the eyebrows have already been raised.  Again, I would have liked to have seen a bit more on his thoughts on Dr. Martirano, since he opened the door on how the Superintendent hasn’t satisfied everyone, including him (well…how so?).  I think his treatment of equity had an oddly defeatist tone, especially his second paragraph (Question 6).  Granted, some may argue that he was being pragmatic, and he does go on to list some solutions but I think his tonality here might be off-putting to some voters.  His overcrowding thoughts are detailed…but the handling of transferred students, I don’t know.  There might be some unintended consequences stemming from such a policy, if implemented.  Finally, his priorities are very much centered “in the classroom,” which is understandable, given his background.   That said, I wonder if voters this cycle – given what is going on in HoCo schools - might want/expect candidates to have systemic fiscal issues as a top priority.

Look for Part 2 (most likely of 3) soon.

In solidarity.

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