Friday, October 12, 2012
BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATES’ FORUM, OCTOBER 10, 2012
Frederick Stichnoth, fred.stichnoth AT yahoo.com
October 11, 2012
A ninety-minute BOE candidates’ Forum on Public Safety was conducted October 10th in
Silver Spring, sponsored by Safe Silver
Spring, Prezco (President’s Council of Silver Spring Civic Associations),
MCCPTA and Montgomery County Civic Federation.
The audience consisted of about 25 people (apparently largely from local, down-county environs). The following notables were noted: Lynne Harris, MCCPTA Vice President of Education Issues; Shebra Evans, MCCPTA Vice President of Programs; Larry Edmunds, MCCPTA Vice President of Legislation; Jen Bondeson, Gazette reporter.
Questions were asked by Tony Hausner (Safe Silver Spring) and Evan Glass (Prezco), and two members of the audience. Some questions were derived from Safe Silver Spring’s September 13, 2012 “School Board Questionnaire,” which some of the candidates had answered. http://www.safesilverspring.com/docs/School_Board_Candidates_Questionnaire_Responses_on_Public_Safety_Issues_091312.doc
This summary presents Candidates’ Responses and My Reflections.
Question 1: school resource officers.
Chris Barclay. “Safety and security are paramount.” The issues with the program are budget and management. If MCPS contributes to program funding, it must be able to manage the officers.
Panner. Mr. Panner would “think out of the box,” on this
question and generally. He would examine what the research shows. In this case,
the research shows that the program does not have a positive effect: schools
are no safer, their climate is degraded, and minority students find SRO’s
difficult. Mr. Panner would change the background.
Question 2: truancy court program.
Mr. Panner would review research to determine whether the program was cost
effective. We must distinguish an education program from a criminal program.
Chris Barclay. Mr. Barclay would ask why students are truant and what’s going on at home. MCPS may need to “partner” (apparently a funding reference) with the Department of Health and Human Services and with Mental Health Association. We must ask what MCPS needs to do to get students engaged.
Question 3: fostering parent involvement (with reference to neighborhood schools with high FARMS rates).
Chris Barclay. Mr. Barclay cited past Board outreach strategies:
and PTA single-cluster meetings. These are not enough. Not everyone is involved
in PTA. The Board must push its message out, getting out into the community,
and not just at election time. He understands the concerns. Parent Academies
Panner. Mr. Panner would examine things from the other
end of the telescope. Parents have a very small window into the school. Board
members must accommodate parents, asking what the parents want.
Question 4: vocational education expansion.
Chris Barclay. Mr. Barclay said that career and technical education (CTE) should be available for students who want to learn. MCPS students need more options.
is a wonderful school. MCPS must have “vision forward,” including CTE and
distance learning. To succeed, all students need baseline skills.
Panner. Mr. Panner does not want his special education
child to be a victim of low expectations, shunted into vocational education.
Mr. Panner would ask how effective the program is, reviewing outcomes,
consulting research. Vocational education should prepare students for future
jobs, not the jobs of 10-15 years ago.
Question 5: disproportionate minority suspensions.
Chris Barclay. Mr. Barclay said that MCPS has black male disproportionality problems with discipline and special education. Staff must engage and get to know kids. Black males, whose bodies are growing and hormones raging in middle school, are disciplined for dubious infractions like “insubordination.” Suspension more than one time per year predicts school failure. MCPS must get to the root issue: put race on the table.
Panner. Mr. Panner was a prosecutor: he understands
crime. There is an “epidemic of expulsion.” The education system dropped the
ball in this case, as it did in civil rights, special education, and female
extracurricular activity; then the judicial system had to take over. He noted a
conflict between supporting SRO’s and banning expulsion. We must find an
Barclay/Esquith exchange. Following Mr. Esquith’s response, Mr. Barclay erupted with frustration. He asked what Mr. Esquith meant: schools triumphed in these instances; they did not “drop the ball.” Mr. Barclay said that “folks are throwing out platitudes; we’re dealing with real kids’ lives.”
Mr. Esquith calmly explained that in the instances he mentioned, either the courts or Congress were required to intervene because the schools did not sufficiently address these equity issues themselves.
Audience Question 6: guidance counselors.
Chris Barclay. Supportive counselors and professional development in class management support kids in understanding their lives. The Board weighs one need against another. A lot is done by formula. It is a struggle to balance, especially when money is short.
Panner. Mr. Esquith referred to several behavior
modification programs. Four percent of students require intensive mental health
intervention. We must examine this issue at the systemic level, not position by
Audience Question 7: Styrofoam trays. A very bright, articulate, self-possessed student from
forcefully renewed the question of whether MCPS would support a pilot
dishwasher program to replace these “neuro-toxic” trays. Piney Branch
Panner. Mr. Panner would support this pilot program.
Chris Barclay. Piney Branch has done a great job in forwarding this proposal. Mr. Barclay sponsored a resolution to reduce MCPS’ “carbon footprint.” MCPS already has taken certain steps: apparently eliminating trays from high schools. However, the Board’s job is policy and finance, not operations; that’s why the Board hires a Superintendent.
Candidates’ perspectives. Observing a span uncluttered with substance (“folks are throwing out platitudes here,” Mr. Barclay unselfconsciously noticed), characteristic candidate perspectives are easy to discern.
I like in-school experience, on-the-job know-how and analysis, each with a caveat.
It is not yet clear, despite our experience with Mike Durso, that in-school experience does not limit the ability to see long-standing problems and to bring disruptive change. This concern is exacerbated, in Mr. Evans’s case, because he is embraced by MCEA—the teachers’ union (as are incumbents Barclay and Kauffman). MCEA power is wielded where it does not belong.
In the same way as in-school experience, on-the-job know-how facilitates operations, except when it becomes hide-bound organizational passivity. Mr. Kauffman’s tired responses suggest he learned too well from strong-willed Superintendents Weast and Starr, from MABE training and Broad seminars. It sure looks like the current Board is being lead by the nose.
Study delay. Analysis, “outside the box,” and the “other end of the telescope,” sound pretty atypical for the Board. (I distinguish simple focus and forthrightness that seem to be disqualifying characteristics, as Ms. Berthiaume’s fate suggests.) Mr. Morris (channeled by Mr. Esquith) seemed to display some homework analysis when he advised that SRO’s do not work. Most other times, repetition of his main qualification covered over a failure to have substantive answers to the questions.
Of course, this was only a variation of the tack taken by other candidates: Ms. Seckinger thought that we must examine why we need SRO’s. Incumbent Kauffman wanted to determine why
Edison is undersubscribed.
Despite his experience, Mr. Evans still needs to “analyze why” disproportionate
minority suspension occurs; incumbent Kauffman needs to “look at the data.” Ms.
Smondrowski would determine why students aren’t engaged.
New studies come every day, and I hope MCPS, the Board and parents will continue to review and debate them. On the other hand, some problems have been with us for decades. A claim for more study time does not excuse inaction.
Money delay. Our know-how guys, Barclay and Kauffman, defend inaction on the basis of budget constriction generally and a game with the Council of budget blackmail in particular. This seems to reflect our pathetic national melodrama.
Lightness of dis-placement. Unlike any other forum I’ve seen, this one was thrown by a particular neighborhood and the questions particularly reflected that neighborhood’s concerns. Our candidates missed this, in their intense preoccupation with the generic.
It is no accident that questions regarding SRO’s, truant officers, vocational education and disproportionate minority suspension were not emanating from
So, to return to the previous comment, our candidates were unaware that the hostages in their money game are the
people looking for public safety. And Chris “Safety and security are
paramount…we’re dealing with real kids’ lives” Barclay represents the
While the budget may not meet hopes, or even needs, the Board must spend the budget WHERE the need is greatest.
There were a couple of good, if grossly understated, exceptions. Ms. Smondrowski stated the MCPS should evaluate schools’ needs “based on sheer whatever” (I think she was searching for “educational load” or degree of concentrated poverty). Ms. Seckinger knows that a gang-free MoCo is just not true.
Constricted Board function. The Board displays profound decorum in deferring to the Superintendent on the neuro-toxic tray issue. And its learned formulaic responses protect it from acknowledging need in the red zone. Despite Board policy and regulation (on educational load, for example) and Board resolution (on choice parameters, for example), the Board does not act.
The Board has power and a paramount political function. What is it doing?
Final miscellany. I salute Mr. Barclay for trying to keep race on the table; I hope he’ll also locate it on the map.
MCCPTA has been MCPS’ partner, and PTA’s have been MCPS’ primary vehicle of parent engagement. Insiders Barclay and Kauffman, apparently following the Superintendent’s lead, want to supplant PTA’s. If I were MCCPTA, I’d feel dissed. (On the other hand, MCCPTA is outsourcing its function—to the Parent Leadership Group, for example—so maybe it’s in on the game.) Myself—I’ve seen the best of times and the worst of times with MCCPTA. I hope the best will resume. I’m concerned about MCCPTA’s demotion, and potential replacement by isolated and powerless small groups propped up by MCPS itself.