Baltimore County Board of Education Candidate Q&A: District 3, John W. Egan
Posted by Ann Costantino on 12th May 2018
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John W. Egan, District Three candidate for Baltimore County’s School Board

On June 26, registered voters in Baltimore County may cast their votes for their favored candidate for Baltimore County’s first ever partially elected school board.

The 12-member hybrid elected school board will be comprised of four governor-appointed members, one student member, and seven elected members from the county’s seven councilmanic districts. 

However, only candidates from District One, Three, Four and Seven will appear on the primary ballots in their respective districts because each of those districts have more than two candidates vying for a seat on the school board.

The primary election will decide which two board candidates will go on to complete in the general election.

The school board candidates will not be identified on the ballot by a political party.  As a result, all registered voters in those districts – regardless of political party – may vote in the primary for their desired candidate.

But in order to do so, voters must register to vote by June 5.  Early voting begins on June 14.

In District Three, six candidates are running against incumbent board member, Kathleen Causey.

Image Source: Baltimore County Government

The Baltimore Post sent questions to all interested candidates. Four candidates from District Three responded, while one candidate dropped out earlier this month to support the district’s incumbent candidate.

The Post will publish the responses from the candidates over the next few days, in the order they were received:  John W. Egan, Paul V. Konka and incumbent school board member, Kathleen Causey.

The four other District Three candidates can be found on the State Board of Elections Candidate Listing.

Mr. Egan’s bio can be viewed here.

Q&A with John Egan:

BP: Why are you running for the school board?

JE: I wish to serve on the Baltimore County School Board because I believe the Board needs a strong, leadership voice. I know that our school system can be exceptional. Up until now, however, I am convinced that our system has failed to live up to its fullest potential.  Our system has the resources to be literally world class, yet it seems as if there has been a general desire to just be ‘good enough.’

I wish to serve because the School Board has failed to provide necessary oversight in the past and must improve in this area.  With my knowledge, experience, and commitment to education, I can help provide that necessary oversight.

I wish to serve to represent an under-served segment of our school population – our most talented and exceptional students in both science and the arts. I want to make sure we are providing the resources and the opportunities to enable these students to maximize their talents.

I wish to serve because children are the future and their education is a critical societal responsibility. As a citizen of this community, I feel a responsibility to share my insights in making the important educational decisions that will literally affect the very future of our community and country.

BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?

JE: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?

The greatest deficiency of the current school board is that it has failed to provide adequate oversight to BCPS administration. The scandal involving former Superintendent Dance is the most obvious example of this failure to provide adequate oversight.

And I am concerned that we are not supporting the gifted and talented portion of our school population to the best of our ability.  I want to see resources, opportunities and support provided for our highest achieving students to enable them to maximize their talents.

BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?

JE: The three biggest challenges facing BCPS as a whole: Oversight, Transparency, and Competence.

First: The School Board must provide greater oversight to school administration and increased transparency.  Recent history suggests that the current Board has not provided an adequate level of oversight.

Several situations expose this need. For example I question the initial selection of Superintendent Dance and then later the extension of his contract.  I want to know why the Board was not more critical of his performance since we now know that he spent about a third of all school days in 2016 outside of the school district.  And I am concerned that the decision to provide laptops throughout the system may not have been based on solid educational principles.

Second: The School Board needs to support and sustain greater transparency. There are two initiatives I would implement immediately to support transparency. The Board needs to assume a more proactive role in including the community at large in the conversation regarding BCPS initiatives and priorities.

I want the Board to sponsor monthly town halls throughout the county to increase transparency and improve the general public’s access to information regarding school matters. I would require Board members to each attend at least four of these town halls over the school year.

I also want BCPS needs to establish an ombudsman position. This person will field and address issues and questions from the entire community and will allow citizens greater access to the inner workings of the school system. I do not think this needs to be a new hire. I am confident that we can transition a current administrator into this new position.

Third: We must recruit and maintain the most talented and engaged teachers possible.  We need to assure that our best teachers receive pay appropriate to their contributions. We need to assure that minimal performance teaching standards are addressed. We must offer our least effective teachers opportunities to improve but be prepared to remove them from classrooms if they do not possess the required skills.

BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?

JE: I defer answering at this moment. I want to gain a greater understanding of why and how current capital spending decisions have been made before commenting.

BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap?  If so, why?  How can it be solved?
Declined to answer.

BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system?  Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
Declined to answer.

BP: What do you see is the role of the Board of Education?  Also, how do you see this role relative to any superintendent hired by the school system?

JE: The primary role of the Board of Education is to provide oversight to school administration. This role is to ensure that administration acts in a transparent manner, seeking to provide a quality education for the children of the community and represent the values, beliefs and priorities of the community.

BP: If approached by a special interest group, former board member or politician with a request on how to vote on a matter, how would you handle such a request?  What would you do?

I would expect that as a board member, I would frequently be approached by people with a special interest or view point who would encourage me to vote in a certain way.

This is natural in any political position. And there is no need to report it or treat it as unusual or unethical. In fact, I consider it a responsibility of a board member to meet with all the stakeholders to gather as much information as possible as well as determine the general values, beliefs, and priorities of the community.

What would be wrong, ethically and legally, would be to be offered something of value (money, tickets, special consideration, whatever) for my vote. This situation should be mentioned to the board, to the school legal staff, or to whomever the board has designated for this purpose.

Board discussion and decisions should be made with as much transparency as possible.

BP: As a Board member, would (or do) you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative for the school system?

JE: Both. As an elected Board member, the primary responsibility is to the community that elected you. As the same time, I was elected me to serve at the best of my ability and to use my knowledge and experience to assist the school system to provide a quality educational environment for our community.

However, as a representative of the community, I do not expect to ask the community how to decide on any given issue. The community choose me, through an election, to use my best judgement in making decisions that considers both the needs, beliefs and values of the community and the school system.

BP: Will you be accessible to community members and their concerns? What are the ways you plan to engage with community members?  (And/or how have you engaged with the community?)

JE: I would work hard to sustain transparency and be accessible to community members.  I would implement immediately Board sponsored monthly town halls throughout the county to increase transparency and improve the general public’s access to information regarding school matters. I would require Board members to each attend at least four of these town halls over the school year although I would attempt to attend each and every town hall.

I would also be available to meet one-on-one with any community member who wants to communicate an issue or express an opinion.

BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem?  If so, why?  And how should/can it be addressed?

JE: The critical formula for quality education includes three essential elements: an engaged learner, a competent teacher, and supportive parents (care givers). If any student, through disruptive behavior negatively impacts the ability of others who wish to learn, we need to remove that student from the classroom to support the students who want to learn.

I also believe that BCPS should not give up on disruptive students and should provide resource and assistance to troubled students to help them understand the importance of receiving a good education. The school should utilize all their resources to help students understand the need for acceptable classroom behavior and to accept their responsibilities as a member of the school community.

BCPS needs also to make an important distinction between an infrequent discipline issue and a perpetual discipline offender. Persistent disruptive students are also citizens of this county, and as such, addressing troubled students is not just a BCPS concern. Since any disruptive student is also a member of our community, I support a stronger partnership between BCPS and other county resources to address this issue.

BP: What is your own experience with public education?

JE: I received a master degree in Education from Syracuse University and taught 8th grade Social Studies for three years in the public school system in a small New York town.

I left to return to Ohio for family reasons and found a job in the private sector.  With that job, I spent a career in the training and development profession, which kept me involved in the education field and knowledgeable about the latest research on education.

We moved to Maryland before our two sons were still infants, so their entire school experience was in the Baltimore County School System.  For two years I was the president of the PTA at Cockeysville Middle School and for two years I served on the PTA Council of Baltimore County.

My youngest son attended Carver Center for Arts and Technology, so I am intimately familiar with both the more typical school environment and with a magnet school environment.

BP: What is your opinion on the school system’s youngest learners being on 1:1 computers? Specifically, what do you think the gains and/or missed opportunities are (such as time and money)?

JE: If you consider the STAT (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) initiative most broadly, I believe in blended learning. I do not, however, believe that providing 133,000 laptops to all students and teachers is necessary to provide quality education to our children. More specifically, I believe that the money to purchase these laptops could be much more effectively allocated.

Based upon my experience, there are three essential elements in providing quality education: an engaged learner, a competent teacher, and supportive parents (care givers). Every other educational initiative is secondary to this critical formula.

I know that children learn in many different ways and that the more teachers utilize a variety of teaching styles and techniques, the more successful the students will be. I support, therefore, integrating online digital media with traditional classroom methods.

My concern is that if all students were given laptops, there would be extreme pressure on teachers to use this technology. To justify the expense of providing laptops, teachers will actively seek activities and exercises that use laptops – for the primary purpose of using technology, rather than determining what is the best method to support the specific learning objectives.

The BCPS administration has not offered convincing arguments that providing laptops for all will improve the quality of the learning environment. They offered anecdotal stories of improved education using technology but provided no objective, causal and verifiable evidence to justify equipping all with laptops.

BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?

JE: I will base my decisions on what I believe to be in the best interests of the children of Baltimore County.

As mentioned above, as an elected representative of the 3rd council district, my primary responsibility is to the community that elected you – to reflect their beliefs, values, and concerns.  As the same time, I was elected me to serve at the best of my ability and to use my knowledge and experience to assist the school system to provide a quality educational environment for our community.

However, as a representative of the community, I do not expect to ask the community how to decide on any given issue. The community choose me, through an election, to use my best judgement in making decisions that considers both the needs, beliefs and values of the community and the school system.

BP: How do you suggest the school system adhere to both ethics and procurement procedures and policies?  In your view, whose job is it to oversee procurement and ethics policies and procedures?

JE: The very fact that there are two current criminal issues involving BCPS officials and contracts and that interim Superintendent White failed to completely disclose income, makes it apparent that there has been inadequate Board oversight in the past. Therefore, the system’s current rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure has been shown to be deficient.

However, before enacting onerous new regulations, I would first focus on creating and maintaining complete transparency. To support this required transparency, I propose two immediate actions.

First, the Board needs to assume a more proactive role in including the community at large in the conversation regarding BCPS initiatives and priorities. I want the Board to sponsor monthly town halls throughout the county to increase transparency and improve the general public’s access to information regarding school matters. I would require Board members to each attend at least four of these town halls over the school year.

Second, BCPS needs to establish an ombudsman position. This person will field and address issues and questions from the entire community and will allow citizens greater access to the inner workings of the school system. I do not think this needs to be a new hire. I am confident that we can transition a current administrator into this new position.

Additional Comments:

JE: My top priority is to give voice to our schools’ highest performers. BCPS has a responsibility to fairly allocate resources across the entire spectrum of the student population.

Clearly some students need additional resources and within our abilities, BCPS should attempt to address these needs. But, these special needs should not be addressed without considering the potential harm that may be created by denial of resources to other students. I am concerned that in prioritizing resources to address the needs of the minority and low-income population, we overlook the need to provide additional resources to support the rest of the student community.

Contrary to the current prioritization, I want our schools to provide greater resources to those students who have the potential to be exceptional. We need to identify these students and give them the resources and encouragement to excel. Carver Center for the Arts has done a superb job of supporting our students in the arts. We have an equal responsibility to provide comparable resources dedicated to academic excellence in both the social sciences and STEM.

One idea I offer to support this segment is to establish Genius Grants for our exceptional students. This program, designed for high school students, will combine elements of both the MacArthur Fellowship Program and entrepreneurial start-up grants. Talented students with exceptional potential (in both science and humanities/art) would be eligible to receive monies to further develop their ideas. I would seek partnerships with local firms to fund these grants.