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In Baltimore County’s first ever school board election this year, seven spots on the 12-member partially elected school board will be selected by voters in the seven councilmanic districts candidates represent.
Autrese Thornton is one of five candidates running to represent District Four on the Board of Education. Areas included in the district Ms. Thorton would represent are Woodlawn, Randallstown, Woodstock, parts of Owings Mills and Reisterstown.
In districts like District Four, which have more than two candidates running for the board position, candidates will appear in June 26th’s primary election. Two winners from the primary will then go on to compete in November’s general election.
According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, all school board elections are nonpartisan. As a result, all unaffiliated and independent voters may still vote in the primary since the candidates will not be classified by political party. But in order to do so, voters must be registered to vote by June 5. Early voting begins on June 14.
The Baltimore Post sent 16 questions – formed through public input – to all interested candidates. Three of the five District Four candidates agreed to answer the questions. Ms. Thornton is a former educator, who worked in the school system for almost twenty years.
Q&A with Autrese Thornton:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
AT: Coupled with my intricate knowledge of student and teacher needs, the flow of operations in various school settings, as well as strategic and pragmatic solutions to multiple issues within a schooling operation, the need for the decision-makers to be more reflective of the demographics of the students compels me to run for the seat that district four will hold on the Baltimore County Board of Education. I believe there are needs of the students and employees of the County that I can help meet. My person-centeredness and leadership abilities will enable me to draft strategic solutions to help students, teachers, and administrators build relationships and connections to ultimately enhance student achievement and create safer schools.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?
Although the Baltimore County school system ranks 19th among the 24 school systems in the state of Maryland, there are a few schools in the county that place among the top 25 schools in the state. We have got to be doing something right! Ranked number 8 in the state of Maryland is Eastern Technical High, followed by Towson High School (#9), Western Tech (#11), Dulaney High (#12), and George Washington Carver (#15). The school I’m most familiar with that is currently ranked number 11 in the state is Western School of Technology and Environmental Science. My daughter went to school there and she was consistently within the top 90th percentile of test takers on all national tests they took in school.
My daughter graduated high school with 20 college credits and she scored a 1930 out of 2400 on her SAT. She also graduated high school with a Prostart certification in culinary arts, which is a certification from the National Restaurant Association vouching for her ability to cook safely and work in industrial kitchens. My daughter and her friends were all equipped with the tools they needed to venture off into higher education and/or the professional workforce. Western Tech is a magnet school and the students who go there once had to test, score a score above a particular threshold, and be selected from a lottery to attend the school. Baltimore County has the tools and resources available to ensure the success of its students. We see that based on the performance of its top schools.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?
AT: As a follow up from the last question, Baltimore County has the resources and tools for every student within the county to be a top performer, yet the resources and tools aren’t being allocated equally. There were schools without computer labs and books in good condition while other schools had brand new computers. And the schools without were in communities with lower income earners. Dundalk, Franklin, and Chesapeake do not even place in the Maryland rankings for high schools. The disparity must disappear and were must work to make the Baltimore County school system number one in the state like it has the potential to be. With so many schools in the top 25 and its ranking as 19 in the school system, that must mean there are some very low performing schools in the county dragging the overall performance down.
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?
The environmental component of some Baltimore County schools needs to be addressed immediately. All schools need heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Uncomfortability is a distraction from learning. Also, given the recent collapse of a university bridge in Florida, regular audits of building safety need to be in place as well as a system to implement renovations and repairs according to priority needs. A more strategic and verifiable maintenance process should be implemented to prevent incidents like that on FIU’s campus. The challenge would be to efficiently update these schools as quickly as we can.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?
Did not answer.
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can it be solved?
Did not answer.
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
(Answered in previous response.)
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?
AT: As a board of 12 officials, some elected some appointed, we are responsible for making decisions regarding mainly maintenance and development of property, system budget, school safety, and student performance. The board members are responsible for representing the interests of their district. The superintendent serves as the leader of the board on educational matters. Collectively, they make optimal decisions for all students from every district in the county school system.
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?
Did not answer.
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?
AT: As a board member, am I representative of community or of school system?
The school system is an aggregate of the members of my community, so I am both a representative for the community and as a result a representative for 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?)
AT: On my campaign literature, I have requested the comments of my community. I am an avid and active listener. I look forward to hearing the concerns of my community as I am a representation of them. I plan to attend town halls as I do currently to hear the concerns and needs and wants of my community so that I can make decisions that will best serve them.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
AT: BCPS has established policies for behavior such as the student handbook as well as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, which promotes positive incentives for students. Adjustments to the policies and procedures regarding severe behaviors of students need to be made. Additional policing, counseling, and social worker and psychology servicing need to be made available to students, as well as increased access to behavior interventionists and wellness centers. The school system needs to implement a process through which students, parents, teachers, and administrators can connect to formulate meaningful and impactful relationships that foster trust. Positive relationships and trust will provide a conducive environment that decreases the need for discipline and increases overall student performance.
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
AT: I have served the children of Baltimore County while holding several roles including Teacher, Librarian, Teacher Mentor, Special Educator, and Assistant Principal. I’m currently a Coordinator of Community Services for a nonprofit organization and a Caseworker for children that are county residents. I have a vast experience in the public arena. I use a person-centered approach to coordinate community services and resources for disabled individuals. As a Caseworker, I work collaboratively with Social Workers to monitor visitations for children and parents.
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)?
AT: Technology use is imperative to professional success. Without technological skills, students will not be prepared for both college and the professional world. However, I do feel that the use of one on one laptop usage in the classroom should be limited due to the necessity of social interaction among teachers with their students and students with other students to foster active learning that will prepare them to have effective human relation skills. Although laptops take away from students’ personability and hands on learning, they are the future and, because of that, very necessary. The system’s expenditures for student laptops should be monitored and adjusted to ensure a balance based on the need to make students career and college ready, meaning ensuring computer literacy while also enhancing interpersonal skills.
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
AT: Primarily, I will focus on resolving three issues while serving on the board:
- Increasing student performance and achievement, and consequently opportunities and exposure to practical uses of their schooling skills by altering the perspective by which we, as facilitators of education, govern the system of education as a whole by incorporating passion into our work, encouraging pride in our students and their success binding us, and expanding our understanding of one another.
- Creating incentives—for teachers and administrators to increase sed student achievement and opportunity—such as performance-based salaries and compensation
- Ensuring equality and high performance across all schools and in all communities in the Baltimore County school system to increase our ranking from #19 in Maryland closer to #1.
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?
AT: The board works alongside the superintendent to ensure the superintendent behaves ethically and vice versa. However, there needs to be some additional policies and procedures to make clear and concise the ethics regarding reporting of disclosures. The other rules are sufficient; however, the level of accountability needs to improve. Monitoring of the compliance with these rules also needs to be enhanced. I also feel there needs to be training put in place annually as well as a signature party at that training ensuring accountability of compliance with ethical policies and procedures.