For the first time in Baltimore County, on June 26, registered voters will have the opportunity to choose the members of Baltimore County’s Board of Education who represent their district. The 12-member hybrid elected school board will be comprised of four appointed and seven elected members, as well as one student member.
In the county’s seven councilmanic districts, voters in each district will have the opportunity to cast their vote for their board representative.
Regardless of party affiliation, voters in districts with more than two candidates running for the board seat may vote in the primary election for their desired school board candidate.
Because school board members are unaffiliated and are not identified on the ballot by a political party, all registered voters – regardless of political party – may vote in the primary for their desired board candidate. But in order to do so, voters must register to vote by June 5. Early voting begins on June 14.
However, districts that have more than two board candidates running will be entered into the primary race. That is because in the general election, registered voters will have two candidates from which to choose.
As with any election, the primary election will decide which candidates will make it to the general election, but board candidates will not be separated or classified by a political party.
Out of Baltimore County’s seven districts, only four districts have more than two candidates running for a seat on Baltimore County’s education board in their respective districts. Candidates in Districts One, Three, Four and Seven will be running among multiple candidates in order to make it to one of the two available slots in the general election.
In District One, five candidates are vying for a seat around the dais.
The Baltimore Post reached out to all candidates to give each an opportunity to answer questions. Questions were constructed through research and input from community members, as well as current events affecting the school system.
Over the coming weeks, questions and answers by all candidates that responded will be published.
The other candidates can be found on the State Board of Elections Candidate Listing.
Q&A with Lisa A. Mack:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
LM: I am running because there are many decisions that have been made by the county school board that appear to be made in the best interest of the county and not in the best interest of its students or teachers. In 2009, I began to teach at CCBC. I was appalled to learn that each and every semester thousands of students, the vast majority recent graduates of Baltimore County high schools, had not learned enough to pass the CCBC placement test that used 6th grade curriculum. In 2009, CCBC offered 7700 seats for remedial math, remedial reading, and remedial English. As a college adjunct, I spent full semesters teaching high school graduates how to write a paragraph (ENG 051) and how to write a five paragraph essay (ENG 052). How did students who can’t write a paragraph or have never written an essay graduate from high school? In fact, how did those students make it to high school since writing paragraphs and creating essays is part of the elementary school curriculum? Each semester, I engaged my students in a discussion of how they ended up needing up to seven remedial classes before they could ever take a credited course. There was a theme to my students’ responses, “As long as I showed up and didn’t screw up, I was moved to the next grade.” This philosophy of “moving students along” has done wonders for BCPS’s graduation rates; unfortunately, it has also created thousands of uneducated graduates.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?
LM: Baltimore County’s teachers are its greatest strength. They do so much for their students with so little support and so little respect.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?
LM: BCPS’ greatest weaknesses are its grading policy where students are given a 50% for just putting their names on a paper or test and where those same students are given multiple opportunities to redo work even if they made no effort to submit the work when it was due and its unwritten “all students pass” policy. These types of policies do not prepare students for the real world where no college is going to award a student a 50% for placing his/her name on a paper and no employer is going to pay someone just for signing in. Additionally, few employers will hire someone, even a high school graduate, if that person cannot read, write, and do basic math.
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?
LM: Teachers, the greatest strength of the system, are underutilized by the board. Student/teacher affecting decisions are often made with little to no input from teachers. Unless an administrator/decision maker has been in the classroom in recent years, that administrator/decision maker should use input from teachers before changing curriculum, changing grading policies, and/or purchasing laptops for all students.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?
LM: The greatest capital need is the retrofitting or replacing of aging schools. There are many old schools in Baltimore County and there is not enough funding to ensure that those schools meet students’ needs.
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can it be solved?
LM: There is absolutely an achievement gap and there are a number of reasons for that gap. First and foremost, the gap exists because of Baltimore County’s “everyone passes” mentality. This is driven by the emphasis on graduation rate instead of grade level achievement. When administrators and principals are “graded” on graduation rates, all students will pass even if they have not mastered grade level work. Another contributor to the gap is the socioeconomic challenges that so many of BCPS’ students face. If BCPS schools are expected to address and overcome all of these challenges, the schools have to be staffed to do so. The burden cannot be filled by teachers. Teachers cannot teach students when they are expected to feed them, comfort them, control their behavior, and provide them with school supplies. The last contributor is parents. BCPS must find a way to involve parents in their children’s education. A teacher, no matter how well educated, trained and prepared, cannot overcome the impact of uninvolved parents
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
LM: No, they are not. BCPS appears to subscribe to the squeaky wheel policy when allocating resources. As stated earlier, parents need to be involved in advocating for their children. However, children should not suffer because parents of students from another area advocated for resources more strongly than the parents from their area.
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?
LM: The role of the BOE is to provide oversight to any and all student affecting decisions and purchases regardless of who is requesting those changes. The BOE must ensure complete transparency in its decision making and purchases. The BOE, through its actions, must bring common sense and integrity back to education in Baltimore County.
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?
LM: I would immediately make the superintendent and other board members aware of the contact and seek guidance from counsel on next steps. Again, we must bring integrity and transparency back to education in Baltimore County.
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?
LM: As a longtime volunteer with children all over the state, I see myself as a representative of the school system as a whole, not just my community. The state of education all over Baltimore County is so chaotic and ineffective right now, no board member has the luxury of focusing attention only on his/her community.
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?)
LM: I have and will continue to engage with community members through face-to-face meetings and through social media. I would also encourage the restructuring of BOE meetings to ensure that time is allowed to hear valid community concerns.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
LM: The discipline problem in BCPS is bad and getting worse. The current BCPS handbook includes the word “may” instead of the word “will.” Children want and need boundaries. They need to know that there is a consequence for every action taken. Principals in area schools are afraid of parents and afraid of retaliation from BCPS leaders. This fear keeps them from reporting the increase in episodes of violence and the increase in intensity of that violence. I have volunteered with at risk youth for many years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). I know that there are many children in BCPS schools that have experienced unimaginable trauma. In the absence of funding and staffing to handle kids who have experienced trauma and are acting out or kids who are just out of control, there has to be a clearly defined policy that school administrators are not afraid to enforce because while teachers are handling discipline problems, they are not teaching.
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
LM: I am a product of the Baltimore City School System. My three daughters are products of the Baltimore County School System. I served on the PTA at my children’s elementary school. I was the Verizon representative on the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education. For many years, I participated in the Senior Interview Day at Lansdowne High School and at Liberty High School in Carroll County. Additionally, as a CASA, I advocated on behalf of my CASA kid to ensure that all facets of her IEP were met by BCPS.
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)?
LM: I do not think students in elementary school need 1:1 computers. In 2016, Psychology Today reported that too much screen time “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.” To be academically successful, kids need to be able to communicate with their teachers and their peers. They need to be able to concentrate and work collaboratively with others. They need to learn how to handle down time without having a screen in their faces. Technology has a place in learning, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in an educator’s toolbox. The millions of dollars spent on a laptop for every student would have been better spent on computers for every classroom and a more robust toolbox that meets the needs of all students.
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
LM: There are two factors I will consistently use. I will always ask if the decision made benefits students and prepares them to be successful in real life. If the decision involves money, I will approach it much as do in my personal life – How will it improve outcomes? Can BCPS afford it? Do students need it? Can they achieve what they need to achieve a different/less expensive way?
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?
LM: The policies on both ethics and procurement must be clear and not open to interpretation. No single person in the school system should be able to make a student affecting decision without oversight of the board. All purchases over a set dollar amount should follow a clear Request For Proposal (RFP) process that is transparent and open for review.
Lisa Mack can be reached at: email@example.com