There are five months left before registered voters in Baltimore County’s Sixth Councilmanic District will have the opportunity to choose between two candidates for the county’s first partially elected school board.
Longtime educator, Ed Kitlowski, will face off against longtime and well-known education and community advocate, Lily Rowe.
This year, registered voters in the county’s seven councilmanic districts will have the opportunity to cast their votes for their chosen board representative.
But only candidates in three of those districts will bypass this month’s primary election and appear only on the general election ballot. That is because in Districts Two, Five and Six, only two candidates are vying for a seat around the dais, and in November, registered voters may make their selection between the two.
The 12-member hybrid elected school board will be comprised of four governor-appointed members, one student member, and seven elected members who represent the county’s seven districts.
Ed Kitlowski is running to represent District Six, an area that encompasses the Parkville, Loch Raven, Overlea, Bowley’s Quarters, Fullerton, Glendale, Rosedale and Middle River areas. See map for additional areas.
Mr. Kitlowski and his opponent, Lily Rowe, both responded to a Baltimore Post questionnaire comprised of questions formed through public input. The Baltimore Post is publishing the candidates’ responses in the order they were received.
Mr. Kitlowski’s bio can be viewed here. He has been endorsed by TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, for which he served as a representative for three years. Mr. Kitlowski graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in History from Ithaca College after spending a year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In 1986, he earned his Master of Education from Loyola University. The former educator taught English, Social Studies and Special Education. He retired in 2016.
Q&A with Ed Kitlowski:
BP: Why are you running for the school board?
EK: I taught in BCPS for over 30 years. I know the school system. I firmly believe that the county school system would look differently if a teacher, familiar with the current state, served on the Board of Education.
My campaign slogan is to LIFT Education. LIFT stands for Leadership, Integrity, Focus and Transparency. These are ways of being that are missing in BCPS.
My first years teaching in BCPS, I felt very fortunate. BCPS teachers were the third highest paid in Maryland. There was a sense of community in the schools and teachers were empowered to develop programs to genuinely meet the needs of the students. Teachers were very much part of the decision-making process. I personally made suggestions for school and county-wide changes that were adopted. For example, I was the Special Ed. Department Chairman. At the time, the Assistant Principals ran the IEP Teams. Many of them had little to no experience with Special Ed. law and the process. I offered to run the IEP Team as I knew Special Education law, and this would free up the Assistant Principal. BCPS adopted this practice.
BCPS has changed from many factors. The No Child Left Behind Act was a non-negotiable influence but certainly was not isolated. We have had a series of Superintendents who were blatantly antagonistic to teachers, and who created a leadership model of fear and intimidation. Salaries declined, class sizes increased. At one school, we had to have a cookie dough sale to buy Biology books the Curriculum Office mandated without providing the funds. Parents felt increasingly minimized. High schools eliminated vocational programs which alienated students.
I taught US Government and World History. Our country was founded on philosophies that were not present in the school system. We had an unelected group, accountable to no-one, appoint a leader who was also unaccountable. There is an expression, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We have recently seen the results.
BP: What do you see is Baltimore County Public Schools’ greatest strength? And what has the district done well over last five years?
EK: The greatest strength is the body of educators. The teachers are dedicated, resilient and genuinely caring. In my roles, I was able to observe and work with many teachers. For the most part, teachers support each other. One thing BCPS has done well over the last five years was look at the needs of all students. The collaboration with CCBC has opened opportunities for many students. Some curricula have been updated to include skills needed after graduation. For example, the 12th Grade English course included units on fallacies, discrimination and research skills with an increase in written responses.
BP: What do you see is the school system’s greatest weakness? And what has the district done poorly that you want changed?
EK: The leadership of BCPS is the greatest weakness. As previously stated, we have had a series of superintendents who established an authoritarian culture. The past BOEs were complicit. The Master Agreement, the contract between the BOE and TABCO, has been violated with impunity. The grievance procedure became immaterial. There have been other ethical concerns around BCPS leadership which the past BOEs did not address.
To make an analogy, it is easier to grow corn in Iowa than in Alaska. The condition or environment shapes what can happen. Changing the leadership style and the culture in BCPS will create a more responsive environment.
BP: What do you see are the current challenges facing Baltimore County Public Schools, as a whole?
EK: There is a great deal of skepticism and lack of trust throughout the communities that make up BCPS, and for good reasons. Our leader was indicted and found guilty of a crime. Parents do not feel their voice makes a difference. Many schools are overcrowded and/or need major repairs and renovation. Their children come home and tell stories of undisciplined students who act without consequence. Parent enquiries are answered with partial truths. Many teachers do not trust the system as the Master Agreement is ignored. School discipline is deteriorating as school administrators are told not to suspend students.
Students put up with peers who disrupt their class. They take tests that don’t seem relevant. The phrase, “College and Career Ready” is heard as a gesture and not a goal.
We must create our system to authentically meet the needs of the students. We must prepare our students for life, not just graduation.
BP: What do you see are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?
EK: There are many needs from repairing and renovating existing schools, dealing with overcrowding, maintaining the financial integrity of a contract with technology firms and retaining teachers. The school system needs to evaluate all the needs, including the smaller ones such as broken toilets, malfunctioning water fountains and poorly functioning air and heating equipment. Many projects were completed for other reasons than the best interest of students.
BP: In your view, is there an achievement gap? If so, why? How can it be solved?
EK: The Phrase “Achievement Gap” is generally used in the context of how poor, usually minority, students do in school. The prevailing perspective had been the achievement gap was simply a lack of opportunity which could be provided in schools. This was before research by neurologists and medical professionals using advanced imaging of the brain.
There is an achievement gap. Recent research by neurologists indicates that students coming from poverty and/or stressful conditions, enter school with neurological issues. MRIs reveal differences in brain activity and hard wiring, the amount of grey and white matter. The areas of the brain which regulate impulsivity, emotional responses and critical thinking are affected. This is not simply a lack of opportunity.
Experts in the field point to greater need for early childhood development. Educational opportunity does not address the morphology. Students need direct intervention to learn how to manage behavioral and emotional issues and develop critical thinking skills which require sustained focus. It is unreasonable to expect the classroom teacher to deliver a “rigorous” curriculum and provide services which would best delivered by trained personnel.
BP: Do you feel that schools are treated equally in the school system? Why/why not? (i.e. facilities, resources, support)
EK: A more important question is: do the parents, teachers and students feel schools are treated equally. As a Special Ed. teacher, I knew equal did not mean fair, or necessary. Sometimes fair was not equal. In listening to parents, there is a perception of decisions being made for reasons other than need. Some community members have stated that decisions were made to promote the superintendent, both Dr. Hairston and Dr. Dance.
The perception needs to be acknowledged and addressed, not denied and justified. I suggest that there has been an overall decline in the physical facilities in BCPS with an increase in politicized discussions.
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?
EK: The role of the BOE is to provide oversight over the superintendent and hold him/her accountable. Additionally, the BOE must reestablish trust in BCPS with parents, teachers and students.
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?
EK: It is standard procedure for all the mentioned to approach members of the BOE. The context of the conversation is the issue that defines the discussion. If there is a quid pro quo aspect to the discussion, I would end the discussion. There is a perception that Dr. Dance engaged in such a discussion. If someone approaches with a request and has statistics and the context of the request is what is in the best interest of the students in BCPS, I would listen. One criticism I have of BCPS is the narrow channel of information that entered. SUPES Academy had a disproportionate influence on the management of BCPS.
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?
EK: I am a representative of all the communities in BCPS: parents, teachers and students. The Master Agreement is the contractual agreement between TABCO and the BOE. There is another contractual agreement between the BOE and administrators and another for secretaries etc. One role is to ensure those contractual agreements are being followed. Another role is to scrutinize the proposed budget. The money comes from the taxpayers and therefore the BOE acts in a stewardship role. The BOE oversees curricular decisions, affecting the students. The superintendent’s job is to lead the school system. The BOE serves as a check of the superintendent.
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?)
EK: Several of the current BOE members have reached out to parents and teachers and met with them informally. Some have visited schools. They have also made themselves available by email. At one time, emails to the BOE members were monitored and did not go directly to the member. I propose holding “Town Hall” type meetings to hear from parents. I would visit schools to hear from teachers and students. As a teacher, I reached out to parents on a regular basis. I have begun attending community and PTA meetings, including the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities education work group.
BP: In your view, does BCPS have a student discipline problem? If so, why? And how should/can it be addressed?
EK: The simple answer is yes. Some students act in ways that are socially unacceptable, disruptive, sometimes dangerous and even illegal without consequences or interventions. In meeting with parents and teachers, they feel there is a problem. One teacher with whom I recently met, taught in BCPS, moved out of area and returned after five years. Her words were, “This system has changed a lot!” Teachers report regularly being sworn at and even physically assaulted with little consequence. I personally was threatened by a student who picked up a chair in class. The student received one day of in-school suspension.
The decline in school discipline is not a recent event. The No Child Left Behind Act included discipline as part of the data for a school meeting Annual Yearly Progress. Schools could be labelled “persistently dangerous” based on the number of disciplinary incidents. The ACLU 2007 paper entitled “Criminalizing the Classroom,” reported on the negative effects on minority students of zero tolerance policies. The Obama administration described a disparity of Minority and Special Ed. students being suspended. The logic of the phrase was the percent of these students being suspended was greater than the percent of those students enrolled in schools. The phrase “school to prison pipeline” came to mean the process of students being suspended in school and then becoming part of the adult criminal justice system.
The Obama Administration released Guidelines on Discipline which essentially called for the end of suspensions for most incidents and the use of other options. Changing disciplinary methods was part of Race to the Top funds which Maryland adopted. COMAR has specific language on acceptable percentages of school suspensions, yet there have not been additional resources to deal with these students who remain in the buildings. Students are not seeing consequences for anti-social behavior.
People conflate the issues of racism, student behavior and consequences. Schools no longer have a standard of acceptable behavior. This must be re-established. It is destructive to everyone and ironically fosters a “school to prison” process. Punitive measures are not the only option in dealing with students who do not follow a defined expectation of behavior. As stated previously, early intervention with direct services is the best option. That will require budgeting for extra personnel.
There needs to be an understanding of all parties that students and schools are part of society. To quote the old Fram Oil commercial, “You can pay me now or pay me later.” The cost to provide services in school is cheaper than the cost to provide services in prison.
BP: What is your own experience with public education?
EK: I taught in BCPS for 30+ years. I was the MD coordinator for international student summer programs. Most of the international students stayed with public school students. I was the Special Education Dept. Chairman at Sparrows Point Middle School and qualified to be an administrator. I voluntarily returned to teach in the classroom. I was a co-Chair for the MD State Teachers Association committee on the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on MD schools. I attended a public elementary school and my daughter attended public schools.
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)?
EK: I believe the most important aspect in education is the relationships between humans. Generally, who a teacher is being, i.e. how he/she relates to the students, is more important than the content of the class. I have met many past students and they remember me for my relationship with them and not how well I taught them to identify an adjective. Computer technology cannot provide this relationship.
Medical journals have increasingly published articles on the negative implications of computer use, especially on younger students. Students already have access to smartphones and spend hours on them. The efficacy of using computers for instruction is questionable. Many teachers in BCPS understand the positive potential but also indicate students often have no ownership of their devices.
The cost and dealing with for profit companies is an issue of concern. The current budget proposal drastically cut expenditure on books and drastically increased the expenditure on technology, a much higher priced and therefore higher profit, item.
A frequent expression used by administrators to describe our students was “digital native.” Our students grew up with technology. This was the justification for increasing technology expenditures. The reality is students are proficient in social media, and games but incapable of using technology for research and cannot distinguish between legitimate and unreliable websites and information. Many do not even have basic keyboarding skills, once taught in BCPS.
BP: What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
EK: My educational experience will be the background for many conversations. I am familiar with curricula, the structure of BCPS, Special Ed. laws, and educational pedagogy. I have also owned and operated my own business. As coordinator of international exchange groups, I had a budget with which to work. I am a parent and a taxpayer in Baltimore County. All these factors will be operating in the context of my decision-making process.
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?
EK: I believe there are already established procedures and policies, but they were not followed. Remember, the superintendent was appointed by an unelected body, that was not accountable to the citizens over which it made decisions. I believe the BOE is the primary body of oversight, and a third party as an additional body assures transparency. Having elected members brings a level of accountability that has been missing.
BP: Please provide any additional comments you may have on any topic that is important to you.
EK: We must prepare our students for life, not just graduation. We must restore vocational opportunities. Many of these jobs will never go oversees or be robotized. One easy first step would be to open existing vocational programs to all BCPS students. For example, Kenwood HS has many of these programs but has not been allowed to open these opportunities to students outside the ascribed district limit.
We must prepare students for the reality of post-secondary school life. This includes more than completing course work. I had a student who returned and said something along the lines of: “Real life is nothing like school. If you show up late for work, they tell you, you are fired.” There are life standards that need to be in school. Schools have become enablers of dysfunctional behavior.
There are no bad schools, just bad policies. A student’s community has more impact on a child’s education than any other factor. A school is comprised of the community. If a community has needs that are not met, this will show up in school.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” Mark Twain attributed this to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Since No Child Left Behind, education has focused on data management. Ironically, it has been abandoned by many corporate executives. Many of the problems BCPS currently face is a result of reliance on data management.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” These are from the one-time Baltimorean, Oprah Winfrey. We must instill the concept of integrity. Grades should represent a student’s achievement. Press releases must be timely and accurate. There have been too many instances when denying there is a problem was put forth as the solution.
BCPS has a brain drain. Teacher retention needs to be a priority. According to a recent report from The Learning Policy Institute, 90% of open teaching positions are a result of teachers leaving the profession. In a report released by the NEA, over 40% of newly hired teachers leave in the first few years of teaching. Why does this matter? Replacing these teachers costs around $20,000 per teacher. As an increasingly urbanized system, BCPS can expect an increasingly higher level of turnover. This does not serve our students or parents/taxpayers.
There is no “I” in Team. Say good bye to TEAM BCPS. The slogan, when first released, was disingenuous. Verletta White must establish herself as an individual and distance herself from any connections to Dr. Dance and/or his method or style of leadership. Many parents I have met see her as Dance 2.0. She must also get rid of the Blueprint for Progress 2.0, a carry over from Dr. Hairston who also had questions of ethics.
If elected to the BOE, I will hold Dr. White to a very high standard. I know the system and the students. I taught many students in District 6. I have no trepidation to confronting her or any administrator. She was a leader in the system and I question her willingness to acknowledge and change what does not work.
Finally, I acknowledge the current BOE members for their work and tenacity. They began the transformation of the relationship between the BOE members and the superintendent. They sought out teachers for honest answers and their work brought to light the issues with Dr. Dance. Their work has created the opening for authentic growth in BCPS.