—– By: Ann Costantino —–
It started as a grassroots movement in Northern Baltimore County six years ago, when Hereford Zone’s Kathleen Causey walked into a meeting at Hereford High School and unintentionally began her journey as an education advocate for Baltimore County Public School students.
The system’s former superintendent, S. Dallas Dance, had just decided to remove the two-semester class schedule option from all-but-one Baltimore County high school, limiting course choices and increasing student and teacher workload, two-fold.
Over two hundred frustrated parents gathered at the high school to air their concerns; Causey was among them.
It was then when Hereford Works was born, an advocacy group comprised of roughly two dozen parents and students who sought to compel Dance to reinstate the college-like school schedule option for all Baltimore County high schools, in which the school year was separated by two four-course semesters, and students could concentrate on four classes – instead of eight – at a time.
But although the group and Causey would be unsuccessful in compelling Dance to reverse his decision, frustration with the process propelled Causey onward to advocacy county-wide, eventually to Annapolis, where she and others testified in front of legislators on the need for a partially elected school board.
And while the request would ultimately be granted, voters would have to wait four years until the 2018 mid-term election for the ability to choose their district representatives on the board.
In the meantime, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Causey to the board to represent Council District 3. She was tapped for the position in 2015 after catching the attention of Democratic Maryland State Senator Jim Brochin and other lawmakers who witnessed Causey’s sustained advocacy on behalf of Baltimore County school children.
While on the board, Causey advocated for central air conditioning, new Dulaney and Lansdowne high schools, school leadership accountability, and responsible spending of system resources. And in the county’s first ever school board election this year, Causey won in a landslide victory, retaining her Council District 3 seat in the very election she and others fought to have, giving voters the power to choose seven of 12 members on the Baltimore County school board.
First taking over 50 percent of the vote after running against six candidates in the primary election, Causey went on to defeat her remaining opponent in the general election, winning with 75 percent of the votes – despite opposition from the leadership of two associations which represent 9,000 members.
Leaders from the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) and the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) threw their support – and $6,500 in MSEA PAC campaign contributions – toward her opponent, Paul Konka. Even The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board endorsed her opponent, but voters overwhelmingly chose Causey.
On Tuesday, the new Baltimore County school board voted unanimously to elect Causey chairwoman, and Council District 5 board member, Julie Henn, as vice chair.
The pair were among a group of four previous school board members – referred to by community members as the “Common Sense Caucus” – who became known as the four votes which often lost against an eight-vote majority.
At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Causey spoke of this new leg of her advocacy journey, directing her comments to school district staff, teachers and students. “I just want to say that we care about each one of you very much. We need each and every one of you to keep this system amazing,” Causey said. “And we know we can do it… All for one and one for all,” she said.