Chasing Snow (with a Grain of Salt)

As my husband got ready in the dark for work this morning, I considered telling him to pack a change of clothes in case the weather was bad. He works in McLean, VA, a mere 35 miles away that seems 135 miles when it precipitates. But I reconsidered after realizing 1) he grew up north of Scranton, PA and 2) he can walk out his office building and into one of the Tysons malls. And 3) it was only a two-hour delay in Howard County.

So I snoozed only to wake up to learn Howard County had closed the schools while leaving the administration open. Sigh. Day #7. Five-day weekend. And then next Monday being a holiday. Sighhhh….

As a candidate, I hear two questions most often. The first is about whether I would have extended the superintendent’s contract for another four year term. In case you aren’t sure on that answer, it’s a no. Because I’m running and I’m an accountant who oddly enough passed her Government & Tax part of the CPA with an 89*, I went to the Budget work session around lunchtime. So I had a seat!

The second question or comment I hear, especially right now, is “Can you do something about the snow closing?” My answer is – I don’t know. I’ve watched the explanations, spoken to friends formerly in county government, seen my Facebook page blow up, etc. I think we’ve become very nervous, especially in the wake of Anne Arundel’s dust-ups over the past couple of years. There is no winning. Even Justin Berk was off today.

I went out for lunch and grocery shopping and Lil was biking this afternoon. The rain we had actually aided in the snow melt.

One of my friends is a teacher and suggested that the days off are not the only problem. It’s putting the additional days all at the end of year. If you are taking a one-semester class and miss all six days at the end of the first semester class, but add them to the end of the second semester class that had no skipped days, what is the point?

My revised answer to the second question is this: I would like to challenge the Calendar Committee to consider this marking period question. This has been a problem for a few years, so let’s be creative with the ideas. Let’s discuss this with open minds and the knowledge that compromise will not suit everyone.

And if I hear word of anybody doing the inside-out PJs thing to wish for another snow day, well, I’m dropping off my kid and her friends at your house for the snow day!

*I got mocked for that score because all you need is a 75. And I wasn’t doing government or tax accounting. We accountants are an odd bunch.

 

 

Advertisements

Preparing children

Friday as I drove home in the light flurries – basically a silly decision since it was already a half day – I thought, hmm, should I pick up Lil and take her to Target to get a birthday gift for the hubby? Granted, the snow was the main gift, which I have to be honest, I didn’t do. So I figured I should do something. (Fifteen years.)

Snow was not sticking to the road. There was a little bit on the grass, but nothing really. I realized, yes, I can drive over to Target at a pretty low risk to my daughter and me. Even I can tone down my competitive driving style for iffy weather conditions. (It’s hard, but I did it. Sort of.)

I would not drive in eight inch snow probably. But flurries in daylight are something that we should teach our children to drive in.

We should prepare our children for “emergencies.” As a young parent, I was very conscious of ignoring the schedule periodically. Because life happens: an accident on 95, last-minute request from the boss, illnesses. Like the time I thought Luke was picking up Lil one night but I called him from the light by Camden Yards only to find out he was in his office at the Power Plant.

These snow days really anger parents who are left hanging for childcare options, employers that don’t understand and even educators that are trying to determine the next lesson plan and the impact on the calendar.

I am fine with this week’s closures – I am seeing too many kids and adults in the road as the sidewalks are not cleared. We have 10,000 kids walking to school – that’s 20% of our population. Plus, our roof situation makes me nervous. Our aging buildings need a lot of inspection; that could have occurred during the summer, maybe…

No campaign promises here to be sure. But I would like to see HCPSS incorporate something into their college and career readiness promises – life readiness.

Substituting Parents for Paraeducators

Ever have one of those days that reinforces your decision to take a risk? Today was one of those for me.

A friend with two children in another part of the county invited me over to speak to her friends about my candidacy. Within a few minutes, I heard something that greatly distressed me.

But rewind to about this time a year ago:

Part of my interest in running for the Board of Education came from my work on the Citizens’ Operating Budget Review Committee last winter/spring (a committee put on hiatus by the Board of Education). One specific budget item dealt with the cuts to kindergarten paraeducators. I’d spent time in my daughter’s classroom enough to know the importance of these educational staff. Small group breakouts, getting materials ready, helping kids with activities, making sure they have lunch, etc. – there is a variety of things they do to assist educators.

At this particular school, they are dealing with staff shortages by using parent volunteers. First of all, let me say that every parent should try to volunteer in some manner at their children’s school. Volunteering gets you an inside glimpse of the school and creates a rapport between staff and parents.

But there’s a difference between volunteering and filling staffing gaps. I used to have a discussion with a former HCPSS teacher about how I was the parent making trips to and from the system print shop. If educational staff need materials printed for educational reasons, then shouldn’t there be provisions for transporting them? (I stopped doing this about two years ago and the system had begun returning finished projects to the school, but still asked for a volunteer to deliver projects to the shop.)

We all know how high our property and income taxes are. And I believe nice things cost money. I’m so glad there are dedicated parents helping out our schools, but… why do we need so many parents to help out our schools?

Our budget is not prioritizing the classroom.

Statistics vs. People

On the campaign trail last week, I spoke to a woman whose children are now out of HCPSS, a fact she celebrates with joy. Her kids attended a great school in Ellicott City, but she and they did not have a great time.

Some of that related to Special Education Services. They had moved here specifically for their daughter’s needs, but spent a few years arguing with their public school. Finally, they gave up the fight and sent the child to a private school. At an exorbitant cost. They made the sacrifice for their daughter’s education, but not everyone has that option. Despite Howard County being one of the richest counties in the nation, we do have poverty. That poverty may come along with an ignorance over opportunities and the way to “fight” forĀ  your child.

But there are some people who advocate to the nth degree to get their kids in Gifted & Talented programs. That’s why this woman’s story struck me. She was discussing another one of her children having an extended illness during elementary school. The child had been in G/T, but she had never thought her kid was that academically inclined. After returning to her elementary school, it became clear that the child was way behind and having trouble catching up. The mother had to demand for her kid to be returned to the on-grade level class. Fight tooth and nail.

We are so busy trying to top other counties and states with our statistics at the cost of our children. Does the number of kids in G/T at a school make that one so much better than the school two miles away? Taking away classes like World Religions to increase high school Advanced Placement enrollment? (Seems to me that with current events resembling the Medieval period and in a diverse county like Howard, that class would be a perfectly topical elective.) Getting a new A/P class only requires seven students, while a non-A/P class like African American studies requires 12 to register.

Instead, HCPSS is pushing us to be Lake Wobegon – “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

I stopped my Mathematics education at Calculus II but all children are not above average. All children do, however, deserve to be treated as individuals in achieving their own goals, not those designed to make HCPSS look good.

BYOD Update

Update to my daughter’s usage of BYOD at her middle school – I think we’re at two instances of classroom usage. Here’s my October post:

http://kirstycat1209.blogspot.com/2015/10/when-plan-doesnt-come-together.html

And then I read this article about a teacher’s experience of using electronic devices…in THIRD GRADE. The socialization skills of her students are being stunted by an overreliance and overuse of the iPads. The quietness of eight year olds all mesmerized by screens? Maybe needed for a 15 minute break when the children have behaved well and the teachers need to chat? But dominating their schoolday?

I had been thinking about the inconsistencies of what pediatricians tell us about limiting screen time and what these policies are encouraging. Although the AAP focuses on entertainment, they encourage the non-electronic formats of books and magazines.

But this article also elucidated the issues of what we expect our educators to be for our children. Are they supposed to be tech experts? If a book online is assigned, should the ability to track student progress be available? What Pandora’s box could that open up? When tablets and wi-fi don’t work, what’s the backup plan? Are educators expected to have constant analog backups on their lesson plans? (Given they’re already employing those backups here due to the partially working grading/learning management software HCPSS currently “uses” I guess that would be a yes…) (That article is ten weeks old, but trust me, students are still “disappearing” from classes.)

Do I sound like a Luddite? I am NOT. I LOVE technology and make many of my consumer purchasing decisions based on that. Our children should be exposed to computers sometimes, but not to the exclusion of student and teacher interaction. I remember a lesson I witnessed as a volunteer in kindergarten. The teacher used Google maps to show the kids the satellite view and to talk about roads and buildings and the surrounding community. She asked them questions about places and the kids and she interacted and shared common experiences. That was cool and meant something, but it didn’t stifle socialization.

At the recent town hall held by a bipartisan group of Howard County legislators, one speaker mentioned BYOD and felt the lack of a plan as well, plus the holding back of information regarding the policy. It’s not just me at my daughter’s middle school.

But at lunch today across three periods, I saw plenty of device use. During their downtime, kids are hopping onto their devices. Good thing they get social interaction during class.

Town Hall Truths

Week 2 of convening the community about Howard County’s public schools

Thoughts:

  1. Educators are an underused resource in our system. Approximately 70% of them have advanced degrees (based on FY2014). Let’s tap into their experience. No one knows more about our educational system than teachers. Their voices and input should be heard. Many opinions should be solicited to thoroughly evaluate programs and policy changes prior to the decision.
  2. Our Board of Education could use another current school parent. My daughter is in middle school and we just left elementary school. Like many parents, I am dealing with the issue of high-stakes testing and other rapidly rolled out programs. Parents need a representative to balance the Board.
  3. We need to review whether our special education services are adequately meeting the needs of the SES students. Has HCPSS researched what programs could be incorporated into current systems? It seems like we need more personnel with SES expertise.
  4. I am so glad that our Howard County delegates, Frank Turner and Warren Miller, have joined in a bipartisan effort to increase accountability and improve our representative democracy.

Thank you to Courtney Watson & Christina Delmont-Small for moderating the Town Hall and to the Howard Community College staff/students for working the event. It was run well and I felt it was a good use of more than two hours to empower citizens.

Choose Advocacy

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about the different advocacy groups here. We have so many intelligent, informed and caring people in Howard County. In recent days, I have been proud and impressed with my neighbors.

Monday night, I attended an event for Grassroots. If you aren’t familiar with their mission, please look at their website. They help displaced people with medical care, counseling, financial help and food & shelter.

At the Howard County state delegation forum Tuesday night, the Community Action Council asked for an expansion of their food bank facilities. Demands on the county food bank have been increasing exponentially. The amount requested seems rather small and Delegate Frank Turner asked whether our food bank compares to Anne Arundel County.

The Police Department and others supported a bill to combat human trafficking. Some activists had visited questionable establishments to gather information and provide resources to potential victims. Entering such places is risky, but they are trying to help innocent people.

Delegate Miller & Delegate Atterbeary proposed two bills regarding the Howard County Public School System on transparency and election system, respectively. School employees that testified opposed both bills, which concerns me. Residents supported both bills overwhelmingly.

There were dozens of people who came to Ellicott City on a cold, rainy night to advocate for their issues. While I might not agree with everyone’s viewpoints on a particular issue, I was happy to see an informed community willing to speak on the record.