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.

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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.

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.

 

Community schools

In Howard County, I often hear “I don’t have kids in the school system, so I don’t really know much about it.” As I noted in my announcement speech, more than 60% of our budget in any given year is going to the schools. I pay high taxes and I want to be assured that they are being used well.

Why do people move here? The schools rank high on the list of reasons. In college, I was an Honors student and many of my neighbors on Easton 5 were Howard County kids. I was like, there are that many schools in Howard County? I thought it was just Merriweather…

I moved here because I got a job in the Baltimore office of Arthur Andersen. I had four or five offers in the DC/Tysons Corner area from the Big Six accounting firms. But a couple friends convinced me Baltimore was the fun office. Being a Washingtonian and having family in Montgomery County, I figured Columbia made sense. I fell in love with Columbia and decided to stay.

I went to private school for 12 years. But when it came to the decision for my daughter, my husband and I were pretty sure we’d be foolish not to send her to such a great system. I sometimes questioned it when I hear people talk about Wilde Lake – negatively.

That’s why I was happy that the Wilde Lake Village Board reached out to my village board for partnering on an Education Committee. Town Center has no schools, so our kids go to the Wilde Lake schools. In meeting with the chair of the committee, I was happy to find that a retiree spends his time doing robotics and other extracurricular science activities for our community schools. And he wants to partner with the local schools to help them in a multitude of ways – volunteer opportunities for community service requirements, providing speakers and publicizing school events. He wants to cheerlead for the schools, because it’s common sense to him.

It’s common sense to me too and I’m glad that Wilde Lake has a positive outlook on their local schools.

Opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other organization or person.

Link

Some Good News!

By coincidence or rather Ms. Philip’s schedule and mine finally working out, the article below appeared (in print) on the day of my announcement. I felt that she really captured the essence of my disappointment with our current Board. Please let me know YOUR thoughts at kirsten@kirstencoombs.org – Feel free to share success stories too!

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/ph-ho-cf-kirsten-coombs-1029-20151027-story.html

 

Welcome

Kirsten Coombs 4 HoCoBOEWelcome to my website for my campaign for Howard County Board of Education for 2016.

As an accountant, I have concerns about how our money is being spent. As a mom, I have concerns about how decisions affect my daughter and all of our children. Howard County is known for its strong schools and I want that to continue.

Please take a look around the site and let me know at kirsten@kirstencoombs.org what YOU think about our schools.

Thank you for your support and I hope to see you on the campaign trail.

Kirsten Coombs