EXCELLENT SCHOOLS: Q & A
What makes you a credible advocate for our students?
I taught for seventeen years at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, a public school in Takoma Park. I think this experience would help me emphasize schools’ importance and build public support for what our students need. I have firsthand knowledge about the challenges children and teachers face and can also stress the need for schools to proactively partner with parents, as that was something I saw as a core responsibility when I was teaching and it brings major benefits. I have already been endorsed by SEIU Local 500, which represents Montgomery County Public School employees who work in building services, food services, maintenance, media and technology, administrative offices, security, transportation, and the classroom (as instructional assistants), and the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, which represents tutors.
Why do you see land-use and economic issues as school issues?
When the county approves master plans without the school infrastructure necessary to support new development, schools get overcrowded. Overcrowded schools mean larger class sizes. I have been the one consistent voice on the County Council calling for master plans that fund school infrastructure in part because we know that students learn better when they get more personal attention from teachers.
Economic issues are school issues too because the biggest barriers to many students' success are poverty and inequality. I have advanced the minimum wage and affordable housing, for example, because I know that it will be easier for students to learn if they don't need to worry about having a roof over their heads or where their next meal will come from. These initiatives also help parents who would love to be more involved in their children’s education but might be working multiple jobs at low pay just to make ends meet; by helping parents better able to provide for their families’ basic needs, we help free them up to connect more with their school communities.
Are we spending the right amount of money on schools?
The right question to ask is not “how much of the budget should go to schools?” but “how much funding for schools is required for them to accomplish what they need to get done?” Research is clear that adequate and equitable school funding makes a big difference for kids. Our maintenance of effort requirements are a start, but they don’t address the fundamental problem that our schools are funded inequitably and inadequately.
As County Executive, while I would have to be cognizant of budget constraints, I would strongly advocate for schools to get the resources they need. I think our students need to be a priority.
How will you bolster teacher recruitment and retention?
We need to address the problems of flat educator salaries and increasing class sizes if we want to recruit and retain the best teachers. Part of the reason I would advocate strongly for increased funding for MCPS – including more funding from the state - is that these problems are a product of inadequate education budgets. I would also look at starting salaries to ensure they are competitive, particularly given our high cost of living. And I would argue that reductions in hours for support staff are misguided, as cuts to support staff hours had a negative impact on the classroom when I was teaching. Support staff play a vital role in classrooms, particularly in differentiating instruction.
While the County Executive has little control over school-based policy, I would also use my position to advocate for recognizing teachers as professionals. Teachers today are too often required to administer too many standardized tests, memorize curriculum, and/or focus on data that hasn’t been provided in a timely manner and isn’t helpful to their instruction. My experience teaching suggests that the best way to recruit and retain great teachers is to ensure that they have the respect, support, and autonomy they need to help their students most and look forward to coming in to work every day.
How early should early childhood education begin?
I am a big believer in starting programs for children by at least their second birthday. We have known, for a while now, about the critical link between quality early childhood education and brain development - including both the short-term and long-term ramifications. Quality early childhood education is one of those few things that you can point to and say: “this has the potential to be a game-changer.”
I think we need to make finding innovative funding sources for early childhood investments a top priority. It will be hard for the county to make these investments by itself, so it’s really incumbent on the state to significantly contribute, too. They have far more revenue-generating options than local jurisdictions do.
What would you do to help older students who aren't on track for college?
I support expanding career and technical education programs (such as the one offered at Edison High School). I would also like to explore ways to provide students with more access to dual-degree programs, already in place at a few schools, wherein they can leave high school with both a diploma and a two-year community college certificate in specialized areas. Prince George’s Community College is looking at these programs and we should be doing so, too.