On Thursday May 9, 2013, the Howard County Board of Education held a regularly scheduled meeting where we received a report from the countywide student government, Howard County Association of Student Councils (HCASC), approved three revised policies (Enrollment, Discipline, and Records Management), approved the annual Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance open/closed school chart, and held a work session on the controversial proposed revision to Policy 9090 – Wellness through Nutrition and Physical Activity.
The Howard County Association of Student Councils does such a great job involving students in the school system and their community. I can remember being active with HCASC when I was a high school student at Glenelg many years ago. It’s neat that my oldest son, Nicholas, now a 6th grader, is starting to be involved with the same organization. One of their tremendous achievements this past year is involving middle school students. This has always been a challenge. After receiving substantial feedback from MS teachers, I proposed in the budget and received approval this year of a budget item to pay educators to be advisors for student governments in Middle School, as well as other extracurricular activities. This will have a huge impact on MS students and HCASC and I was pleased that this year’s HCASC set the stage for this improvement that I got enacted in this year’s budget. For those students across the county in Middle School, this should provide them with many more opportunities to connect with their school, their academics, positive social groups, and provide emotional belonging and support during very challenging middle school years.
Policy 9000 – Enrollment
I was pleased that staff took my suggestions about providing flexibility for families moving into the county and made substantial amendments to the draft policy, thus removing thousands of dollars in penalties and tuition that families were being charged. Let me explain. Over the past few years, the school year has begun the last week of August. For families whose move-in dates were September 1st due to their mortgage closing or rental lease, these families were having to make a very tough decision – be charged thousands of dollars by the county schools to start their kids the first day of school or have their child sit out the first week of school. I am personally aware of 4 incidents the past two years, several of which I was able to get rectified because of a cooperative new Superintendent. With this change in policy, we will not have to field calls from angry parents again this school year.
Here is the edit that I proposed and was approved:
“A nonresident student whose parents are in the process of establishing bona fide residence in Howard County and have presented a contract to build, buy, or lease a home may be admitted to the HCPSS.
A student who becomes a nonresident, because the parent(s) with whom the student resides move out of Howard County during the school year, may complete the current school year at the school in which the student is enrolled If the student is not in the projected home ￼ within 90 calendar days of the student’s first day of attendance, the ￼￼￼￼ Superintendent/Designee may grant an extension, and tuition may be assessed. ￼ During this time the student may attend school for up to 90 calendar days tuition free. After 90 calendar days parents must apply for an extension.”
Thus, in the past, parents were charged tuition – upwards of $2,000 for a week of school. Now, they will have 90-days to move into their new home – making the Howard County Public School System far more welcoming to these families. I want to thank those families who brought this issue to my attention the past two years I’ve served on the Board. To those who have paid this tuition in the past, I’m sorry that I did not know nor could I have intervened. Now, the policy is fixed.
Policy 9200 – Discipline
In this policy report, the School System also made some advances. I was pleased that my colleague, Cindy Vallaincourt and I were both able to propose some very good amendments to this policy to make it more friendly to parents. I want to thank Ted Mallo and the CAC for bringing these issues to our attention. They are a great resource for community input.
My amendment ensured that students who were suspended could not be sent home until a parent was notified. As it was previously written, a child could be suspended and set away from the school as the requirement to notify a parent must happen “within 24 hours” of the suspension. This protects kids and their parents. I am grateful my colleagues agreed.
Cindy’s amendment ensured that students who are being interrogated, potentially involving a School Resource Officer who is a law enforcement official, have the option of refusing to sign any written statements until they speak with their parents. I think this is good as well.
Policy 3050 – Records Management
This policy builds on the decades long practice of the school system to have a records management schedule. It is interesting to note that this was a cause championed by former Board member, Allen Dyer. Allen was very passionate about ensuring that records were protected and not intentionally destroyed. I think he was motivated by a commitment to transparency in government and that’s something that we clearly need to have more. So, I was pleased to support this policy.
Every year, I’ve voted against this chart. For reasons I’ve previously outlined in numerous posts and most recently in a compromise post on redistricting, this is foolish. We continue to tell the County Council which schools are over enrolled and under enrolled when we know that our numbers are completely inaccurate. Our capacity numbers for the schools are wrong. Our projections are dated and inaccurate, and in less than 30 days, we will be receiving new numbers for the Feasibility Study which will guide redistricting. This is silly. I can’t help but think that my colleagues just don’t understand the process, which is why they continue to vote for this chart. It just doesn’t make sense. By virtue of my questioning, we were able to learn that for the upcoming Middle School redistricting, the county has taken my suggestion and has commissioned a study to actually figure out what is the REAL capacity for the middle schools. So, when we engage in a discussion this summer and fall, at least, for the first time in several years, we will actually know how many students can appropriately be enrolled in each of our middle schools. This is something that I recommended we do for all of our elementary and middle schools, but unfortunately, we’ve done two rounds of elementary redistricting using inaccurate capacity numbers. Hopefully with some tweaks, we can improve the process. I’ll consider this a small win for now.
Policy 9090 – Wellness
Howard County is a model community for public health, with a deep and lasting commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of all its citizens. The HCPSS is the “crown jewel” of Howard County, often times attributed as the leading factor contributing to Howard County’s ranking in national journals as one of the best places to live, work, and raise a family. Consistent with this commitment, the community is unified around most of the proposed new Policy 9090 – Wellness Through Nutrition and Physical Activity. Those areas of unity include: • Protections for Recess (Standards IV, C) • Establishment of a Universal Breakfast Program (Standards IV, D, 2, a) • Ensuring that Food and Nutrition Service meal offerings meet the Institute of Medicine Standards, including breakfast, lunch, and a la carte snack/dessert items (Standards IV, D, 3, a) • An annual report on the implementation of the policy (Responsibilities V, A) • Measurements of the policy (Responsibilities V, F) • Creation of School Wellness Teams and School Wellness Champions (Responsibilities V, G&H) • Outside review by the School Health Council (Responsibilities V, J) • A commitment to Coordinated School Health that embodies the virtues of Whole Child Education (Responsibilities V, K) However, there have been some areas of disagreement. Primarily, the area of disagreement involved arbitrary, yet-to-be-determined guidelines being proposed to regulate external organizations, like PTAs and Boosters that would restrict what they can sell and give away at snack shops, fundraisers, sporting events etc.
Needless to say, this was a huge governmental overreach and through some polite, continual prodding of my colleagues on dais, I believe I was able to clarify that this mandates are DEAD. Despite this area of disagreement, the distance between the members of the committee is quite narrow. There is about 90% agreement.
The Superintendent’s staff asked for more time to finalize up policy revisions and implementation procedures for this new policy and so ultimately, the vote was delayed to November. However, in the mean time, there are some HUGE victories.
You may remember a couple years ago, I brought to the school system’s attention Howard County’s ranking as 24 out of 24 in the delivery of breakfast to students in need. After years of advocacy and my proposal to provide breakfast for all at every school, the school system is moving forward with this plan. This will have a huge impact on the Opportunity Gap in our schools and learning preparedness for all students. Huge win for our students!
The school system is also moving forward with protecting recess in elementary school and ensuring that kids get 30 minutes. I’ve advocated for more recess time and so this is a huge win for elementary-aged students.
I’ve also been advocating for improvements in the school nutrition program. Though these changes are going to be delayed until the new policy is voted on, I was glad to see staff recommend improving the offerings in school vending machines. This is a small, but important step.
In addition to those recommendations from staff, I also proposed and the Board and staff approved creating a de facto unwritten policy that recess can no longer be taken away from students as a form of punishment (unless there is a safety issue like fighting). Many schools take away students recess time for talking during lunch or misbehaving in class, or even worse, for not turning in homework assignments. This has to stop. Now, recess time is protected and will be codified in policy when we vote in the fall. I was grateful to get this huge win for our students.
Alas, we will have to wait for the remaining improvements to ensure that we have a world-class wellness policy for our students and staff. I look forward to continuing the discussions with great partners like the Horizon Foundation, PTA Council of Howard County, and PATH, who’ve been so very involved in this effort.
On Thursday, April 25, 2013, the Board of Education of Howard County held a regularly scheduled meeting where we were given an update on the Superintendent’s development of a Strategic Plan, presented with a final revised version of Policy 9070 dealing with academic eligibility for extracurricular activities in high school, and a license agreement offering collaboration between the Department of Recreation and Parks and the school system on land at Laurel Woods Elementary School.
Laurel Woods Elementary Ballfields
As presented at the meeting (and approved by the Board), the HCPSS has entered into an agreement with HCRP to share ballfields at Laurel Woods Elementary and the North Laurel Park. In this report, there is a potential to address a problem at Laurel Woods Elementary that I raised over a year ago – there is not enough blacktop or playground area for children to run at recess. Yes, you heard me right – I was informed that elementary students are not allowed to run at recess at LWES – they must stand or hop. When I learned of this ridiculous situation, I raised this issue at a Board meeting. I raised it again on Thursday night, in the hope that the school will develop a process to use the playground at North Laurel Park to extend the area for recess for these students and improve the quality of recess activities for these elementary school students.
Policy 9070 – Academic Eligibility for High School Extracurricular Activities
This revised policy first came to us last year for review. At the time, I shared a story from a mother who had called me two summers before about her child being denied academic eligibility due to a single E on her report card. I shared this example as to why we should change the policy to allow for one E – as long as the student has a GPA at 2.0 or above. When you look at the disproportionate impact on poor students – those receiving free and reduced meal services (FARMS), this “E” restriction primarily impacted poor students. Thus, when the committee returned, they removed this requirement. Another issue related to weighted grades. When the Board sent the policy back to the committee with instructions to evaluate weighted grades, the Superintendent now brought us a draft policy that would allow weighted grades to contribute to academic eligibility. This was another provision that I supported. Students should be rewarded for taking and achieving in more rigorous classes. And finally, when the staff first came to us as last year with a revision, they continued to have this policy apply to all extracurricular activities. I objected to this as I believe it is wrong to deny a student, who is struggling academically, the very activities that may be maintaining their motivation to attend school. Extracurricular activities play a critical role in defining social networks, helping teenagers establish an identity, and can involve coaches and advisors to support academic achievement. The law mandates academic eligibility for athletics and a valid case can be made that athletes should not be treated differently than others. We should maintain standards for participation. However, “how” we create and uphold those standards is where my concerns lie. After further questioning exactly how this new revision would be applied, I felt comfortable that the compromise presented – with this policy only effecting those limited extracurriculars above and beyond athletics where the school system actually pays the sponsor, such as student government and drama – was acceptable. So, I voted for this newly revised policy because it eliminates the disproportionately negative impact on poor students, it is fair to students who are pursuing a more rigorous course of studies with harder classes – thus rewarding ambition and higher goal-setting, and it restricts this policy to fewer extracurricular activities.
School System Strategic Plan Update
I encourage you to watch the discussion (about 20 minutes) involving an update on the Superintendent’s development of a Strategic Plan for the Howard County Public School System.
In this clip, you’ll see Board member’s responses to the Superintendent’s update. I made some suggestions for improvement to the early draft plan.
First, I was glad to see that the Superintendent confirmed something that I’ve been saying for years – though others have tried to discount my suggestion – Six-Sigma process improvements can be used to improve Instruction. It was great to hear a confirmation of this proposal I made several years ago and it was wonderful to hear that with the new Continuous Improvement Coordinator working, we are already starting to identify those improvements.
Second, I believe that our school system should identify the capabilities of every graduate. Dr. Foose has metaphorically referred to handing a graduate a diploma as making them a promise. As I shared, the giving of a diploma should be “keeping that promise” that was already made. As a learning system, I laid out what I felt the profile of a HCPSS graduate in 2018 should be, including self-directed, creative, collaborative, caring, healthy and multi-lingual.
Third, I also explained that I would like to see certain things like Multi-Lingual proficiency for at least 75% of graduates, Digital Education and STEM+Arts for all highlighted in the plan.
Fourth, I also shared that I believe we will need to move from a School System to a Learning System where the learning happens before, during, and after the school day, and is not so myopically focused on what happens in a classroom. As I shared from the CEO of HP, “Whatever made you successful in the past, won’t in the future.” We need to think through some of these major issues.
Fifth, I also applauded the “global connections” component. I have proposed that the HCPSS develop a global consortium with the best school systems in the world from Finland, Singapore, and other places – rather than relying upon the Maryland State Department of Education or U.S. Department of Education to mandate what is “World-Class” or “college and career ready.” As an initial proponent of the Common Core due to its ability to create standards that unleash private sector investments in education, I am increasingly concerned about the Common Core as it has been highjacked by Race to the Top and the Federal government. As such, if the Common Core implementation fails, the HCPSS needs to be prepared with its own definition of world-class and it is my hope that this Vision 2018 plan will do so.
I look forward to receiving the actual Vision 2018 strategic plan in a couple months.