Report – Regular Board Meeting 8/16/2012

Tonight, the Board of Education held a regular meeting in which the Board approved a historic partnership with Harvard University, the appointment of a Chief Accountability Officer, and a draft guideline for Remote Participation in Board meetings via telephone or video conferencing.

Recognizing our New SMOB

Our meeting began with a reception and swearing-in ceremony for our new Student Member of the Board (SMOB), Cole Rosenberg, a rising senior at Hammond High School.  Cole is such an impressive young man and I look forward to serving with him this upcoming year.  He represents the values and standards that we want all of our youth to embody to become adults who contribute and produce in our exceptional country.

Superintendent’s Report

During our Superintendent’s report, Dr. Foose explained the organizational realignments occurring, including moving Mr. Ray Brown from COO to Deputy Superintendent of Operations, consolidating Student Services and Special Education under one Executive Director, Patty Daley, and the creation of a Chief Accountability Officer position.  These changes are consistent with best practices in high-performing school systems, and reduce the Central Office budget by about $200,000.  In this era of very tight budgets, cutting expenses is critical and it is my hope that this is just the beginning.

Dr. Foose also explained the partnership with Harvard University.  As I’ve said previously, this partnership sets the HCPSS on a pathway to become the “Harvard of K-12 education” in the United States.   I am very excited about the potential that this collaboration offers. And even though the initial analysis will not reach back beyond 8th grade performance, Dr. Foose  has assured me that during this two-year partnership, we will evaluate student achievement K-12.

My Board Report

As part of my Board report, I started off by mentioning that tomorrow evening, CBS television, is showing a concert called Teachers Rock, presented by Walmart and new movie coming out this fall called Won’t Back Down.  Here’s the trailer for the movie:

Several famous artists including Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban, Dierks Bentley and Garth Brooks will be performing.  As we get ready to start another school year, I want to express my appreciation to those many teachers that I’ve had and the teachers my three children have had that truly honor their calling as educators and have help make us the people we are today. Clearly, Howard County Teachers Rock and I just wanted to again say, thank you Howard County teachers.

Next, I mentioned my participation in Connected Educator Month during August.  Throughout this month, there have been and there will continue to be coordinated opportunities to participate in events and activities in dozens of online locations to develop skills and enhance one’s personal learning network.  As I’ve said many times before, harnessing the power of technology allows students to learn in their own style, at their own pace, anytime and anywhere.  I had the privilege of participating in several webinars to kick-off this special month.  One particular webinar involved Connected Education and Peer Professional Development.  During this webinar, I was able to connect with Scott McLeod, the co-founder of the Center for Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education, and Steve Hargadon, the founder of Classroom 2.0, a pioneering and highly successful Web 2.0 community.   Next week, Classroom 2.0 is hosting the 2012 Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference from August 20 – 24.  I encourage anyone interested to also participate by registering at www.classroom20.com.

Finally, I explained my participation in the 3rd Annual Bullying Prevention Summit on August 6th and 7th in Washington, DC.    I was so inspired by the presenters.  I felt an impetus to do something more than just those things within my capacity as a School Board member – the types of things that I used to do before I was elected.

I learned when I was 13 years of age that when a tragic death occurs, there is unfortunately nothing that you can do to make it better or bring that person back, but you can find a deeper meaning in the loss by serving and working hard to prevent it from happening again.  Recently, our community, and others, became tragically aware of the dire consequences of bullying and cyberbullying and the need for increased digital safety awareness. These are not just youth issues – they affect each of us, adults and kids alike. Our community can make a difference – we can join together as Upstanders instead of just Bystanders – and show that ONE person, ONE family and ONE community can unite together in a common purpose and change the course of history.   I mentioned that my wife, Catherine, and I are putting together a new initiative called One-Howard-County to create a grassroots initiative to address the challenge of cyberbullying and digital safety among youth and adults.  I’ll have more details to share this upcoming week.

Appointment of CAO

Moving on with the agenda, the Board of Education approved several new appointments and administrative transfers.  Click here to see them all, but the most prolific appointment was Ms. Elizabeth Grace Chesney as our new Chief Accountability Officer.  She has most recently been the Executive Director of Research, Accountability, and Assessment/Data Warehouse for the Baltimore County Public School System.

Timeline for Policy Revision

Next, we revised the Policy Revision schedule for the upcoming year. Though I am pleased that the Board maintained the two new policies that I proposed – a policy on Social Media and a policy on Sustainability, I was disappointed and voted against the timeline changes because staff requested pushing the Sustainability policy into the following year and 6 policies to be concurrently reviewed by the Board and public in Q2 of 2013.  We intentionally distributed the policies evenly throughout the year in the initial timeline that was already approved, but now, we are repeating a mistake from last year that resulted in certain policies never being completed.  Our students and our educators need to have certain policies revised – we need Social Media policy and a Sustainability policy – yesterday.  We need to change the way we handle enrollment so that a family that is moving into their home on September 1st doesn’t get charged over $2,000 in tuition because school starts on August 27th and they’d like the child to start the first day of school.  We need to change the way we grade in high school so that a student who immigrates to this country in October or November and gets Honor Roll grades for the time they are in the HCPSS doesn’t have to retake those exact same classes because of some ridiculous coding system around their lack of attendance the first couple months of school.  There are many things that we as a Board of Education must do and it is incumbent upon us to manage our time wisely.  I am deeply saddened by the decision of the Board to change the timeline and set-up a failure that is pretty easy for us to predict based on last year’s activity.

Remote Participation by Board Members

The next item on our agenda was the draft guidelines for remote participation by School Board members.  As many of you know, on July 12, 2012, with the tremendous help of Mike Borkowski, our school system’s Directory of Information Technology, and his very talented staff, I was able to pioneer the use of video conference technology to participate fully in my official duties as a School Board member, remotely from my offices in southern California.  Previously back on February 9, 2012, our current Board Chair, Mrs. French, had initially denied me this right, consistent with previous inaccurate statements made by her and others that it would be against the Open Meetings Act for me to participate remotely. Despite the written legal opinion of school system General Counsel Mark Blom supporting my participation and the support of senior school system staff, Ms. French made every attempt, including speaking with outside legal counsel, to block my participation.  Back on February 9th, I had to fight remotely to ensure that any Board member would not be unjustly prevented or illegally excluded by a Board chairperson inappropriately using their power – against even the advice of the school system attorney.  That meeting back in February started 20 minutes late due to this fight across the continent and ultimately resulted in the School Board voting to allow my participation via teleconference.  Since then, the Board held a retreat on Monday, June 3rd to develop guidelines for this Remote Participation.  To no surprise, Mrs. French was the only Board member to not participate in this retreat. All other Board members participated and contributed wonderful suggestions.  At last night’s meeting, the Board presented the information and will now invite the public, the Board’s Citizens Advisory Committee, the PTA Council of Howard County, and others to provide input into this process.  To date, the Board has only heard from the PTA of River Hill High School that has supported this effort to allow Board members to participate remotely via video or teleconference.  The Board will be holding a public hearing in early October and taking official action in Mid-October to hopefully approve these guidelines. This will make Howard County the first county in the State of Maryland to allow for video conferencing. This follows efforts in other states, such as Tennessee, which have recently passed state laws allowing such modern day participation by local Boards of Education.

Board Cluster Assignments

The Board’s next took action to approve the upcoming cluster and committee assignments for the school year. I have truly enjoyed getting to know and visiting with each of my cluster schools over the past two years.  It has been great to meet the principals, educators, PTAs and students and each of these schools. Last year, I had the privilege of bringing of my friend, Tim Tooten, of WBAL-11 news to one of my cluster schools, Mt. Hebron High School, as I was interviewed by Tim to announce the new Digital Education program in the HCPSS.  Scott Ruhl, the principal at Mt. Hebron is one of our visionary principals who truly understands the promise of Digital Learning and so it was great to showcase his vision and his students.  I look forward to serving my alma mater, Glenelg High School this upcoming year, as well as the amazing community at Wilde Lake High School, and both of those high schools feeder elementary and middle schools. How fun will it be to directly work with the schools I attended as a child – Bushy Park Elementary, Glenwood Middle, and Glenelg High School?  It is sure to be a special year and I look forward to meeting with the many parents, students, educators, and principals that make all of these schools safe and nurturing environments for our students.

Additionally, I also raised the issue of fairness in governing the Board’s committees. Last year, the Board majority made a decision to have one person chair two subcommittees without the consultation of those committees or the Board as a whole. Without making it personal, I raised this issue because a member had been elected prior to the election in 2010 as chair of the Policy Committee and then when Mr. Dyer was removed by the Board from the Audit committee as Chair, this Board member was then chosen by default to be the Chair of the Audit Committee as well. This was done without the full consideration of the Board and it was wrong.  I do not believe that one single Board member should be chairing multiple committees – no matter who talented they are or they think they are.  Fortunately, it appeared last night that my colleagues were in consensus with this proposal.

During that same discussion, Mr. Dyer raised his continuing objection to the Board’s action of preventing him from serving on a subcommittee, due to the ongoing impeachment efforts.  I am opposed to these impeachment efforts.  The Board of Education has now surpassed in legal expenses any legal expenses associated with Mr. Dyer’s lawsuits against the Board of Education.  This is complete waste of time and money.  The “witch hunt” against Mr. Dyer has come up empty – he was exonerated of the ethics charges initiated by Ms. Giles and the impeachment trial will likely come to a similar conclusion.  Even though I personally find it objectionable and a conflict of interest to sue a Board of Education that you serve on, the constitution protects such actions.  I find pornography, the Ku Klux Klan, and bloggers who publish outright lies and fallacies objectionable behavior too, but the constitution prevents the government from regulating a lot of objectionable behavior.  So, with Mr. Dyer having lost the primary election, he will only remain on the School Board for a couple more months. Since these investigations have all turned up empty with nothing more than accusations that Mr. Dyer was rude because he did not use a capital letter at the beginning of people’s names in an email or used all CAPS for certain words in an email,  I made a motion last night to allow Mr. Dyer to serve on a Board of Education committee.  Like clockwork, the motion was voted down 2-4, with Cindy Vaillancourt and I voting yes, Mr. Dyer abstaining, and the remaining four voting against.  I believe it would have been a conciliatory gesture and hopefully led to some healing.  But to no avail…

Capital Budget Planning

The last major item on our agenda yesterday evening was a public hearing on the Capital Budget and worksession to discuss the preliminary issues. I applaud my friend, Lisa Schlossnagle, for coming to testify and share her concerns. She is a member of this year’s Attendance Area Adjustment Committee and is publishing some of her insights on her blog (click here to read). Last night, she shared some important points and I hope the Board will consider her suggestions.  I remain very skeptical of the process we use to plan for, develop, and manage capacity in our school system.  The results: empty schools in one end of the county and overcrowded schools in the other with redistricting almost every year just underscore my concern for our students, their families’ property values, and the ongoing shuffling of students on a regular basis.  As I’ve stated many times before, I believe an underlying factor contributing to this poor planning is the fact that the people who are building the schools and planning for capacity are using different assumptions than the people who are approving construction of homes, roads, and other infrastructure – at the exact same, overlapping time periods.  As I previously explained, it makes absolutely no sense for the School Board to send an APFO chart to the County Government to use for the next 12 months in determining housing allocations, commercial construction, road construction and other infrastructure decisions that is demonstrably inaccurate since two weeks after the chart is sent to the county, the School Board begins moving forward with a completely DIFFERENT set of numbers to plan for school capacity in the exact same overlapping period.  It is complete foolishness. Everyone responsible for the wellbeing of our community – our students, our neighborhoods, our commuters, and our residents – should be working off of the same set of assumptions so that we are getting the benefits of synergy and teamwork. Right now, the system is broken.  It seems that we’ve been doing it this way so long and no one really understands it.  It is my hope that this process will eventually change. Last night, I asked staff if they had considered using the principle of Infrastructure Concurrency that is briefly mentioned in the most recently approved General Plan. As applied in other jurisdictions, infrastructure concurrency allows for infrastructure to be built concurrently with the construction of new homes, roads, commercial developments, and other projects. It’s very exciting because it allows the developers to more quickly complete their projects and receive the financing they need in a predictable way, it allows for residents to move into homes as the infrastructure is available, rather than having to wait for infrastructure to be completed as an after thought, and it allows the taxpayer to benefit because it reduces the cost of developing the infrastructure.  I completely support it because it saves the taxpayer money, it saves the developer the unnecessary costs of having to start and stop projects due to antiquated government regulations, and it allows the pace of growth and progress to accelerate.  We don’t have this in Howard County and we need it. Most importantly, our taxpayers, students, and businesses deserve it.  But we have a long way to go.