1. What experience uniquely qualifies you for this position?
My background combines 15 years experience as an operations auditor and improvement consultant to local governments, with seven years direct experience as a classroom teacher in the Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and DC school systems. I also had the opportunity to visit some of the most successful schools in the country through my work with education organizations. I know by personal experience what makes a successful classroom. I also know what programs and policies work, and what does not. This is especially critical as the MC school systems tries to carry out large-scale programs such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core, which have so often failed to live up to their expectations in closing the achievement gap.
As a teacher, I accepted assignments in the most challenging environments, including the most disadvantaged areas in suburban Maryland. I consistently had among the highest performing classes, and I never had to lower standards or expectations in my diverse student populations. Nor did I have to “teach to the test” or sacrifice building enthusiasm and a love of learning in my classroom. I was a content-driven science teacher, who helped students to master materials and concepts beyond the required curriculum. Outside the classroom, I sponsored “Students Teaching Students” tutoring programs, resume writing, interviewing skills, and job/internship assistance for high school students, and award-winning Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision international competitive teams.
Through my work as an operations auditor and consultant, I also understand how government agencies can run more effectively. I will also be able to bring order and transparency to the budget process and help the school system reduce costs without reducing service. I helped cities and counties, such as the cities of Cleveland and Providence, and Contra Costa County, as well as dozens of regulated utilities improve their operations and service to their customers.
2. The achievement gap has been a never ending issue for Montgomery County. How do you propose finally closing it?
Our continuous failure to close the achievement gap is the #1 reason I am running for Board of Education, so I will be lengthy in my answer. The reason the achievement gap is a never-ending issue is that top-down programs don’t work. Our achievement gap is between rich and poor, different ethnic groups, among the various schools throughout the system, the U.S. versus our international competition, and finally the gap between the high marks students are receiving in their assessments during the year, versus the much lower marks in their final exams – a consequence of teaching to the test. It shows our students are learning to take tests but not mastering key concepts or the material.
As a teacher I closed the achievement gap in my classrooms. So did many other highly successful teachers and schools I have observed. They would not attribute their success to top-down programs or new wave curriculum. They understand that 70% of success in the classroom success is attributable to: 1) effective classroom management; 2) very high expectations; and 3) hard work to bring students up to these high expectations, including frequent interactions with students and their parents, highly engaging lesson plans, an effective system of reward and consequences, modeling studying habits, among other techniques. These are insufficiently taught in professional development programs.
My solutions are simple and focus on where the teacher, students and parents intersect. As a Board member I would propose the following:
• Train teachers in classroom management and simple techniques for guiding students to high levels of achievement. Then I would have administrators observe and evaluate teacher performance on an ongoing basis with the goal of improving if needed.
• Free administrators to utilize their best teachers to close the gap and reward them accordingly. If they can handle larger class sizes, give them more students. If they work better with students with IEPs give them more of these students and pay them for this. This way more students have the best teachers.
• Support teachers by promoting instructional freedom and creativity and allowing them to do their jobs with fewer administrative and data-collecting requirements that use so much time and energy, and takes them away from lesson planning, student and parent interactions, and other core duties. This would improve job satisfaction among teachers more than anything else that could be done.
• Introduce teacher mentoring and development programs that are individualized and which focus on those areas where improvement is needed. This would be much more effective than the current one-size-fits-all professional development programs and would enable the most effective teachers to raise up the newest or less effective teachers.
• Encourage principals and administrators to make frequent unannounced visits to classrooms to give them insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their staff. This is not done nearly enough, as they are called away from their schools constantly to support top-down initiatives.
Finally, the No. 1 indicator for educational outcomes, and the one over which the school system has the most influence, is the quality of teachers. Simply put – great teachers make good students. We should widen the net for recruiting teachers, including alternative certification routes, such as I followed in becoming a teacher.
3. What are your positions/attitudes on Curriculum 2.0 and the Common Core?
As someone with a passion for education and teaching, Curriculum 2.0 and Common Core are examples of the kinds of top-down, one-size-fits-all programs that break my heart. Common Core will not address the achievement gap nor improve educational quality. In addition, it will be expensive; siphoning off money that could be used to solve over-capacity and other important challenges our school system faces. But its worst aspect is that it will take an enormous toll on teachers and administrators, and take them away from their primary functions, while giving them even less time to improve the kinds of teaching techniques addressed in question #2 above.
For Montgomery County, which is ahead of most the country, the new curriculum threatens to reduce rigor. In the area of mathematics, it will leave U.S. students one to two years behind international benchmarks, and introduce unproven techniques in algebraic manipulation and geometry. In reading, it fails to include nearly enough complex literature of the classics. A member of the Massachusetts Board of Education stated that Common Core “redefines college readiness to mean a nonselective community college.”
I also believe it will further reduce teacher creativity and job satisfaction, promote further teaching to the test, and result in further exodus of the best teachers. To date, execution of the new curriculum has been difficult for teachers, who have given it a poor grade. Nancy King recently introduced bills to waive evaluation of teachers for one year because of difficulties and confusion in execution. It appears that our elected leaders are protecting the teachers. The question is who is going to protect the students.
4) What changes, if any, do you feel are necessary regarding physical education?
I am a huge advocate of physical education and exercise. I also believe movement and physical health promotes classroom learning. I have been mostly satisfied with the physical education classes I have observed in Montgomery County schools, and I don’t see the need for significant changes, except perhaps to incorporate even more general exercise (i.e. workouts, strengthening, stretching, agility) in the curriculum.
5) How do you balance the budget while reducing class size and renovating facilities?
As a former operation auditor, the budget process is my second priority. Meeting program and facilities needs with limited resources is a key objective of any organization, and requires effective fiscal stewardship and effective budget oversight. Currently, the MC school system falls short in this regard. The budgeting process is unaudited and lacks transparency. Further, there is insufficient Board oversight. The budget itself is unanalyzable by outsiders, including the Board, because it provides too few details. Spending is not tied to educational objectives, so we are not measuring the effectiveness of how we spend money. As a BOE member, I will propose the following:
• Conducting a long overdue full-scale audit of the budget and operations. Include review of all major contracts to determine if we can better employ our “buying power” to reduce costs;
• Increasing Board participation in the budget process, including getting the Board involved at the very beginning;
• Instituting appropriate budget reforms for effective cost control, and measuring all programs against strategic and educational objectives – this is an expertise of mine.
Concerning the problem of over-capacity and aging facilities, our current challenges presents us with an opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review of cost-reducing options including: low-cost construction options, such as pre-fabricated buildings; virtual learning, four-day weeks for the upper classes among other considerations.
6) Are you satisfied with Montgomery County’s approach to special education and gifted and talented?
Special education refers to students within a wide range of capabilities and circumstances, so there is no simple answer that addresses all of these needs. However, for many families with special ed students, the current system is not working adequately. My experience as a teacher is that the current system is too adversarial and over-emphasizes the letter of the law and IEPs (individualized education plans/program) instead of the spirit of the law (which is to maximize the educational outcome of the students). Too much time is spent filling out paperwork to cover tracks and defend against lawsuits. Too often, the individual needs of the student and the parents are lost in the process. Parents with whom I speak constantly complain about the rigidity of the system and the labeling of their children.
The solution is to create a much more cooperative system with greater interaction with parents and the teachers, especially those teachers who are having success. If I taught 100 special ed students, I had 70 different ways of supporting them – often the best solutions were not contained in the IEPs, such as sitting the student next to a friend with whom they feel comfortable, maintaining frequent contact with the parents, after-school tutoring, and many others. These may seem like overly simple solutions, but they usually worked in my classroom.
Concerning the gifted and talented, this will always be a challenge for the school system. The first solution is to greatly raise expectations in the classrooms in general, as discussed in Question #2 above. For the true over-achievers, my proposed improvements are to:
• Expand IB and magnet programs to other schools;
• Increase offerings of college coursework from Montgomery Community College and online programs;
• Take advantage of online learning opportunities;
• Allow students to excel through special learning projects and;
• Make classroom exams harder, even if grading has to be on a curve, so that all students are encouraged to work harder and think more.
Finally, casting a wider net to recruit the best and most content-rich teachers possible will help in this area.
7) Are students getting adequate arts education?
I believe our failed emphasis on “teaching to the test” to raise math and reading scores has shortchanged arts, history, and business education. It is my hope that top down programs such as Common Core will be de-emphasized to the benefit of these and others areas.
8) Are you satisfied with school lunches?
While not a major focus for me, I will support efforts to improve the quality of lunch offerings that are cost-effective and make sense.
9) If you could enact a single change to the Montgomery County school system, what would it be?
This was answered above in Question #2 – using common sense solutions to close the achievement gaps between rich and poor, ethnic groups, different schools, versus our international completion and the gap between the high marks students are receiving in their assessments during the year, versus the much lower marks in their final exams
10) Please list endorsements.
11) Please provide contact information and social media links.