School board can­di­dates voice opin­ions at NAACP fo­rum

9 of 14 run­ning for a seat on the board of ed at­tended event

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

The Charles County NAACP Branch hosted a board of ed­u­ca­tion can­di­date fo­rum on Sept. 20 at Re­gency Fur­ni­ture Sta­dium’s Le­gends Club in Wal­dorf, where dozens of lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers got an op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions and in­ter­act with some of the can­di­dates up close and per­sonal.

Joseph Samp­son, first vice pres­i­dent of the county’s NAACP branch, mod­er­ated about eight rounds of ques­tions. Each can­di­date was al­lot­ted up to two min­utes to voice their re­sponses to con­cerns that lo­cal res­i­dents wrote down on in­dex cards.

“It’s im­por­tant that we al­low the can­di­dates

to voice what they stand for and the po­si­tions they have on cer­tain is­sues,” said for­mer branch vice pres­i­dent Dyotha Sweat. “But it’s more im­por­tant for us, as the cit­i­zens who are go­ing to vote for them, to be able to ask those ques­tions. That is the rea­son we made this plat­form avail­able for us to do so.”

The nine school board can­di­dates who par­tic­i­pated in last Thurs­day’s fo­rum in­cluded El­iz­a­beth Brown, Bar­bara Palko, Michael Lukas, Vic­to­ria Kelly, Latina Wil­son, Vir­ginia Mc­Graw, Les­lie Coker, Robert Pitts and David Han­cock. Dis­cus­sion top­ics in­cluded the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing the school sys­tem to­day; whether or not teach­ers should get paid more; im­prov­ing the county’s hir­ing and re­ten­tion rates; school safety as it re­lates to arm­ing teach­ers and putting metal de­tec­tors in schools; pre­par­ing stu­dents for the work­force and why the can­di­dates de­serve a spot on the board of ed­u­ca­tion.

In terms of the school sys­tem’s big­gest chal­lenge, Pitts be­lieves it is the in­crease in pop­u­la­tion of stu­dents, a hefty per­cent­age of which is com­posed of those with spe­cial needs and English for Speak­ers of Other Lan­guages, com­monly re­ferred to as ESOL. Pitts said this ul­ti­mately im­pacts the school sys­tem’s funds and re­sources, which is not so easy to ad­dress.

Pitts also said that teach­ing is not a pop­u­lar choice of pro­fes­sion among mil­len­ni­als. How­ever, he said it is very im­por­tant to find in­no­va­tive ways that will en­cour­age the best and bright­est in­di­vid­u­als to come back into the school sys­tem.

Coker said the school sys­tem’s ac­tions need to re­flect max­i­miz­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents and their fu­ture suc­cess.

“As a past IEP [In­di­vid­u­al­ized Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram] fa­cil­i­ta­tor, it’s very dif­fi­cult some­times for the schools to get all of the dif­fer­ent re­sources that they need to make sure ac­com­mo­da­tions are in the class­room for spe­cial needs stu­dents,” Coker said. “With the in­crease of [stu­dent] pop­u­la­tion, we re­ally do need to work on mak­ing sure that all of the schools have ad­e­quate space, ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties and state-of-theart tech­nol­ogy so that our stu­dents who are com­ing into the county and get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion can ben­e­fit in the best way pos­si­ble.”

Mc­Graw said safety and dis­ci­pline are two of the big­gest chal­lenges cur­rently fac­ing the school sys­tem. She sees a need to con­tinue ad­vo­cat­ing for more well-rounded se­cu­rity and safety pro­grams in schools through­out the county.

“Our dis­ci­pline across the county, as well as across the na­tion, is at an all-time high that we need to ad­dress,” Mc­Graw said. “It’s one of those things that needs to be a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity. Re­spon­si­bil­ity is not just on our schools, but it’s also on the par­ents and the chil­dren. Chil­dren have to un­der­stand that there are con­se­quences to their be­hav­ior. We need to con­tinue to work on ways to help ad­dress stu­dents in un­der­stand­ing what those con­se­quences are and pro­vide sup­port for them. In the same re­spect, we need our teach­ers to have the sup­port they need to un­der­stand why chil­dren act the way that they do.”

“One of the big­gest is­sues we have is re­ten­tion of teach­ers and that’s con­nected to dis­ci­pline,” Palko said. “In the last two years, we have hired over 300 teach­ers. That many teach­ers is not very help­ful in de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents, be­cause we have new teach­ers in and out all the time. I have in­ter­viewed a num­ber of teach­ers about the rea­son that they’re leav­ing and the big­gest thing they say is dis­ci­pline. The dis­ci­pline is­sue is big­ger than the schools; it spreads out to the com­mu­nity. It’s a com­mu­nity and school ef­fort that has to take place.”

Wil­son said two min­utes is not nearly enough to ad­dress what the school sys­tem’s big­gest chal­lenge is. She spoke about the chang­ing dy­nam­ics of fam­i­lies, par­tic­u­larly in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, as there are more sin­gle par­ents and even grand­par­ents who are tak­ing care of school kids.

“We have fam­i­lies in this com­mu­nity that are at the bus stop at [4:30 a.m.] and some­times don’t get home un­til 6 and 8 o’clock at night. That one-on-one time with our chil­dren, the build­ing of ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing skills, is very lack­ing so that leads to dis­ci­plinary prob­lems,” Wil­son said. “All of these chal­lenges are then placed on the school sys­tem. When you throw in the teach­ers, we have to find a way to get them more sup­port and pre­pare for these new de­mands from kids. We also got to re­spect our teach­ers. The class­room needs to be a sanc­tu­ary; it’s a place where a child should be able to come, learn and grow.”

“There are a lot of is­sues — dis­ci­pline, safety and se­cu­rity, bul­ly­ing,” Kelly said. “With that comes cul­tural com­pe­tency. We’re try­ing to fig­ure out where kids are com­ing from, what their fam­ily life is like and what their back­ground is. A lot of those is­sues can

be ad­dressed if we can stop and un­der­stand each other. An­other part of that is our school sys­tem’s #ChooseKind cam­paign. We’re try­ing to be more in tune with the so­cial-emo­tional com­po­nent and also get­ting par­ents in­volved and com­mu­nity sup­port.”

Lukas said hav­ing com­mu­nity and parental in­put is key to ad­dress­ing a ma­jor­ity of the school sys­tem’s chal­lenges. It’s very hard to im­ple­ment poli­cies that will work for ap­prox­i­mately 26,000 kids; there­fore, flex­i­bil­ity is es­sen­tial to cre­at­ing an over­all safer and bet­ter school com­mu­nity, ac­cord­ing to Lukas.

“I agree with ev­ery­thing that has been said here,” Brown said. “But I think these prob­lems can be fixed with school fund­ing. School fund­ing will in­crease teach­ers’ salaries so that we can re­cruit the best teach­ers that are avail­able. With more school fund­ing, we can help find and im­ple­ment more pro­grams to help those kids with dis­ci­pline prob­lems in our schools, sup­port restora­tive prac­tices, etc. With school fund­ing, we can have pro­grams that meet the needs of spe­cial needs kids. I think school fund­ing is the big­gest is­sue here.”

Ac­cord­ing to Samp­son, the av­er­age start­ing salary for teach­ers in the D.C., Mary­land and Vir­ginia ar­eas is be­tween $47,000 and $50,000. For­tu­nately, he said Charles County is on par with the cur­rent pay stan­dard for ed­u­ca­tors.

Kelly, who was a fi­nance ma­jor in col­lege, said the school sys­tem needs to stay on par with what sur­round­ing school ju­ris­dic­tions are do­ing as a lot of times it is an eco­nomic de­ci­sion for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees.

In ad­di­tion to of­fer­ing more pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, Kelly said more sup­port is needed for teach­ers so that the re­ten­tion rate can im­prove.

“It’s all about sup­ply and de­mand,” she said. “When you’re of­fered two dif­fer­ent op­tions for a job, a lot of peo­ple will most likely choose the one that pays the most be­cause they have bills to pay and things like that. We need to stay on par with what the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing.”

Wil­son said she is ab­so­lutely cer­tain that teach­ers de­serve to be paid more.

“Less than 5 per­cent of col­lege stu­dents ma­jor in ed­u­ca­tion. They want to raise fam­i­lies and have a de­cent qual­ity of life,” said Wil­son. “I’m a strong be­liever that we not only need to pay teach­ers more, but on par with other pro­fes­sions. We’re not even com­pet­ing with some of the other pro­fes­sions so how can we make teach­ing at­trac­tive? We have enough is­sues as it is with the re­spect of teach­ing com­pared to 50 years ago. Think about it — our teach­ers are build­ing the fu­ture.”

As a for­mer prin­ci­pal, Mc­Graw said one of the first things that prospec­tive teach­ers would ask her is what type of sup­port they would re­ceive dur­ing their first year.

Mc­Graw agreed that larger salaries, more pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and sup­port sys­tems need to be in place in or­der to at­tract new tal­ent to the school sys­tem.

“Many of them come from out of state and they need a car­ing en­vi­ron­ment in which they can learn,” Mc­Graw said. “One of the rec­om­men­da­tions from the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion [on In­no­va­tion and Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion] says that over the next five years, they would like to in­crease teacher salaries by 32 per­cent. That would be huge for our teach­ing pop­u­la­tion here.”

In or­der to get teach­ers to stay in the county, Pitts said sup­port from the com­mu­nity is needed on an eco­nomic, so­cial and pro­fes­sional level.

“Our teach­ers def­i­nitely need to have an in­crease in pay but this is a na­tional prob­lem. It’s some­thing that we all need to come to­gether not just as a school sys­tem, but as a com­mu­nity,” Coker said. “One of the things that the board of ed­u­ca­tion is re­spon­si­ble for is to seek the nec­es­sary fi­nances so that our school sys­tem will be able to run and also im­prove the bud­get. We, as mem­bers, need to find ways to get more re­sources into our school sys­tem. We need to part­ner with dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions so that we can pro­vide teach­ers with in­cen­tives and bonuses and dif­fer­ent things, out­side of just in­creas­ing their pay.”

Palko, a for­mer teacher, also agreed that ed­u­ca­tors de­serve bet­ter pay. Be­cause there are so many teach­ers who can’t af­ford hous­ing in the area and also have stu­dent loan debt, Palko said com­mu­nity sup­port is vi­tal for re­ten­tion ef­forts.

“We im­port about 60 per­cent of our teach­ers. They’re here with­out fam­ily and need the com­mu­nity to em­brace them,” she said. “They need that com­mu­nity sup­port that says, ‘I care about you.’”

“At one time, years ago, teach­ing was like a call­ing and peo­ple went into teach­ing for the love of it,” Brown added. “But you have these young peo­ple now who are look­ing for money. They’re look­ing for a way to sup­port their fam­i­lies so that’s not go­ing to fly any­more. They want money and they will leave this county and go to the next one that pays more money. In men­tor­ing our teach­ers; we have to be able to pro­vide them a men­tor that they can con­nect with. I find that a lot of teach­ers need that per­sonal and so­cial con­nec­tion. But they shouldn’t have to bunk up with an­other teacher in or­der to stay here in Charles County. We have to find a way to help them.”

Han­cock ex­pressed that all of the can­di­dates un­der­stand the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at hand and are more than qual­i­fied to rep­re­sent the board of ed­u­ca­tion. As a lo­cal small busi­ness owner, Han­cock said he has ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand the dif­fer­ent as­pects of the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and knows what it takes to “bal­ance the books,” as well as in­crease morale among em­ploy­ees.

“I know what it’s like for what the teach­ers go though,” said Han­cock, a fa­ther of three whose wife is a teacher in the school sys­tem. “I see a lot of fin­ger point­ing that goes on around here and that’s got to stop. We all want the same goal and that’s to pro­vide the best ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem for our kids. If you live in the county, then you’ve got skin in this game. We have to start work­ing as a team and that’s my goal; us­ing com­mon sense and team­work to cre­ate a great prod­uct.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Board of ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber Vir­ginia Mc­Graw, fourth from right, holds the mi­cro­phone as she speaks dur­ing a NAACP can­di­date fo­rum on Sept. 20 at Re­gency Fur­ni­ture Sta­dium’s Le­gends Club in Wal­dorf.

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