Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I agree.
Ensuring their children receive a good education has always been a priority for parents, families, and communities. To have high-performing schools we need quality engaged educators, skilled staff and effective, goal- and results-driven leadership. As is the case with most school systems, Baltimore County Public Schools leadership comes in the form of a superintendent and board of education. It’s essential that they operate collaboratively as a team, communicate well, and put forth creative, bold ideas to achieve the desired outcomes.
The past two superintendents and current one, Darryl Williams, all ended up in the crosshairs of certain board members for various reasons. It may or may not be a coincidence that they are all African American, but it’s a fact worth noting.Shortly before the end of the academic year, things came to a head for Williams, who is in his third year as superintendent. The Randallstown NAACP and TABCO held a rally before the May 17 school board meeting to bring attention to the need for better student academic achievement. The County Council expressed frustration over some issues it had with BCPS, such as a lack of communication, and fired off a letter to Williams on June 7. Five members asked the school board to begin a “comprehensive and wide-ranging” superintendent’s search before renewing Williams’ four-year contract.
Council Chair Julian Jones of District 4 and Izzy Patoka of District 2 did not sign the letter. Tom Quirk of District 1 did, and was very critical of Williams, as was Cathy Bevins. Neither are running for re-election. Referring to the back-and-forth and threats of withholding money as “counterproductive political dialogue,” Williams responded to the council with a five-page letter on June 11 disputing their complaints.
The board held a special meeting behind closed doors on June 14, presumably to discuss the council’s request, as well as it’s bungled and devious attempt to get rid of BCPS’s chief auditor (that’s another story). Kudos to the elected officials, former board members, community activists, organizations and others who spoke out at the board meeting in favor of Williams’ performance and finishing his contract. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but as we are seeing around the country, people who go unchecked can be very dangerous.
We know that the pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for all school systems nationwide, including in Baltimore County. Learning loss is an issue, as is teacher and staff shortages and inadequate pay. A shortage of bus drivers resulted in late arrivals and pick-ups or non-arrivals, and parents were forced to transport their students themselves. Lives and routines were disrupted. Some students endured the death and illness of family members from COVID-19, had to care for siblings and family members while parents worked, and missed out on college, and scholarship and internships opportunities. We know how difficult the past two years have been.
For sure, there are things that the superintendent and staff could have done some things differently, and there is still much work to be done. But certain board members refuse to give up trying to do the superintendent’s job and direct him as if he is their personal assistant.
Fortunately, many of these board members are not running for re-election. Some incumbents may try to return through the Baltimore County Board of Education Nomination Commission.
Baltimore County is in its fourth year as a hybrid board of elected and appointed members. As you know it’s election year, and among the candidates for office are seven members of the school board. The Nominating Commission will put forth four names for at-large board members to the newly elected Governor for appointment.
This is my request to you. Normally, many of us would not pay attention to school board elections. But after observing the continued antics, discord and divisiveness of the current board, it is more important than ever that you cast your vote in the Primary Election on July 19 (early voting is July 7-14) for the right people to oversee the system and support our children.
There are seven elected seats. Three of them represent western Baltimore County: District 1 (Catonsville, Woodlawn and Windsor Mill), District 2 (Owings Mills and Pikesville), and District 4 (Randallstown, Owings Mills and Reisterstown). We have solid candidates running in the three districts. The top two vote getters will move to the General Election. Don’t make your choice based on perceived popularity. Talk to the candidates and your community members and leaders. Make the decision for yourselves. We are looking for someone who will commit to put in the hard work for our kids.
First and foremost, they must be about the kids and not about self. They must willing to listen to the concerns and suggestions of parents, teachers, students and community members, and keep those issues top of mind as they go about the business of the board.
Serving on the board is not a club and another organization to add to your resume. Board members must be able to comprehend, analyze the data, reports and presentations, read between the lines, ask thoughtful questions. They must be collegial but assertive, and willing to articulate and advocate for what’s right and what’s needed for their district, which is very likely different from those on the east side. They must make sure they’re not used or played. They must be willing to take difficult positions for the good of the community, and not go along just to get along.
Around the country, people are trying to change the politics of the state and community through the school board.
These outsiders, who are not teachers and have no connection with the schools or education, looking to impose their out-of-touch agendas on our schools. They are attempting to shape a new generation and hijack our schools to do it. Some are conservatives, some are activists, some are nuts. We have to fight these devious influences and know when a scheme is at work.
Most recently, in Texas, some folks want schools to start teaching about slavery and call it involuntary relocation. Critical race theory became a negative concept after conservatives got things twisted. Parental rights became more extreme with the Virginia and Florida elections. Politicians and certain groups want to take certain books out of schools. Some do not want anything related to LGBTQ+ taught in the classrooms. In Carroll County, the school board voted to ban certain flags. Our children are of various cultures, experiences and backgrounds, and they need to be our priority—not pawns for political purposes.
I encourage you to find some time to watch the video or read the transcripts of some of these board meetings. You’ll find them at bcps.org under the leadership > board of education meetings tab. You’ll be able to discern what type of representative we need.
We must thank the board members who went to bat for our children, particularly former chair Makeda Scott, former vice chair Cheryl Pasteur and board member Moalie Jose. Your work is very much appreciated!