Corey Andrew posted this on 3/10/18:
Carleen Pena‘s Responses to the BOE Candidate Questionnaire:
1. What experiences do you have that qualify you to serve on the Board of Education?
For the past 16 years I have owned my own business in Howard County providing child care for our youngest learners. I have a BA in Psychology and completed all coursework toward my MA in Clinical Psychology. I worked as a Counselor and Supervisor for a residential and educational program for severely emotionally disturbed adolescents at risk for out of state educational placement, and those transitioning from long term hospitalization to outpatient.
I have also worked with developmentally disabled adults including life skills and job training. I have a 49 year old brother who has cerebral palsy and is developmentally impaired, so I have understand the challenges faced by some of our special needs families.
Over the years, I have served as a parent volunteer at all school levels. Most recently, I initiated the community effort to bring equity to the students of Hammond High by having the much needed and often delayed addition and renovations to the school reinstated to the capital budget. I have also manager a human resources company. I am currently a member of the CAC. Most importantly, I am a mother and citizen who cares deeply about our community, our children and their education.
2. What role does a member of the Howard County Board of Education fill?
The Board of Education, first and foremost, serves as advocates for our children. As elected officials, it is the responsibility of the members of the board to speak for the citizens and students of the county and represent their needs to the County Executive and County Council, as well as state officials.
It is also the role of the members of the board to to run a major business. HCPSS serves not only as the largest employer in the county but as a major economic force of our community.
The responsibility that the board takes on is enormous. The decisions of the Board can have a profound and lasting impact. The Board serves as representatives of our community and as such must always be an example of civility.
3. Have you ever attended a meeting of the Howard County Board of Education?
My first experience attending a board meeting was in 2011 on redistricting. Most recently, I have attended several board meetings, town halls, coffee and conversation while advocating for Hammond High. For the meetings I have been unable to attend, it is simply – must see tv. I have also testified before the County Executive and met with other community groups, school organizations and student leaders to inform and gain support for this cause.It is difficult to serve if one has never engaged.
4. Numerous officials have indicated that the Howard County government will be facing a few difficult years ahead in budgeting and finance. How do you propose the Board of Education address these challenges?
HCPSS needs to explore and develop private/public partnerships to increase funding. We need to address the issues of reduced funding from the county and strongly advocate to restore the funding levels..
I have learned the power of one voice, of the ability of one person to make a difference. I would like to see educational forums offered to help the public learn how to advocate and to empower our community members to make requests of the county and the state. People have great ideas and want to be a part of the solutions but often don’t know how. We must think outside the box.
5. Based on the information available to you, briefly assess Dr. Martirano’s first year in office.
Earlier this year, Dr. Martirano entered a high school classroom, took and empty desk next to a junior, offered his hand and said “Hi! You can call me Mike. What’s your name?” Dr. Martirano’s first year in office has been a breath of fresh air for the county.
The legacy of fear that was a leftover from the last Superintendent, has lessened under Dr. Martirano’s leadership. He is a strong advocate for our teachers. His willingness to get to know and understand our students is a wonderful change.The culture of HCPSS should continue to improve with a leader who respects the staff is open with all.
I have not agreed with all of his decisions, but his ideas are creative and show innovation. Dr. Martirano is not a leader who simply sticks with the status quo .
The budget crisis is serious. Dr. Martirano has demonstrated that he understands the problem and the impact it causes on our schools. He did not create this monster but is willing to hit it head on and is willing to make hard choices.
When Dr. Martirano announced his Community Superintendents and leadership team, you could hear the wails of sorrow coming from the communities like Wilde Lake, Hammond and Reservoir as we said farewell to amazing administrators. Dr. Martirano, in only a few short months was able to recognize and identify some of the best talent in the county and ensure their abilities are shared to the benefit of all in the school system. He has also brought in good talent from outside the system with the addition of Dr. Gilbert and others. One of the signs of a good leader is to surround himself with other strong leaders which he has certainly excelled at.
6. What does “equity” in education mean to you, and how should HCPSS achieve it?
Equity can be difficult to identify at times, but you always know when you don’t have it. Equity is not equality, it is not about treating everyone the same. Equity is giving individuals the tools and resources they need so that everyone can be raised to the same level, be able to explore the same opportunities. It means that students and schools with the greatest needs should receive the greatest resources. Equity requires that we have the tools and abilities to identify the weaknesses and develop effective strategies to alleviate them up.
When we are able to initiate more equity based programs, imagine what our struggling students will achieve. Think of the levels they will accomplish when the extra resources are there for them. That is the measure of an excellent school system.
7. In specifics, how should the Board of Education address school overcrowding?
Building a new high school is great and long overdue. The projections on overcrowding have been on the books for years, yet nothing happened even as more students were squeezed into schools. Redistricting is unpopular and painful. Considering the current state of overcrowding of some of our schools, we have no choice but to redistrict our high schools. We also need to keep in mind that our underutilized schools are facing challenges also.
HCPSS has identified the location of high school 13, and now needs to immediately work on plans for filling the school. The resulting ripple effect will be felt at many schools as a result. Our students can’t wait five years for relief. Each of our overcrowded schools are adjacent to an underutilized school and those schools must be used to alleviate the problem. While I prefer moving only incoming freshman, this will drive up transportation costs and take longer to provide relief. There may be no choice but to include sophomores also.
Over and over again I have heard the desire from the community for strong feeds. Ideally, we would have 2 or 3 elementary schools feed into a middle school, 2 middle schools feed into a high school.. Unfortunately that is not really possible if for no other reason than there are 20 middle schools in the county and 12, soon to be 13 high schools. But we can and must have strong feeds. There should never be a 7% feed. In fact I don’t think there should ever be a feed smaller than 25%.
Redistricting must always be done carefully and thoughtfully. Feeds matter and so do demographics. Many of our schools have become segregated and that must end. I do not and will not ever support the notion of bussing student to achieve greater diversity. But many of our current districts have been gerrymandered to keep out certain neighborhoods. Another problem is that many of our schools are located near the edges of their districts making shifts to the empty seats in the west more difficult.
HCPSS may want to consider sitting more than one AAC per year. I understand there are ample volunteers. Have one work on the redistricting that will be required for the opening of HS13 and design how that will allow for changes to help the overcrowding now. Families should only move once. The second AAC could address the what would be the ideal situation of creating the strongest possible feeders while still addressing diversity. It may not be put into effect immediately but can serve as a sort of road map that to help us in future decisions.
Our school communities are more than just polygons. I am willing to drive through neighborhoods to see how the students actually get to school. Maps do not tell the full story. Communities may look connected but have no easy access to the schools and the surrounding communities.I believe that walkers need to be kept in their schools.
While we can use redistricting to create strong feeds, I never want to forget the individual student that will be moved. My daughter was redistricted several years ago. One benefit was that her feed from elementary school to middle school was strengthened and a few years later a similar move helped the middle to high school feed.That is all good. But for the kids who were moved it was difficult. While several polygons from our neighborhood were removed from our first school, all but one, our polygon, went to a third school which then sent a large number of kids to my daughter’s new school. While well over 200 students were redistricted to her new school, there were only 30 who came from her previous school at all grades k-5. I will not let that happen to anyone else’s child. She came through it, but we can never forget the impact on the individual.
There also need to be a plan put forth by our administrators at schools affected by redistricting. We want to ensure that teachers are prepared for any changes and view the plan in a positive light. How any redistricting plan is presented to the public and students is important. Parents must remember that they play a key role in how their child will view any redistricting plans. If the parents or teachers present it as something awful, then most likely so will the student. But the student can be helped to identify the positives in and make the transition easier.
8. Briefly, what are your top three priorities if elected?
My top three priorities include:
-Managing the budget
-Equity for our students
The current budget crisis should never have been allowed to happen. We can’t institute new programs, no matter how wonderful, without having a funding source. I will never vote for a plan that robs Peter to pay Paul. As elected officials, the Board has a fiduciary responsibility to all members of the community, one I take very seriously. HCPSS is the largest employer in the county, and has an operating budget of over $900 million dollars. The responsibility is vast and not to be taken lightly. While HCPSS invests heavily in our schools structures, innovative programing and technology, our single biggest resource are the dedicated teachers. It won’t matter how good and lovely our schools are, or how many computers we have per student, if we don’t have the best possible teachers to fill the schools and instruct with the technology.
Although I have already touched on equity, I still have more to share on the topic. In order to provide equity, we must be able to identify the areas of need accurately. Currently in the county and the state we are using a variety of assessments. The PARCC in particular has many issues with its predictive validity and is currently a part of the graduation standard and I would like to encourage the state to change this assessment. Using a flawed tool will not help us in achieving greater equity for our students. We need to ensure that our facilities are providing similar experiences to all students and develop a plan to ensure that the schools with the greatest needs are addressed first.
I believe in letting teachers teach and letting law enforcement enforce the law. Like Dr. Martirano, I would fight against any bills that would allow teachers to carry weapons in schools. I would like to develop a plan to eliminate portables and keep our children in brick and mortar school buildings. This would not happen quickly. It would take years, probably decades, but if we do not set it as a goal and develop the plan to work towards it, it will never come to fruition. In the meantime we need to look at having the schools with portables fenced for greater security. All schools need to have their safety procedures reviewed to ensure proper adherence to the procedure at all facilities. Of course, the most important safety feature HCPSS can offer is our staff. Our teachers are on the front lines. They are the ones who develop relationships with our students and are often to first to know when something is amiss. But in classes with large numbers of students, that becomes difficult, if not impossible. We need more counselors to work in conjunction with our teachers to be able to reach out to students who may be struggling. I would work to lower our class sizes as a main priority.