Robert Miller Survey Response

Corey Andrews published this on 3/10/18:

Robert Miller‘s responses to the BOE Questionnaire:

1. What experiences do you have that qualify you to serve on the Board of Education?

I retired in 2015 after 34 years of teaching in the Howard County Public School System
(HCPSS). I taught at elementary, middle, and high school levels, as I was the band director at Hammond Middle School from 1985-2015, at Hammond Elementary School
from 1985-1988, and at Howard High School from 1981-1985. My daughter is a teacher in our school system and my son is a student at College Park; both attended Bryant
Woods Elementary School, Wilde Lake Middle School, and Wilde Lake High School. I have a BS in Music Education and a BS in Psychology, as well as a M.Ed. in Music Education. I was an adjunct professor at Howard Community College from 1984-1999. I directed summer band camps through Howard Community College from 1992-1996 and the Department of Recreation and Parks from 1997-2006, and I directed the Columbia Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble (adult community bands) from 1989-2000. I presently teach private percussion students (and have done so for over 40 years) and direct the
Columbia Big Band (adult community jazz ensemble). Since I retired, I have been following our Board of Education and related issues in the hopes of becoming a member of the Board. I have observed most Operating Budget Review Committee meetings for over a year, and I have been a member of the Community Advisory Council during this school year. It is my hope and expectation that my experiences from
“inside” and “outside” the school system and in the community will enable me to prioritize initiatives, anticipate unintended consequences, thoughtfully solve problems, and bring about positive outcomes.

2. What role does a member of the Howard County Board of Education fill?

A member of the Howard County Board of Education serves as 1/7th of the elected body that oversees the proper functioning of our school system and our superintendent. The Board of Education’s role is not to run the schools, but to see that they are run well by others. Essentially, the Board deals with the vision, mission, goals, and policies of the school system, and monitors the results. Duties of the Board include (in no particular order):
• Controlling educational matters that affect the county;
• Appointing school staff, clerical and other non-professional personnel (on superintendent recommendation);
• Determining, with the advice of the superintendent, the educational policies of the school system;
• Promulgating bylaws, rules, regulations, not inconsistent with State law, for the conduct and management of the school system;
• Establishing curriculum guides and courses of study;
• Establishing advisory committees;
• Acquiring, improving, and disposing of school property;
• Consolidating schools when deemed necessary;
• Establishing policies for promotion and graduation;
• Appointing, and evaluating the superintendent and setting the superintendent’s salary;
• Approving an annual budget, allocating funding to school system operations and capital programs;
• Approving expenditures of funds;
• Setting parameters for union negotiations;
• Approving negotiated agreements;
• Hearing appeals of superintendent’s decisions;
• Monitoring educational achievement;
• Monitoring the system’s management for continuous improvement;
• Adopting policies for the school system operations and interpret their applications;
• Representing views of the community in education matters;
• Interpreting school system needs to the community;
• Authorizing curriculum development and revision;
• Advancing a legislative agenda to County Council and to the Maryland General Assembly;
• Establishing school boundaries;
• Authorizing legal settlements;
• Reviewing policy appeals;
• Deciding appeals of the superintendent’s administrative decisions, decisions to suspend or terminate an employee, and decisions for student suspension

(Most of my response above is based on information from a presentation to school board candidates by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education’s Director of Board Development.)

3. Have you ever attended a meeting of the Howard County Board of Education?

I have attended dozens of meetings of the Howard County Board of Education since I retired (and some prior to my retirement), possibly the majority of their open meetings since July, 2015. I have watched video archives of many others. I have also presented testimony to the Board at several public forums and public hearings.

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?

Some challenging decisions lie ahead. I think it is vital to approach them with the perspective that a high-quality school system should be a priority for our county. The future success of our most important resource, our children, to a large extent depends on quality of our schools. Even from a financial standpoint, a high-quality school system is beneficial when it comes to property values, revenue growth, attractiveness to
businesses, etc. Additionally, our schools play a large part in enabling our communities to thrive. Thus, I believe that compromising the quality of our school system is not an
acceptable option. On the other hand, we need to eliminate poorly implemented programs and waste; we have many residents, some with students, who are struggling
to make ends meet and/or have other financial needs. So the question for me becomes, “How can the Board of Education address these challenges in a way that will maintain a
high-quality school system in the most financially prudent way?”

Requesting that the budget process begin earlier in the fiscal year, with budgets presented sooner and with more clarity, should enable decisions to be made in a less rushed,
more data-informed and philosophically-based way. Then, our Board of Education should look at programs, structure, and processes and try to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. For example:

Though in need of further refinement, I am pleased to see consideration of a new technology plan, as we should be leveraging reduced tech prices to provide access to
otherwise inaccessible educational opportunities in an equitable way.

Money could be saved by not purchasing educational software and tests that are not desired by educators.

We could look at saving money in the area of security, and differentiate expenses that actually provide increased security from those that simply provide the appearance of increased security

Revamping employee evaluation systems could return much time to teachers, administrators, students, and others, while being more beneficial to all at no extra cost.

Though mostly a capital budget concern, we should consider maximizing pragmatism when designing new buildings.

Creative solutions to challenges should be explored. For example, expanding the school day on an optional basis for elementary school students could be explored, and the
resulting later bus runs could open up possibilities for later high school start times, possibly accomplishing both goals for a reduced cost. World language instruction, academic enrichment, arts enrichment, tutoring, sports and other play activities are examples of offerings, and fees could be charged on a sliding scale, making funding more realistic. Other creative financially-efficient approaches to challenges could be
devised, especially by those who have “big-picture” knowledge of the school system and the community.

5. Based on the information available to you, briefly assess Dr. Martirano’s first year in office.

From what I have seen from his first year in office, Dr. Martirano has faced great challenges and addressed them in ways that I consider to have been intelligent, thoughtful, and considerate. Though it is not reasonable to expect him to satisfy everyone (including me) all of the time, he seems very open to listening and considering the thoughts of others. He appears to do this within a framework that I think fits our
county well. He seems to sincerely be very student-oriented, which is as it should be for a school system superintendent. His nature has been very cooperative, transparent,
and respectful, yet he has demonstrated courage and decisiveness when appropriate. It is beneficial to our school system for our superintendent to have good interpersonal
skills when working with parents, students, teachers, our board, our county executive and county council, etc., and this trait seems to be an impressive strength of Dr. Martirano. I believe that his leadership style, work ethic, and enthusiasm also add to his effectiveness. So far, I have been very impressed.

6. What does “equity” in education mean to you, and how should HCPSS achieve it?

“Equity” in education can have a number of different meanings depending on the context in which it is used, but as a generalization I would say that it means providing
students with equal opportunities for educational success and the accompanying benefits. That means that we must meet students where they are and compensate for challenges they may be facing, be they, for example, financial, psychological, physical, social, or intellectual. It means that circumstances do not impede students in pursuing their passions and reaching their potentials.

Though it is disappointing to say, it is probably unrealistic to think that HCPSS can, by itself, produce complete equity. It probably cannot fully compensate for differences such
as pre-school experiences; family prioritization of education; financial ability of families to provide activities such as camps, tutoring, private instruction, athletic participation, and enrichment classes; time parents spend with students; etc. Meanwhile, like perfection, though it may not be attainable, it is still worth pursuing, and in doing so the benefits can be tremendous. Following are some ways HCPSS could pursue achieving equity:

• Provide more staffing, equipment, etc., when needed at schools with student populations that face extra challenges
• Prioritize one-on-one assistance for students struggling with basic skills; not accepting non-mastery (for more information, please go to my website,, and click on “Insisting on Basic Skills Mastery”)
• Provide opportunities for enrichment by making available scholarships, funded by community organizations, foundation grants, individuals, businesses, and HCPSS, to be used for enrichment, tutoring, etc.
• Enable volunteer, service, and internship opportunities for high school students to provide enrichment, tutoring, etc. to younger or less experienced students
• Ensure to the extent possible that basic needs are met for all students (food, shelter, clothing)
• Ensure to the extent possible that educational needs are met for all students (computers/tablets, internet access, organization-related materials such as binders)
• Provide appropriate instruction and supports to special education students
• Provide quality training for staff members that will enhance their abilities to support students with challenges
• Ensure transportation is provided so outside-of-the-school-day activities are available to all
• Prioritize meeting the individual needs of each student.

7. In specifics, how should the Board of Education address school overcrowding?

• Enhance public awareness that the quality of a school, and the suitability of a school for an individual student, cannot and should not be determined by test scores, and that highly successful students graduate every year from every Howard County school
• While keeping Policy 6010 in mind and maximizing target utilizations of our building capacities, attempt to balance demographics between schools when reasonable, with
attention to keeping feeder systems and communities intact as much as is feasible, allowing walkers to remain walkers, and judiciously minimizing transportation time
• Consider long-range school capacities and move students in ways that will fill those capacities while strategically improving demographic balance
• Use dual-enrollment (JumpStart) programs in a strategic way to relieve high school overcrowding
• At the minimum, mandatory redistricting should not occur for high school seniors and juniors; the redistricting of rising 5th and 8th graders should be avoided when possible; and redistricting should be phased in when viable, focusing on rising kindergarteners, 6th, and 9th graders
• Consider placing new CTE (career and technical education) programs in schools with excess capacity
• In the possibly not too distant future, begin to consider possible impacts of driverless vehicles when making long-range plans regarding school planning, transportation, and
• Improve planning/funding so we do not have schools that are severely over-capacity
• Lastly, I have found that for the great majority of students who are transferred, after three weeks of school if they were offered the choice of going back or remaining, they
would remain at their “new” school. They’ve made (or kept) friends, gotten used to their teachers, and learned new routines. That said, there could be a small number, for
example, of students with emotional challenges, who would be much better off in their old school. I believe that there should be some mechanism (i.e., appeals board), that, after three weeks, could allow a very limited number of students to return to their “old” schools, and it should be publicized in order to ease some concerns, too.

8. Briefly, what are your top three priorities if elected?

1) Focus school system efforts on the intersection of students and teachers, thus reducing instructional and preparation time lost to overemphasis on standardized testing, a poorly-conceived teacher evaluation procedure, unproven fads and initiatives, and unnecessary paperwork. This time could be used to provide one-on-one assistance for students struggling with basic skills, organization, and/or social and emotional
challenges; it could help to eliminate achievement gaps and other negative consequences that can accompany students who fall behind and/or have difficulties. A climate where administrative / central office personnel serve educators, students, and parents, and not vice versa, would be essential to the success of this initiative.

2) Enable the cultivation of a partner-like atmosphere between educators and parents based on mutual respect and concern for students, with improved communication made
possible by the reduction of time-wasting policies and procedures as described above. This partner-like atmosphere should also be cultivated between the Board of Education / Central Office and the students, parents, staff, and community they serve; transparent, honest, respectful, and responsive communication will enhance this atmosphere.

3) Increase prioritization of social and emotional learning. It is vital that students do not just gain knowledge and skills, but also become people who have integrity, self-discipline,
and empathy; are ethical, responsible, and kind; and have an appreciation of diversity and an ability to work well with others with varied backgrounds. I’m not referring to “fluff,” but to an environment that is supportive and supported where “who
you are” is even more important than “what you know.”

Please note that these priorities are primarily classroom-based and require educator time to be successful, and enabling these priorities, among others, should drive many Board of Education decisions regarding the budget, staffing, and the functioning of the Central Office. We must remember that it is in the classroom where “the rubber meets the road.”

Thank you for reading and considering my responses. I encourage those who are interested to check out my website and to “like” my social media pages for more information, and to contact me if they would like to discuss concerns:

Facebook Volunteer Group:
Phone: 410-227-8445
Thank you for your consideration.

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