Sabina Taj Survey Response

Sabina published this on Facebook on 3/11/18

BOE Questionnaire:

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

As a long-time advisor to a foundation that supports groundbreaking initiatives in K-12 education, I have a history of identifying successful programs in general education, curriculum development, and teacher retention. I would bring to the role my knowledge and experience of what’s worked in real life settings across the U.S.

As an adjunct professor at Howard Community College (HCC), I’ve been cultivating the next generation of educators by teaching arts integration to future schoolteachers. Working at the college has also helped me better appreciate the critical role community institutions like HCC can play in helping students succeed in and after high school.

As an appointed member of the Board of Education’s Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC), I’ve been gaining a deeper understanding of the school system’s operations and how budget decisions can have an outsized impact on student success.

As a volunteer parent, I’ve seen first hand the workings of my daughters’ schools and the importance of inviting all stakeholders into the process. Over the past year, I’ve been serving on the executive board of the PTA at my daughter’s elementary school, as chair of the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. A group of us are working with the school administration, the PTA, and Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to ensure proper representation of all families in the activities of the school.

I’ve long been active in the Howard County community, which is near and dear to me. I served as program officer at the Howard County Community Foundation and I’m a proud graduate of Leadership Howard County. I also serve on the board of the Little Patuxent Review, a local literary magazine with deep roots in the community, and on the advisory committee of the Columbia Housing Center.

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

In my opinion, members of the board have three principal responsibilities: 1) to advocate on behalf of the community for sufficient resources so that Howard County students have the best educational experience possible; 2) to oversee the work of the superintendent and his or her stewardship of the school district; and 3) to ensure that the district’s operations run efficiently and that funds allocated for the school system are used prudently. In my opinion, the board can best be held accountable to the community by ensuring that the superintendent meets mutually agreed upon goals for the district.

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

I’ve attended a number of board meetings, including Dr. Martirano’s formal presentation of the proposed 2019 budget. I’ve also reached out to all of the current members to learn more about the role.

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?

Unfortunately, the board is facing two challenges. They have to address the budget shortfalls from previous years and they are facing the possibility of tightening purse strings from the county and state. With respect to the former, I’m pleased to see the superintendent working closely with the board to address the current deficit, though I’m concerned that some cuts will adversely impact the most vulnerable students in the community. With respect to the latter, if elected, I will do all in my power to ensure that our county elected officials and state representatives live up to their obligations to the community and school system.

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

In my view, Dr. Martirano has done a solid job. I’ve enjoyed working with him as an advocate, and would look forward to working with him as a board member. He came into a system that has experienced a great deal of turmoil in recent years, and immediately rolled up his sleeves to begin to right the ship. He has begun to rebuild trust by being open to community engagement, and his approach seems rooted in transparency, honesty and open dialogue. He seems to me a kind human being, one who genuinely cares about the welfare of the student body, his staff, and the Howard County community. For me, the jury is still out on two things: 1) whether he can make the hard but good decisions that will position the school system for future success; and 2) whether he will back his words around ensuring fairness and equity for all of Howard County’s students with sufficient resources to make this happen. Words only carry weight when they are supported with actions and resources.

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

Equity has been at the center of much of my work in education. Equity for me means that all students and families have the resources they need to succeed and thrive in their educational, social, and emotional environments.

A community must take care of all of its members. An equitable educational system will strive to have a diverse set of decision-makers throughout the system—including administrators, principals, educators, PTA leaders, etc.—that represent the voices and needs of the constituencies who form the broader community.

I would promote the use of restorative practices in order to minimize the use of strictly punitive measures, which have inequitable rates of suspension and punishment. Such training not only fosters community building in the school system, but also helps strengthen relationships in the community as a whole.

Equity can manifest in a number of ways. Certain programs like Pre-K have impacts that last throughout a child’s educational journey. Children under five, for instance, who participate in classroom-based early childhood education programs are less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be held back a grade, and more likely to graduate from high school, compared to peers who are not in such programs. All of which is to say, there are many ways to address inequities in the system.

A system starts to feel equitable when we seek input from all stakeholders in the community, not just those most readily available. Inclusive communities naturally bend toward equity.

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

Building more schools is the most effective and least disruptive way to address overcrowding. High school #13 has been chosen – we need to expedite the selection and building of high school #14. We should advocate at all levels to make this a reality. We should also explore innovative ways that have worked in other parts of the country to address overcrowding, and conduct a parent survey to assess whether the solutions we identify will be supported by the community. For example, me might consider developing specialized academies in schools with excess capacity—e.g., around STEM, the arts, or coding—to draw interested students from overcrowded schools.

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

My top three priorities are:

Healthy schools, healthy students – I will advocate for safe, well-maintained buildings and policies that promote the physical and mental heath of all who are part of the educational system to ensure optimal learning. This includes ensuring that schools have proper mental health services; that we consider options that promote wellness, like late school starts; and that we provide guidance to students on topics such as the proper use of technology and social media.

Community representation – I will try to ensure that the decisions the board takes reflect the input of all of Howard County’s community members. I will work with the administration to ensure that our communications reach as much of the population as possible. This may mean reaching out through social media sites like WeChat and WhatsApp, arranging in-person meetings with grassroots leaders, and tapping parent advocacy groups, to use a few examples.

Educational equity – I will advocate for all students and families in the system as described in my positions outlined above.

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