Hello SOS Friends and Families!

We believe it is important to be part of the election process, but we also understand what a challenge it can be to get to meetings and candidate forums to learn about those seeking office. We wanted to bring the forum to you. In order to help you make your BOE candidate choices, we conducted a poll in the group a few weeks ago asking what questions you have for this yearʼs board of education candidates. You responded with some great questions!

We turned your questions over to Darran Tilghman, a parent and education grant writer and consultant, and Sara Clark Vivier, a parent and education professor at Washington College. They compiled your questions and because there were so many, narrowed them down to the main questions and concerns. They then sent the questions to the four Board of Education candidates and asked them to respond in writing. We are pleased to report that all four candidates responded, and their replies are presented unedited below. This was a huge undertaking, and we are so grateful to Darran and Sara for their hard work! We are also grateful to the candidates for taking the time to answer their questions.

The questions were:

• What is your vision for the Kent County Public Schools? Tell us both the big picture and three specific goals. Why are you uniquely qualified to implement this vision during your term on the Board of Education?

• Voters care about communication. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between parent/community involvement and student success. How will you address existing concerns about poor communication and build engagement with all communities in Kent County?

• In Kent County, communication between the School Board and the County Commissioners is also important. Given your vision (as stated in Question 1), what are your budgetary priorities and how will you advocate for them productively?

Their answers are being presented in alphabetical order.

Question #1

My vision for the Kent County Public Schools is as follows: We need to produce high school graduates who are ready for college, the military, or the workforce without any remediation.  They should be ready to be good citizens in our diverse society, and they should be prepared for rapid change because the world they will inherit will be quite different from the world as we know it. More than any generation in history, our students will be blasted with all sorts of information, and they will need the information literacy skills to discern what is important and what is true.  I envision graduates who will have developed habits of reaching for excellence, not just in academic subjects, but also in sports, music, drama, and the visual arts. Our graduates should have unlimited curiosity and the skills to be lifelong learners. They need to have a strong work ethic, grit (willingness to take academic risks), and the ability to begin again after a failure.

In order to attain this vision, we need to retain the students we have and attract new students so that we will have the financial resources to provide a quality education for all students. We must also raise at least $100,000 per year from private sources to augment tax dollars for classroom supplies, mini-grants for teachers, meaningful field trips, after school programs, and other things. We must also engage the resources of our retired citizens to become effective volunteers in the schools.

The members of our school board have very different occupations and backgrounds, and that is as it should be. I have devoted more than 40 years to improving educational outcomes in the communities where I have lived. In Texas I taught in a community college, ran a city-wide literacy program that won a MacArthur grant, served as the national coordinator of Project 30 (a national project to improve teacher education), and I also served two terms on a school board. In California I earned a doctorate in educational leadership and served on the founding team of one of the most successful public charter high schools in the country. Here in Kent County, as a school board member, I have advocated for higher salaries, improved literacy, and academic excellence. I have managed the field trip program at Mount Harmon Plantation for ten years.

Question #2

Our schools – and especially the middle school – have been improving communications with parents as well as with citizens who do not have children in the schools. Dr. Couch and other administrators represent the schools well to realtors, state legislators, service clubs, and other community groups. Our KCPS APP, Facebook and SOS have improved communication between the schools and the community. I think that the PTAs at each school should be strengthened in order to help parents make sense of the curriculum and school environment. For each area of CTE (Career/Technology Education), there should be an advisory council of local individuals who actually hire graduates in the specific CTE areas (such as construction, agriculture, auto mechanics, culinary arts, etc.). There also needs to be better communication between our high school and colleges, so that our graduates know what to expect in college. Our schools must communicate to families how important it is for their children to demonstrate mastery of basic subjects in the early grades. If a child finishes third grade without mastering grade-level reading and math, he or she will probably struggle academically in higher grades. I think it would be helpful if the administration conducted “listening meetings” in each school once or twice a year.

Question #3

Communication between the school board and the county commissioners is crucial. After the election, the two entities should meet for informal dinners a few times a year. Schools should invite commissioners for special events and also for drop-in visits. In recent years, an area of disagreement between the two entities has concerned fund balance. I think that the school board should maintain a fund balance of at least $500,000 to cover emergencies and to pay bills in a timely manner. I also think that the schools should receive more money from the commissioners than they currently receive; however, I am mindful that the county commissioners have to fund several other agencies and programs. Because schools receive money from the state on a per capita basis, we must grow our student body to get more funding.

Kent County Schools are well run. We do not have a bloated administration. We get excellent audits every year. We are getting more and more grants. In the near future, we are not going to have all the money we need, which is why we should think of new ways to get good results, such as raising money from private sources (something many great schools routinely do), using volunteers, requiring summer reading and also requiring much more reading during the school year. Volunteers could free teachers from lunch duty and bus duty. Volunteers could serve as mentors for gifted children and as tutors for children who need extra help. We have volunteer coaches for sports. How about volunteer debate coaches?

My priorities are for academic excellence and for maintaining safe, attractive school buildings. I have voted for higher salaries for all employees, and, if elected, I will continue to do so. School board meetings are business meetings. It may seem to spectators that the board simply “rubber stamps” the recommendations of the administration, but that is not the case. Each board member is in very frequent communication with the superintendent about every aspect of the school system. By the time an item is put on the agenda, there are no surprises.

The most important message that KCPS can convey is that the education of children is a partnership among schools, families, and members of the community.

Question 1 

My Vision for Kent County Public Schools is to make us the or one of the model school system(s) across the state of Maryland. Where we are number one in teacher retention, test scores, parent engagement; while maintaining rigorous 21st Century Curriculum’s. Also a school system where we offer a multicultural & diverse administration and teaching staff.  My three top goals to reach this vision:

1. First conduct a study on our current school population/enrollment. We have declined in the last ten years, but it is really time for the school system  to start asking essential questions.  Why are they leaving; Where are they going; and How are we going to get them back? We can began to get a clear strategic plan motion.  

2. Retaining our Teachers: we have great educators coming to Kent County, but they don’t stay for very long.  What programs can we create to show teachers that there is benefit of teaching and staying in Kent County?  I am proponent of a County Housing Program for New Teachers with a potential partnership with our neighboring counties. School Board members should  work county and municipal economic development teams to establish ways to assist and keep younger families/individuals in Kent County. However the most important thing is to show new teachers that they can grow in KCPS; we need a clear professional development/growth aspect in our school system. 

3. Deeply invest in  engaging our parents in their child’s education.  The greatest learning time occurs at the dinner table, what resources can we offer to help reinforce the concepts learned in school. However the flip side of that is what we can do as educators and school board members to better support their child; or even ways we can support the parents enrichment.

  I think I am most qualified as I am a current public school  educator. Plus, I have over 10+ years working in the field of education and with children, youth and families.  I see what’s coming down the pipeline in regards to education, I see how our students are being taught on an everyday basis, and I see how parents are asking questions and seeking support from their local schools. I believe with these goals and my vision can definitely increase our students success. 

Question 2 

Communication has been lacking in the Kent County Public School System for sometime. It seemingly has not gotten much better. Communication is the backbone of any major government agency or department whether federal, state or local . The School Board members answer to the citizens, at anytime don’t problems arise; the citizens have every right to come to their elected school board.  When lack of  communication problems arise between schools and families, I will do everything to figure how to break the communication barrier. However there are some methods that we can do and/or continue to do: Beginning of the week ROBO calls to families from each school principal, monthly round table discussions at our five schools (with Dr. Couch, School Members and School Principal) a greater social media presence: (SOS does an outstanding job informing our parents of current happenings, but it should be happening from the district level) Opening our schools monthly for a crash the class, more parent nights.  Communication is essential to running a school system, if families don’t know what’s going on are we really working as community for their child. 

Question 3: 

First Priority: to enhance our salary our structure for administrators, teachers and support professionals. These individuals are the backbone of the school system.  Second Priority: Is to create after-school and enrichment programs for our students, that help reinforce their understanding of class concepts/material being taught in the general subject matter classrooms and the specialty classrooms. Third Priority: Is to assure that our students are safe, both physically and mentally.  We can do this by setting aside money for increasing school security and safety initiatives, and mental health curriculum and training for administration, teachers, support professionals, students and parents . Fourth Priority: Making sure our school facilities are updated and safe for students learning. This can be renovations and updates to HVAC, increase of windows, classroom equipment revamp and much more.  

I will do everything in my power to advocate financially for our students, teachers, staff and administration to help reach these priorities. The school board members and the county commissioners should have clear consistent  communication and a working relationship. I would propose annual budget work sessions between the county commissioners and school board and an annual SWOT Analysis Retreat that focus on vision for our Kent County Public School System.

1. My “big picture” vision for Kent County Public Schools is that we have a highly qualified staff that is sending out graduates who are career-ready or college-bound, and for all of them to become contributing citizens. My goals are to retain our best and brightest teachers and administrators; to make KCPS an inviting and welcoming district for everyone; and to develop a strategic plan that acknowledges our challenges and shortcomings and offers solutions on how we can move forward. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that I am “uniquely qualified” to implement this vision. But I believe my four years of experience on the school board; my daily interaction with students, staff and the community in my job as a community journalist for 34 years; my 50 years of living in Kent County and attending schools here; my pursuit of social justice as a volunteer with the Samaritan Group and board member of Horizons summer enrichment program; and my commitment to public education are assets.

2. I think it would be beneficial if school board meetings were held in each of the county’s five municipalities once a year, every year. It would be advantageous to find a volunteer or a part-time employee who would be tasked with getting the word out about upcoming school events and all the great things that are going on in our schools. Social media and groups like SOS have helped enormously. In general, I think teachers do a good job of communicating with parents about their individual children.

My budget priorities are to raise the salaries of all staff ( teachers, instructional assistants and administrators), expand programming, and add mid-level administrators that would relieve some of the workload of our principals while at the same time providing an opportunity to advance their careers (i.e, move up the ladder).  We can’t be competitive in the job market unless we offer better pay; right now we’re 14th or 15th in the state in terms of starting teacher’s pay. The relationship between KCPS and the county commissioners, who provide 60 percent of the district’s funding, has been polite but chilly for the last couple of years. That has to improve. If the commissioners are unwilling or unable to fund above the required Maintenance of Effort level, I hope that they would support the school district as it seeks funding from other sources — that support can come as matching dollars for a grant; expertise in writing grants or direction in seeking out grants; and in general a more congenial relationship as KCPS navigates the challenges of a small, rural district with dwindling enrollment and a large percent of students who receive free and reduced meals (one indicator of poverty). 

  1. What is your vision for the Kent County Public Schools? Tell us both the big picture and three specific goals. Why are you uniquely qualified to implement this vision during your term on the Board of Education?

I fully embrace the community school model. As a small, rural school district our families have access to limited resources. Many of our families are dealing with issues of poverty. I would like our schools to work with our local family support organizations to come up with more wrap-around services that can be provided at our schools. Three specific goals would be –

1) Make sure that all students have access and opportunity to participate in afterschool programs. I’d like to reinstate a late bus and see more afterschool programs at the Elementary Schools and Middle School;

2) Our teachers and administrators have been stretched thin. We need to hire Vice Principals for all elementary schools and hire more teaching assistants for our classrooms. Provide a career path for teachers and professional development that helps them achieve their goals.

3) Re-evaluate the school start time for Middle and High School students. Consider starting all schools at the same time. This would require more buses and more drivers.

Other than being the parent of current KCPS students I don’t know that I am uniquely qualified other than that I am in our schools and see the need first hand. Most of the complaints from parents and teachers can be boiled down to one request – they are asking for help. We need to help.

  1. Voters care about communication. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between parent/community involvement and student success. How will you address existing concerns about poor communication and build engagement with all communities in Kent County?

Protecting the privacy of our students and families is the top priority. When administrators and teachers are dealing with unexpected situations there is not always time to reach out to families to make them aware of what is happening before action needs to be taken. Students with access to cell phones and other communication devices will almost always be able to get information out first – but it won’t always be accurate and it won’t address the safety and privacy concerns of other students. That being said, I think that there are definitely ways that KCPS can improve communications. I would like the school PTA’s to meet with each other and talk about their needs and successes and ways that we can work together. I would also like to see the Parent Advisory Committee reinstated. We need our parents and community to be involved.

  1. In Kent County, communication between the School Board and the County Commissioners is also important. Given your vision (as stated in Question 1), what are your budgetary priorities and how will you advocate for them productively?

My budgetary priorities include addressing the inequity in the state funding formula  with state representatives. I also would like to meet with other small school district boards and see if there are ways that we can work together to better meet the needs of our students. But until a new formula is developed a discussion about increasing MOE and local funding needs to be addressed.