Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Peoples Voice & HCCA Elkridge Forum - Feb 25

Introduction

First, Thank you to the People's Voice and the HCCA for having this forum. I’m Matthew Molyett and I’m running for Board of Education from District 1. It is nice that tonight is in Elkridge. My time with Howard County Schools started out right here as a parent of Ducketts Lane Elementary School. As a father, I am concerned about the long term success and stability of our community schools. These community schools, and the Board of Education, operate on and through numerous broken processes. These are processes that endanger student health, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they compromise the student academic achievement that we send our kids there for. As a local tech professional, identifying, correcting, and optimizing processes is what I do. So tonight I am hoping I can earn your support for Howard County Board of Education from District 1. Thank you very much.

Last year the Board’s proposed budget only reduced the requested budget by a small amount. Hard choices had to be made when it came back from the county. The impacts are still being felt. Would you present an aspirational budget asking for all possible covered needs. If not, why not. What would you prioritize and how in a budget for the county executive. Be as specific as possible.

Let's look at having the timekeeping go on reading the question because we can’t answer something in one minute if it takes that long to convey the problem. That said the school budget needs to accurately reflect the needs that the school has determined along with communicating to the county what is needed by the school system. We need to ensure that it is fully defended when we write down the amount that the school needs. We need to be justifying every line of it. We need to be able to prove that we have reviewed that and ensured that that line is what we need. That there is no way we can better spend the money as a school because we have already addressed that. And then the budget needs to reflect the needs. Thank you.

What do you believe are the positives and negatives of the recent redistricting decision? What would you have done differently, if anything?

The negatives are clear in that it has left the community whiplashed, uncomfortable, and just generally disappointed with the way the process had laid out. Right at the time that the community needed to be providing specific input into how to refine the plan the Board was still attempting to define a plan. The community couldn’t identify what individual small tweaks were needed because there wasn’t a plan. There were two feasibility studies, there were consultants brought in, and then it was all just completely left behind while a handful of board members created… something. Up until the vote was taken you couldn’t see what it was because there wasn’t a plan until then. That process needs to be corrected.

Please share an example of how you have worked collaboratively with people you don’t necessarily agree with.

Professionally I work in computer security. The interactions between security folks and basically everybody else is constantly a battle of disagreements. Every time you worked at a shared building and watched the side door be propped open so people can get through. You are seeing a great example of how security and everyone else don’t get along immediately. The key that ends up happening is that you have to stop and look farther. Look outside your own little bubble at what you are trying to achieve. Security and operations, both are trying to enable whatever the mission is. You gotta look past the immediate and see what the goal is. On the Board of Education, the path forward is to remember that, regardless of what you think about any specific issue or however you feel in a day or toward people, is you need to address keeping students safe, safeguarding taxpayer money, and ensuring student success.

Please explain if you agree or disagree with the recommendations from Kirwan.

When it comes to education policy, the first people we need to be looking at and focusing on are the educators. They are the ones that experience it every day. So we should be following their direction and coming up with “what is an education policy that works and will work for the school?” What I have seen of Kirwan is that, statewide, across the board, the pressure behind it, it is being supported by the educators and I think we should listen to the educators about how to educate. What has the school board done to guarantee redistricted children who need before and after school programs will receive bus transportation to school and home? The question is about how to equitably meet the needs of our students. It's drawing directly into the issue that we already aren’t. Access to school and access from school is currently provided to the general population by the buses that say when they are leaving home and when they get back. If there is any variation to what they need to that the school doesn’t meet it. It doesn’t provide it. It is on the parents now and post-redistricting its still on the parents. The after school programs that the school might provide or that Parks and Rec provide are simply not available to students that need to get home after that if the parents can’t meet it. Coming up with a solution for that is a way to provide equitably for the needs of our student body.

What is your opinion on the presence of guns in schools and does their presence serve to increase security?

She went ahead and reminded you that security people and people trying to get through the doors... do not agree. To the question, no. Our students at school should have no exposure to firearms that are not pre-planned through a curriculum, if that is decided. They are traumatic, they are developed for killing people, and no. They should not be in our schools.

How will you work with a state delegation and county council that are over eager to legislate and remove local control from the Board of Education?

I will work closely with our state delegation to ensure they are aware of the needs that they can go to Annapolis and ensure that the state funding is there to help us out. The behaviors of Annapolis don’t just take away control or reshape the school district, they fund our education. When local control was taken away, from Annapolis, our local delegation took that back. It removed the state level mandate on the calendar to provide local control.

What is your one decision you believe the current Board of Education got right?

The superintendent, this last cycle, negotiated an increase with the teachers and that wasn’t a line that the school board cut. The Board of Education chose to fund and support our teaching staff.

What type of involvement do you currently have with the PTA and/or BOE?

Currently I am a paid member of two separate PTAs that my students, my children, attend. That has been a priority for me since the first one went to kindergarten. Regardless of how much time I’ve been able to allocate or set up for it, sign up for it early sign up for it every year. The PTAs need the community’s support. They need some funding to be able to provide the services that they have. I have just recently attended a fantastic presentation that Dunloggin Middle School put on about keeping our kids safe online. The PTA bringing in resources like that to the parents and community are a real asset.

What are your solutions to the perpetual school overcrowding issues that plague our schools, especially in the Route 1 corridor?

The Board, itself, every-time it is looking at the numbers of student capacity needs to approach this problem, every-time, with an empathetic feeling toward what the student experience in life is like. Have you ever thought about going to the mall and then realized it is the week before Christmas and you don’t want to be a part of that? That's what our students go to at Howard and Centennial every day. Instead of adjusting the balance and planning for that we take away green space, we take away parking lots, to add more classrooms which, in turn, allows more students to show up to the same building which increases those crowds. That anxiety, that feeling, that they are getting everytime they are in those crowds that is the environment we expect them to be able to learn in.

Do you have any ideas on how to improve discipline in elementary schools?

The students need to be invested and their teachers need to be supported. It has come up a couple times today: local control, local control. Enable the principals to keep the teachers feeling supported. Keep the teachers and the students supported with therapists and guidance counselors. Make sure that everyone is ready to learn and go through class. Hungry kids are not invested in the day and so we need addressing food insecurity issues that could lead to discipline problems. If they are getting on the bus before they are hungry enough to eat breakfast then they are hungry before lunch. We need to ensure that our school schedules fit the students.

What is your plan for narrowing the socio-economic and racial opportunity gap in Howard County schools?

My proven approach to addressing problem solving, professionally, is rapid iterative prototyping. Find out what the problem is, make a change, be able to see the impact of that change, and then make your next one. We need to be able to properly identify what is the state of the opportunity and achievement gap right now. We need a system in place to collect that data as quickly as we can and be able to process it to identify what has just worked and what hasn't. Then make adjustments. The teaching staff needs to be made to represent the student body and that requires configuring our recruitment, hiring, and retention policies.

Whose voice is most important: staff, students, or parents? How will you represent that voice?

I agree. All the voices are important and the context of the discussion matters. We’re not going to poll the kindergartners about whether we have the appropriate high school sports. When a question impacts a population, that is when we must be listening to that population. If the high schoolers are telling us that they are not being provided a challenge, we figure out how to meet that. If the parents are telling us that the schedules and the transportation is not working for their family, we figure out a way to meet that need. When the staff isn’t being met by the building or their pay, we figure out a way to meet that need.

Closing

Thank you for coming out. Thank you for The People’s Voice and HCCA for having this forum. I want to make sure that the Board keeps a direction focused on three principles. We need to protect and ensure the safety and mental health of our students. We need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. We need to maximize our students academic achievement. I’m Matthew Molyett. I hope you have heard enough to support me for Howard County Board of Education.

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