April Miller is an incumbent candidate on the Board of Education seeking a third term on the board. The primary is June 26.

General

What is your vision for FCPS over the next four years?

I envision our schools as the heart of the community. Places that inspire, equip and encourage each and every student to seek knowledge, acquire skills and gain experiences that enable them to find their own path in becoming an integral part of the community.

I envision a BOE and school administration continuing to work together with a common goal of high student achievement. A school system that is a positive climate for ideas and that actively involves the community in the educational process. A system that holds itself accountable for successes as well as failures, striving to continuously improve. Classroom teachers that feel supported and have the resources they need to teach. Staff that knows the value they bring to our community.

As a Board member, every decision that you make at every meeting affects our staff, students, families and often the community. It is critical to think of the impact of every vote before it is made.

Safety

Do you think Frederick County Public Schools have effectively used resources to keep schools safe? What do you think needs to happen to make schools more safe?

It is critical that we maintain open communication and support for families and the community, to respond quickly and effectively if there is any evidence of a threat. Social media has become a significant challenge for our staff, we need a system that will help staff monitor and alert law enforcement and staff to safety/security risks.

We are updating the security vestibules for all of our schools as fast as we are able due to the unique needs of every building. Security assessments have been done at all of our schools and plans have been updated. We are updating training staff and students to Avoid, Defend and Deny. Visitor identification and monitoring systems will soon be used as well.

We need to continue to build and maintain relationships with our students. Mental health issues in our younger population continue to rise. We have updated health curriculum, provided more school psychologists and clinical social workers to support our students. Additionally, we need to keep the student support position in our high schools. I would also like to develop an addiction crises response team in partnership with the sheriff’s office and the health department.

Bullying/Suspensions

Do you think FCPS is effective in curbing bullying in schools, and reacts to instances in an effective manner? Why or why not?

Sadly, this is a constant battle for our schools that has been negatively impacted by social media and cell phones. …

The schools need to reach out to ask if something is going on that is impacting school attendance which will facilitate communication with families. We need to continue to monitor and educate about the social media impact on our schools and take steps to address. We need to do more to protect victims of bullying while trying to change the behavior of the bully.

I would like to see an incident report form that is easy to find and is for any one in the school. These forms would be fully investigated and the results and consequences kept on file. Many behaviors that are just considered “kid being kids” would be considered assault in the adult world, so I believe we need to address incidents in a similar manner.

FCPS still has some inequities with certain student groups being suspended at a disproportionate rate. Do you see as an issue and what could be done?

If an action by a student impacts or threatens the health, safety or well-being of other students or staff then immediate action must be taken, period. We are having more significant behavior challenges in younger and younger students with schools not having enough support in place to intervene effectively. In-school intervention/removal that allows a student to continue to access education in a more controlled environment is needed. Heather Ridge should be expanded for periods of longer terms when needed, possibly with a virtual school component.

The State of Maryland has been instituting new guidelines on discipline in our schools. The State may be requiring discipline data down to a sample size of 3 students, which in a school with few suspensions may show disparities that are not actually there. Situations that show disproportionality in discipline should be investigated in each school community as each has unique demographics and plans should be individualized to the needs of each school.

School Construction

Frederick’s land terrain has presented challenges and increased costs in school construction, what could the Board of Education do to ensure that sites identified as future schools would be less costly to build on? 

This has been a focus of the Board of Education for the last eight years. FCPS staff works closely with the County staff to evaluate school sites that are offered as part of developments. The school system learned many lessons from the Oakdale issues and makes every effort to find a school site that will better fit the needs of the schools or that the developer will help make shovel-ready. We have a school site criteria for each level and have used a replicable prototype design for our new Elementary and High schools. Even though we have used the same design for recent projects (with the exception of FHS) each school has unique characteristics and the design improved upon to fit the needs of that community. It is a partnership between the County and Board that is very respected at the State level.

Overcrowding and redistricting

Do you feel like FCPS is adequately prepared to address overcrowding and provide a seat to every student in the county? If not, what needs to be done to ensure that it is? Is a countywide redistricting needed to combat the overcrowding in schools in specific parts of the county. Why or why not?

Families prioritize school districts when they are moving into a community, they often purchase their home on the basis of which school their children will attend. Multiple generations in Frederick County have gone to the same schools. Countywide redistricting will impact so many families and must be well-planned for and truly considered necessary. The Board has asked a committee to start looking at our building utilization, to see if there are creative solutions that would help with over-crowding, that at the same time will keep most of our buildings open.

One of the difficult issues with available capacity is that it is mainly in outlying areas that have the least growth. Every time that we open a new school we open the re-districting study to help address surrounding overcrowding areas. We have tried to make the process transparent and involve the community as much as possible . There were some changes to the out of district transfer regulation that negatively impacted families that coincided with the redistricting of Butterfly Ridge Elementary study. The Board quickly addressed multiple issues with the policy interpretation to help those families.

Standardized testing

Is the PARCC or any other standardized test, an effective measure of achievement or growth in schools? 

All testing and assessment needs to be designed to improve instruction.

The first question to ask is if PARCC testing helps improve the education of our students? The simple answer is no. In the latest form, it is purely an accountability measure for the adults more than the students. There is no time to provide meaningful instruction to decrease gaps in skills that have been identified from the previous year, because teachers are already into the next year’s courses.

The test itself is often more about a student’s skills with technology than their skills in the classroom and the paper and pencil test version was proven to be more reliable in certain areas, but the State kept pushing on with online testing, causing equity issues for everyone. In comparing versions of the test, even the content and how the content is delivered varies on different versions of the test …

I helped write Policy 511, which says that local assessments provide data in a timely manner to help students learn and provide meaningful information to teachers and families about how well the student is mastering the curriculum. Policy 511 also put important support in place to help our most vulnerable students from being negatively impacted by testing.

Teachers

The current BOE committed to increasing teacher salaries through a four-year scale, and has received funding support from the county. Are you committed to continuing to implement that scale, and is Frederick County currently paying its teachers what it should be in relation to the rest of the state? 

The new salary scale was needed as the previous step system was not sustainable year to year, and FCPS had been dropping in competitive school salaries across the state in most entry categories. However, comparison to the private sector is more difficult since teacher salaries are 10 month positions (190 days) and the private sector is based on 12 months. Since most of the budget is salary and benefits, my votes support the students. I did NOT support increasing class sizes, removing staff or taking away 9th grade sports to fund a salary increase.

We know that an effective teacher at the front of every classroom is the power behind student achievement, so we need to continue support for retaining amazing educators and honestly re-evaluating those that struggle.

Most importantly, we need to create a climate of support for our teaching staff. … Teacher input needs to be better utilized.

What, if anything, should FCPS and the BOE do to address the teacher shortage, in particular among minority teachers? 

We need to use total benefit and compensation packets at all of our recruiting events.

We need to continue our strategy of helping staff reach for their next level of certification or education, as well as funding the teacher apprenticeship program. Reaching out to more diverse colleges and universities to partner for student teaching opportunities that include housing at local colleges and start mentorship programs to support them in both classrooms and the community.

We need to continue to inspire our own students to become teachers including in the Teaching Academy. We can develop a program starting in high school and ending with a master’s four years after graduation.

FCPS needs to showcase and highlight the diverse landscape of the county as a recruitment tool to show the advantages of living and working in Frederick County. Recruiting tools can be developed in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Board, Housing and Community Development and local governments.

Charter Schools

Do you think FCPS has adequately provided funding for its charter schools, and holding them accountable to the charters they signed?

The subject of full charter school funding in Frederick County has been reviewed and decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the State Board of Education. I support the decisions that were made and we are in the process of implementing those changes to the funding model.

At a recent Board meeting, I was very clear about the role of FCPS and the role of the BOT and the areas of shared accountability. If the Board is following the charter and instructing the school administration to adhere to it and the principal or teachers do not comply, then the accountability shifts to the leadership of FCPS. If the Board is not following the charter or students are not achieving while following the charter plans, then the BOT is responsible. Regardless, charter school students are FCPS students and need to be both supported and celebrated.

Special Education

Parents over the last year have raised concerns over the IEP process and the services students with disabilities have received. Does FCPS need to improve its special education practices or programs? If so, how? 

Special education concerns have not only been brought to the BOE from parents, but also from our students and teachers. We have reached a point where the ever-increasing demands for indicators of compliance are negatively impacting the services we are able to provide our students. Currently, our staff does not have enough hours in the day to support our students the way they would like to. We are moving toward staffing our schools based on the hours needed in IEP’s.

The Special Education Strategic Workgroup, which I chair, is bringing together representatives from all stakeholder groups to evaluate special education communication, implementation, integration in the classroom and the IEP process. The committee will assess barriers to providing quality instruction and intervention as well as provide recommendations and solutions including how to streamline the IEP process.

Each child deserves an education that does not put limits on their potential. We need a structured, scientifically-based reading system, a universal screener and to continue to fund and support training our teachers to provide intervention and support for students with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia.

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler

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