Jay Mason is seeking a seat on the Frederick County Board of Education. The primary is June 26.
What is your vision for Frederick County Public Schools over the next four years?
When I was a volunteer on the Strategic Planning team that collaborated to create the five Aspirational Goals for FCPS, I was in complete agreement with each goal. That belief has not changed. I envision FCPS will continue to work toward each and every student having every opportunity to be a successful student, and after high school, a successful citizen in the community of their choice. I also visualize each student is guided, mentored, and taught by a caring and exceptional staff, who is helping all students set and reach their goals. I envision the staff at FCPS becomes more diverse, as we encourage more minority teachers to want to work for FCPS. Working with the staff, I imagine more minority students want to participate in higher level classes. Finally, I envision an expansion of the CTC Program, so more students are able to concentrate on a field they desire to pursue in adulthood.
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?
As the parent of a 9th Grade student in one of our high schools that has made headlines due to an excessive amount of fighting, I had to ask. The answer was she feels safe in school. As I do not spend a lot of time in a majority of the schools, as an outsider, I feel our schools are safe. Each school has had circumstances that cause safety concerns. That does not make our schools unsafe. As in the case earlier this school year with the Catoctin student, a parent made the difficult decision to report their child. A decision that saved lives, and a decision parents should be able to make, even at the detriment of their child. To also help with keeping schools’ incidents low, we must focus on the early years by developing executive functions in the child. One result of executive functions is positive behavior or positive social cohesion. Students develop teamwork skills, goal attainment, and critical thinking to contradict feelings leading to conflicts with others.
Do you think FCPS is effective in curbing bullying in schools, and reacts to instances of bullying in an effective manner? Why or why not?
FCPS Regulation 400-48 defines and addresses all the different types of bullying that may occur with students. Statistics aren’t matching up with reported bullying incidents. Although, the bullying is covered in the regulation, there will be several incidents that will occur out of the sight of a teacher or administrator. When those situations occur, if the incident is witnessed by another student, that student must have the courage to report the bullying in support of their peer. There are many occasions where the subject is addressed by staff to students, and it should not be the sole responsibility of FCPS. Parents and guardians need to do their part at home to help teach their student that bullying is not acceptable. Education of all children has to be a team/community effort and stopping bullying is no exception.
FCPS still has some inequities with certain student groups being suspended at disproportionate rates. Do you see this as an issue, and what could be done to keep student groups from being suspended more often than others? Why or why not?
Yes, the disproportionate suspension rates with minority students is an issue. When students are out of school, the expectation is that they are learning from their actions. Often times, that is not the case. Parents will be at work, and the child is left to his or her own devices. Expecting a child who has been removed from school for making poor choices, to make positive choices while outside of the care of their parents or school, is an unreasonable expectation. All we are doing is providing them with the time, and lack of supervision, to make more poor choices and end up in more trouble or prison. A mentoring program should be enacted in every school that is proactive, not reactive. If we are establishing executive functions in our young students, then we are being proactive in lowering the suspension rates of older students.
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?
Each site must be thoroughly evaluated via a feasibility study to determine if the site is a suitable building lot. Even if a lot is proffered, that still does not mean a school should be built on the site. Building on a less than desirable lot will add to the cost. My 14 years of experience in real estate are helpful in this area. The sticks and bricks are going to be a fixed cost, so the variable costs must be controlled. We should build as many schools as we can, utilizing less than 25% of state funding to avoid the prevailing wage cost. As a school system, we should concentrate on providing opportunities for students to utilize the CTC program to obtain certifications in the trade fields. That will strengthen the labor force, therefore, keeping the labor costs down and helping to reduce school construction costs.
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?
I cannot determine whether or not FCPS is adequately prepared to address overcrowding. I feel as though they are working as quickly as they can to keep pace with the development in the area. Unfortunately, it is hard to ignore the facts. The top 5 schools over their state-rated capacities are Centerville, Waverly, Urbana, Deer Crossing, and Yellow Springs- Waverly has not had an upgrade/addition since 1969, Urbana since 1975 and Yellow Springs since 1974. Perspective- the county has grown 40,000 people since the last one of those schools was touched. I do not believe that portables or additions are the answer. Portables, especially, are designed to be temporary solutions but are becoming permanent fixtures on our schools’ lawns. Limiting outdoor space for use and separating the staff and children. We need to force the issue with the county, and especially the State. The spread of people is radiating from inner-county/city out to our more “rural” areas, and soon those schools will face the population issues as well. The children deserve schools that are adequately sized and not congested, and I will advocate for new construction and upgrades to suit the community needs.
Is a countywide redistricting needed to combat the overcrowding in schools in specific parts of the county. Why or why not?
Countywide redistricting is another temporary solution to an even greater problem. I believe in school districts that make sense, where children are not on buses for 45 minutes each way, neighborhoods are not split, Shifting children from one place to another does not solve the fact that there is not enough square footage of Frederick County Public Schools to accommodate the families moving into our county. Projected enrollment and actual enrollment have been proven, year after year, to be two very different numbers. See-sawing children between School A and School B might not only inconvenience families, but also remove children from communities where they have grounded themselves, and then further, eventually put the schools back at square one.
Is the PARCC, or any other standardized test, an effective measure of achievement or growth in schools? Why or why not?
Standardized tests can be an effective method to hold teachers, administrators, students and parents accountable. As a parent, I encourage good study habits, and I expect that from the school system. I also expect our schools to provide a good bedrock of knowledge and skills so that our students can feel confident when taking a test. Good test taking skills can help students achieve higher scores on the standardized tests, therefore allowing PARCC to be an effective measure of achievement or growth in schools. However, we cannot rely solely on tests as a measurement of achievement or growth in schools. Teachers are in the classroom daily with students and know them best, so we must utilize teachers’ evaluation of students as an equal measure.
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?
I am committed to continuing the implementation of the scale. Our teachers are expected to educate our children. I want an educated society; therefore, I support our teachers. My support comes with the expectation that every teacher treats every student with respect and provides them the skills they need to be productive citizens as an adult. In return, I expect our students and community to treat our teachers, support staff and administrators with respect. Teaching was once held in the highest regard in many communities. That respect has been lost. We lose some great teachers because of pay, so we must make all attempts to stop losing our great teachers to neighboring counties.
What, if anything, should FCPS and the BOE do to address the teacher shortage, in particular among minority teachers?
Diversity starts at the top. If the teaching staff is going to be diverse, then the leadership needs to be diverse. That starts with an elected BOE that is as diverse as the community it serves.
Do you think FCPS has adequately provided funding for its charter schools, and holding them accountable to the charters they signed?
I am a product of FCPS and so are my children. I believe our school system is successful in providing a high-quality education. I do believe the charter schools are adequately funded and held accountable.
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?
I do not have personal experience with this part of FCPS, but I am close with families who have. My biggest issue with the IEP process and services for students with disabilities, is the inconsistency in each family’s experience. I have heard parents praise their child’s school for accommodations, transparency, communication, resources, diligence, etc. Others describe an experience so polar opposite; it is hard to believe the child is in the same district. Parents cite lack of communication, misinformation, improper resources; all of which are unacceptable and their frustrations are understandable. Every child deserves the ability to learn, even if some need to learn differently than others. We should have those resources, and we should have an open line of communication for parents to understand what is readily available to them. All parents should feel confident that their child is learning to the best of his/her ability while in school.