Karen Yoho 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?
As a teacher with a 25-year career, I feel that FCPS is doing many things well. The amount of time devoted to testing has been somewhat reduced. There have been fewer changes to curriculum in recent years, allowing staff to put their training into practice. Specific areas of need, such as dyslexia, are beginning to be looked at. FCPS has a good reputation, but we can do better. I’d like to see us actually use available educational research as the basis for our decisions. We can be leaders in innovative educational practices. If the LYNX program works, we should expand it. We need to find creative ways to expand the CTC. I want to continue the work of the current board in making our schools safe and welcoming to all students. As part of that, we need more school psychologists. All stakeholders should work together as partners.
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?
Recently I went to an Avoid Deny Defend training. One parent was a police officer from another county. From what he said, we are ahead of the jurisdiction where he works. I left feeling that FCPS is taking an active role to keep our schools safe. Everyday when I go to school, safety concerns are not at the top of the list of things on my mind. My elementary students are focused on doing their work (or not), recess, interacting with other students, etc. Until we have a drill, or an actual emergency arises, the issue of safety has not been raised by my students or their parents.
We all need to work together as a community to support our students, to supervise them, and to report them to the authorities when necessary. We need to look at the root causes of school violence. Resilience, or what author Thomas Hoerr calls “grit”, is something we should be building in all our children. Learning to fail and get back up again is a beneficial skill. I’d like to have more psychological services available to help our students deal with the increased trauma they are experiencing in their daily lives.
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?
I’m on the ground every day experiencing this. The schools where I’ve taught have tried. Personnel and time are at a premium to effectively deal with some of these issues. A simple discussion may be enough to curb the behavior for some students; repeat offenders take more time and effort. Again, the community should work together and needs to have a common understanding of what bullying is and what can be done to eliminate it. That may sound like a given, but in recent years I’ve experienced a trend where things like criticism or a student in a bad mood were equated with bullying. We need to instill a set of skills in our students to help them deal with unkind behavior from their peers. And we need to have standardized procedures in place for bullying so that everyone knows what they are and what the consequences will be.
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?
Absolutely, I see it as an issue. EAG and FCTA presented “A Community Conversation” earlier this year. One of my main take-aways was that students’ lives are really a roll of the die. Too often, luck plays a key role, no pun intended. We need to use the available data to determine the types of infractions and the individuals involved. Often, the data is showing that disrespectful behavior is a main reason for these referrals. Are there classroom management strategies that would be helpful to teachers? If there are students who are constantly referred, we need to find out why. How many of the students who are being suspended had that action as their initial goal? We need to find ways to help students function in the least restrictive environment. Parents should always advocate for their children but supporting the school will help to alleviate some of the referable behaviors.
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?
I remember attending the dedication of a school one of my children was attending. The gentleman who had “donated” the land said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he had given the county a worthless parcel of land, and they’d made it look so good, he wished he could take it back. Some of the issues with construction are due to the geology of the region. Are there methods of construction or building types that work better with a rocky foundation area? When the county government approves development, perhaps the area that is set aside for future school construction could have stricter parameters. Or, as a deterrent for the scenario above, the developer could be required to pay fees if construction costs go over a certain threshold. This is another area where FCPS needs to have a good working relationship with the county executive and government, since the school system has little to do with obtaining the school sites themselves.
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?
Obviously, with all the portables, the simple answer would be no. That being said, every student will have a seat, even if more desks have to be placed in already overcrowded classrooms. Before I became a teacher in this system, I was the parent of three children who attended FCPS schools. This is not a new problem or an easy one to address quickly. The primary way to deal with providing adequate school space is to work together with the county government to plan well for the future. New development needs to pay for itself and there needs to be a plan for adequate infrastructure, primarily schools, roads, and water. But that’s all for future good planning. How do we deal with current overcrowding issues? Portables, or “learning cottages”, while not ideal, are a satisfactory stop-gap measure. Educators are creative people by nature and they will make the best of the situation. Students are often quite flexible, and they will make the best of the situation. Going forward, let’s do a better job of working together to make a viable plan so portable classrooms can become a thing of the past.
Is a countywide redistricting needed to combat the overcrowding in schools in specific parts of the county? Why or why not?
My initial thought was I could only say yes if I did not want to be elected. However, I recently conducted an online survey about the feasibility of doing a countywide redistricting. I expected the responses to be adamantly and overwhelmingly against this idea. To my surprise, 81% of the responses were in favor of it. I’d want to conduct a more official survey of the community at large, but it may be time to look at this comprehensive measure. … Part of the onus would be on FCPS to educate the community on the benefits, if they exist, of a countywide redistricting. Parents want what is best for their children. If they can be shown that this is the way, I believe they would be on board. If the positives do not outweigh the negatives, then there would be no reason for this type of undertaking to begin with.
Is the PARCC, or any other standardized test, an effective measure of achievement or growth in schools? Why or why not?
Standardized tests allow us to compare our results to other jurisdictions on a limited basis. That can give a basic idea of areas of strength and weakness in our school system. This knowledge can help to shape our teaching in the areas that are assessed. However, since teachers do not receive the results for the class they are currently teaching, the results are not beneficial to that teacher for those students. The same information could be gleaned by giving the test to a sampling of students. We need methods of accountability to show that students are being academically successful. I prefer a pre- and posttest system with credit given for student improvement, rather than all students having to achieve some random level of proficiency to be successful. For instance, if a student gets 92% on a pretest and goes up to 95% on the posttest, we would tend to say she was successful even though she had only increased 3% points. Yet a student who scores 50% on the pretest and 75% on the posttest is thought to be mediocre despite the 25-point increase. Whatever system we adopt, no student or teacher should be reduced to a few test scores.
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?
Yes, I am absolutely committed to continuing the implementation of the salary scale. It has meant a great deal to teachers, especially those new to our system. In 2008 we lived through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. During this time, FCTA did not ask for wage increases during negotiations. Teachers wanted as many of our colleagues to keep their jobs as possible. When things began to improve, it was too costly to return to the previous pay scale. Teachers with five years’ experience were making little more than they had when they first started their careers. They began to feel unappreciated and many left for greener pastures. Study after study shows that the teacher in the classroom is key to student success. In order to attract and retain the best teaching force, we need to pay our teachers the highest salaries we as a county can afford.
What, if anything, should FCPS and the BOE do to address the teacher shortage, in particular among minority teachers?
The implementation of the salary scale is a good start. It has meant a great deal, particularly to newer teachers. It helps send the message that Frederick County values its teachers. Aside from financial compensation, prospective employees need to feel that the school system has resources and supports for successful teaching, as well as opportunities for career advancement. Beyond the school system, we need to ask ourselves what the community has to offer and if it is a welcoming environment. We need to look at the successes of other jurisdictions and implement their strategies. We should find ways to work more closely with colleges that have greater numbers of minority pre-service teachers. FCPS already has the Teacher Academy of Maryland at the Career & Technology Center. We need to do our best to recruit minority students to this program, so we are home growing our future teachers.
Do you think FCPS has adequately provided funding for its charter schools, and holding them accountable to the charters they signed?
FCPS has followed the law regarding funding of its charter schools. No school exists that wouldn’t appreciate additional funding. I do believe the charter schools have been held to a level of accountability. In the past, several of them have fallen short and needed to make changes. This same criterion applies to our regular public schools. Our three charter schools were approved based on their concept of providing a program that was materially different from what was available in the existing schools. I would think it would be difficult for these charter schools to be proficient on the current standard measures. But that’s one of the prices for being funded as a public school. We would all opt out of standardized testing if the possibility existed. Since the BoE approved the charter of FCCS for eight additional years, one must assume they are living up to their agreement.
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?
Yes, there is always room for improvement. Parents need to feel that they are true partners in the program. I have been on both sides, parent and teacher, of the special education process. It can be overwhelming for the parent when they are so outnumbered by staff at meetings. But in my experience, those staff members want what is best for the student. It often comes down to limited resources. If we had more money, we could hire more staff, which in turn could give more individualized attention to all our students. As an aside, we all need to educate ourselves on the Kirwan Commission recommendations and work for the implementation of them. Early reports indicate a call for increased spending on schools.
There are several measures that can be taken to improve the special education process. Workshops for parents and/or staff on productive IEP meetings are helpful. I believe a knowledgeable advocate accompanying the parent can be immensely beneficial. The parent has a confidant and support system, and the team as a whole has an educated partner to help the process run more smoothly. Keeping an open mind towards creative solutions will ultimately benefit the student.