Name: Karen Yoho
Where you live: Mount Airy in Frederick County
Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two previous jobs you've held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Current Frederick County Board of Education member; office manager for Yoho Electrical Services Inc.; retired FCPS teacher.
Political experience (public offices held and when; as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years; do not include political party positions): Currently an elected member of the Frederick County Board of Education, since 2018
PTA or other school district-related experience: Current Board of Education liaison to PTA Council; PTA president at Green Valley Elementary School (1990-91), Windsor Knolls Middle School (1994-95), and Urbana High School (1995-96); former PTA Council legislative chair; served as a parent representative on two FCPS redistricting committees.
1 – Why are you running for the school board? (75 words max)
To continue to apply my 25 years of experience as an elementary teacher to board decisions, so that the classroom perspective is always represented. How our votes affect staff quickly trickles down to impact our students. I love the school system. I celebrate the many excellent things that happen daily and look forward to making improvements in the areas where they are needed, so our students have a positive experience to enhance their future success.
2 – What is the most important issue in this race? How specifically would you address it? (100 words max)
Communication is the most important overarching issue because it's the thread that ties others together. The after-action report for the 9/1/21 extreme weather day recommended improvements to communications, so parents would be better informed in a similar situation. Had parents known the process for the new health curriculum, the FLAC meeting may not have become chaotic. Staff mentions mixed messages as a concern. Not knowing creates a vacuum that people fill themselves, often inaccurately. FCPS Public Affairs is working hard to apply best practices to all system communications and address situations that arise in the timeliest manner possible.
3 – What experience (work, political or other) has prepared you to hold this position? (100 words max)
While a high school senior, I was a kindergarten aide at Damascus Elementary. After graduation, I attended University of Maryland, College Park, to earn a BS in early childhood education. During my time as a stay-at-home mother, I spent thousands of hours volunteering at my children’s schools and was an involved PTA member (see above), a youth softball coach and a Scout leader (both Girl and Cub). I was a substitute teacher for 12 years. In 1993, I was hired by FCPS as an elementary classroom teacher, where I spent the next 25 years.
4 – What is one major issue the current school board has handled poorly? What would you have done differently? (100 words max)
Our board has had many difficult situations to navigate, but I look at the new state BOE-mandated health curriculum as one we could have managed better. While I was disappointed that individuals went straight to social media rather than expressing concerns to our board, I think we needed to make sure the public understood the process and allowed sufficient time to listen. Now that we've done so at the April Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting and allowed parents and community members to provide public comment at several meetings, the temperature has cooled considerably. Transparency and trust go hand in hand.
5 – Has the district responded appropriately to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into restraints and seclusions? (100 words max)
While nothing will make up for trauma these students and families experienced, I believe FCPS has addressed the situation quickly. Seclusion immediately ended, as ordered by the DOJ. Staff is being trained on proper use of restraint measures. The interim superintendent put together a Blue Ribbon panel to listen and problem solve, so the system knows the best way forward. FCPS is working with the Maryland State Department of Education to improve reporting methods and criteria for restraint. A light has been shined on a problematic area. we must all work together for the benefit of our most vulnerable students.
6 – What do you think of the district's family life curriculum? (100 words max)
Family Life is one piece of the health curriculum. Currently, all grades focus on the meaning of family until fifth grade, when students receive lessons about puberty and adolescence. The new framework mandated by the state is meant to teach inclusiveness and is in response to action taken by state legislators who looked at concerning trends in data for LGBTQ youth. The curriculum is not yet student-ready with lessons, resources, and teacher training. I have confidence in the Family Life Advisory Committee and our health curriculum specialists to do so responsibly, including maintaining age appropriateness as per FCPS Regulation 400-82.
7 – What do you think of the school board's choice of Cheryl Dyson as superintendent and of the process for choosing her? (100 words max)
The board was in total agreement on the process, which brought us many talented candidates. I am excited for FCPS. I have heard that students are taking notice as Dr. Dyson makes school visits. She is exceptionally qualified and will bring a new perspective, while seeking to learn what is already working that can be built on. FCPS has outstanding and caring personnel who aspire to do their best for students every day. The board is fully behind our new leader and a knowledgeable team is already in place. I look forward to a bright future for FCPS.
8 – Frederick County ranks below other similar school districts for teacher pay. Does the district need to address that? How? (100 words max)
Of course, if we want to keep excellent teachers here. Time after time, research clearly indicates that the biggest factor in student achievement and success is determined by the quality of the classroom teacher. We have many competing school systems surrounding us. Frederick County can be an expensive place to live, so in addition to improving pay, we should work with the city and county governments to provide more livable housing. We can also continue to look at ways to address workload issues, so teachers can find work-life balance. This extends to our other employee groups, as well.
9 – The school district has an achievement gap between students of different racial and ethnic groups. How should the district address this? (100 words max)
We need to look at what our students need and want, such as more relevant curriculum, flexible scheduling, social-emotional support, staff that mirrors the students, and the list goes on. Working in partnership with parents to better enable them to support their children always pays dividends. We need to employ trauma-informed practices, as we are often unaware of the pressures our students bring to school. There are many community partnership groups that provide additional services to our students, such as mentoring or involvement in extracurricular activities. The BOE is very invested in exemplary reading instruction as a civil right.
10 – How well did the district handle instruction and safety during the pandemic? (100 words max)
Everyone involved did the best they could with a novel virus. There was really no prior experience to go on. With the implementation of safety protocols, we found schools were not super-spreader locations. We lost no student or teacher to COVID-19, so I think we scored well on safety. Instruction is another matter. We just finished a year that showed negative impacts of virtual and hybrid learning for many students, as well as a lack of socialization. Many teachers reported it to be the most difficult of their career. Much time and effort will go into making up for losses.