An educator and FCPS parent who specializes in boosting student achievement is set to fill the vacant Board of Education seat.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner announced Rae Gallagher as her nominee Monday afternoon.
This comes after the County Council voted on and submitted three final names to Gardner in December to fill the open seat left by Joy Schaefer, who will serve as government affairs and public policy director in the county executive’s office.
Gallagher will serve the remainder of Schaefer’s term, which is set to end in December. She said Monday she was “honored” to be picked by Gardner and excited to start, once she is confirmed by the council.
She added her policy experience should be an asset to her colleagues on the board.
“I have experience in education. I’ve worked in a number of nonprofits,” Gallagher said. “So I’ve worked on education policy, but also putting that policy into practice.”
Gardner said she specifically looked for someone who had experience similar to Schaefer’s.
“I think there is a gap on the Board of Education with Joy leaving. She really has been an education policy expert,” Gardner said. “I thought that was important, to try and make sure that kind of expertise was on the board.”
Gallagher works as a program director for the Center for Supportive Schools, a nonprofit organization that helps schools improve decision-making and boost academic achievement.
Gardner said Gallagher’s work with struggling students gives her a unique edge in implementing policy to help close the achievement gap.
“[Gallagher] is a problem solver and she has worked really hard with public policy and implementation of that policy to help her most challenging students be successful,” Gardner said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) agreed. He said that while he would have chosen Ron Peppe — one of the three finalists who previously served on the Board of Education — Gallagher is just as qualified.
“She’s got policy experience. That’s why I said I don’t think we have a bad choice to make,” Blue said. “At the end of the day, the county executive, I think, [had] very competent and capable choices to pick from.”
In addition to policy expertise, Gardner said she wanted to be sure that her nomination was committed to running for election in December once the term expires.
“She clearly is going to run for this position no matter what I decided, where it was less clear with some of the others,” Gardner said. “I think this is something she really wants to do.”
As of Monday afternoon, Gallagher had not filed to run.
Gallagher joins the school board as it enters an intense budget season. The board is to meet on Wednesday for an all-day budget work session. According to Gardner, Gallagher will not be present because of a work conflict.
Gardner said she did not announce the nomination in time for Gallagher to make arrangements.
When asked if she feels Gallagher will be ready to tackle budget season, Gardner said she has confidence but that there is sure to be a learning curve.
“I think [the superintendent] and the department heads will spend time, as they would with any Board of Education member, to help bring her up to speed,” Gardner said.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) said he wishes Gallagher luck as she begins her tenure.
“She’s going to have to dive into the pool right away, so to speak,” Hagen said. “I congratulate Ms. Gallagher and hope and expect she will do an outstanding job.”
Gardner said she wished there had been more time ahead of the start to budget season to fill the seat but that she feels the County Council and she did things as quickly as possible.
Board of Education President Brad Young said he is excited to have Gallagher come on board.
“With her experience in education and her enthusiasm for the job, I am sure she will be a great addition,” Young said.
The County Council will vote on Tuesday to confirm Gardner’s choice. Hagen, Blue and Councilman Jerry Donald (D) have already said they would vote in Gallagher’s favor.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R), however, said he was still considering whether to vote for Gallagher. He said it was a “head-scratcher” why Peppe and Frederick Community College faculty member Susan Johnson, who both have considerable experience and community ties, were not picked ahead of her.
He added, however, that Gallagher had solid credentials and hopes she does well if confirmed to the Board of Education. She should consider following Superintendent Terry Alban’s recommendation to explore smaller class sizes, seen in her recent budget presentation, Dacey said.
“I’m hoping [Gallagher] brings a diverse perspective that’s not already on the board. … I’d like to see someone bring a different voice,” he said, adding a lack of differing opinions can lead to “groupthink.”
Councilman Steve McKay (R) admitted he was surprised by Gardner’s pick Monday, and said he was leaning toward voting “no” on Gallagher’s appointment.
He added that Gallagher has experience, but given the need for someone to get up to speed quickly on budget issues, Peppe appeared to be the clear choice.
“With respect to the three names we forwarded, I felt very strongly for Ron Peppe because he has an outstanding résumé,” McKay said. “It’s a one-year appointment, and you’re throwing him right into the midst of the budget system. … For me, that meant I was really prioritizing prior experience.”
Gallagher said, however, she is invested in getting herself up to speed on the budget process and other issues, and plans on running for election to the board this fall.
“I would just say be open,” she said. “I am here to work with the board members and listen to the community, and I hope to be able to continue to serve beyond the 10-month appointment.”
If she is confirmed, it is expected Gallagher will be sworn in before the next Board of Education meeting on Jan. 22.