She may end up having less than a year on the Frederick County Board of Education, but Rae Gallagher is determined to make progress on issues she’s passionate about.
Gallagher is the newest member — appointed to fill the vacant seat of Joy Schaefer, who left in January. Gallagher is serving the remainder of Schaefer’s term, which ends in December, and if Gallagher wants to continue, she will have to appeal to the voters of Frederick County.
She hasn’t really thought about that yet, though. After all, she just got through her first board meeting two weeks ago, and is still learning the ropes. But it hasn’t been too bad, she said.
“My fellow board members have been really helpful in helping me to understand some of the landscape and the priorities,” Gallagher said as she sipped a latte while sitting in Frederick Coffee Co.
Despite being dropped into a demanding, time-consuming, public-facing position in the middle of budget season, Gallagher exudes a composed and levelheaded demeanor.
She could be frantic and stressed about having to build a campaign — something she’s never done before — or about trying to learn the nuances of an entire school system as quickly as possible, but if she is, it doesn’t come across when speaking to her.
Instead, she seems focused on big-picture issues that continue to challenge Frederick County Public Schools and how she can use the next 10 months to move important initiatives forward.
Born and raised in Michigan, Gallagher moved to Maryland soon after college when she got a job with AmeriCorps in Montgomery County. Although she majored in psychology and minored in Spanish, Gallagher knew she wanted a career working with students.
With AmeriCorps, her job was to help Latino and other Spanish-speaking families and students navigate the complexities of the school system, juvenile justice system and foster care system.
She was with AmeriCorps for only one year, but it launched her into an extensive career with nonprofit organizations.
“I learned a lot about nonprofit management and advocacy for young people,” Gallagher said. “We did a lot around navigating the complexities of the school system as well as trying to remove barriers for young people.”
She works as a program director for the Center for Supportive Schools, a nonprofit that helps schools improve decision-making and boost academic achievement.
Gallagher has lived in the Frederick area since 2005 but has never worked in the county.
“I love Frederick, I love living here, but I’ve always had a commute,” Gallagher said.
The mother of two daughters — one who attends FCPS, the other soon to enter — said her girls starting their academic journeys was a big factor in her deciding to apply for the board position. The other was a desire to see FCPS make progress in the right direction.
“FCPS is a really great school district and I think there are a lot of things that are moving in the right direction, and so I would like to continue to see that growth,” Gallagher said. “I think for the most part the student outcomes are really good ... but I still think there are some things that need to shift and continue shifting.”
When asked what those shifts are, Gallagher’s first response was college and career readiness. In particular, she wants to see an expansion of career technology education.
“There are things that we as a system need to do to make sure [students] are prepared to enter into a sustainable, high-paying, quality career,” Gallagher said.
She would also like to see an expansion of prekindergarten programs. These initiatives are two of the major recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, which Gallagher says she has been watching closely and supports.
“I think now is the time that we have to update the funding formula. It’s very outdated,” Gallagher said. “It is going to require some shifts in how revenue is raised, but ... to me the best investment that I could make in my tax dollars is in education.”
Aside from policy measures, though, there is one issue specifically related to FCPS that Gallagher said she would like to help move forward: equity.
She thinks the school system needs to continue working on applying an equity lens across the board, but when asked if she feels there is a current equity issue present within FCPS, Gallagher said she isn’t sure.
“I think there’s some work that is starting to happen, particularly around the race equity issue and the committee that was formed,” Gallagher said. “I think that will be a good opportunity for community input and a real, deep examination of applying that equity lens.”
She understands, however, that many of these initiatives require funding, and Gallagher said she hopes she can use her position on the board to advocate for more financial support.
“I do think that we need to be advocates for the things [and] the programs ... that we need to do to be able to keep moving that needle forward,” Gallagher said.
Regarding the current budget, which the board is set to hear public comment on Wednesday night, Gallagher said she was happy to see mental health prioritized.
“It’s a really critical piece for our students and not always a need that has been met with the resources in our schools,” Gallagher said. She added that she is interested in hearing what the public has to say before she formulates her own thoughts and wishes for the budget.
Gallagher has officially filed to run for the seat she now occupies and will have to build a campaign before the primary election in April.
When asked if she feels this year serving on the board will give her an advantage in the election, Gallagher said she doesn’t think of it as a leg up but rather an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding.
“I think it gives me an opportunity to be involved at sort of a deeper level and maybe gain that broader understanding of the successes the issues, the challenges within the school system,” she said.
Besides pulling together a campaign team, Gallagher said the next big item on her agenda is to visit as many schools as possible before summer break in order to familiarize herself with the entire district.
Gallagher is fully aware that she may have only these 10 months, but she is committed regardless and hopes to involve as many parents, students, staff and community members as possible in her work to keep trudging down the right path.
“While I have some priorities ... we need to work together and that’s something that’s really important to me,” Gallagher said. “So I hope if I continue on the board — but even if I don’t, for the next year I’m here — that we can build a collaboration together to keep moving forward.”