After being appointed to the Frederick County Board of Education in January by the County Executive, Rae Gallagher had a lot of plans.
“I had so many plans of schools that I wanted to visit and people that I wanted to meet and in March everything shut down and so did my plans,” Gallagher said.
Despite the physical restrictions though, Gallagher said she has learned a lot serving on the Board the last few months and hopes to continue the work she began by being elected for a full term.
Her priorities have not changed much she said. Teacher pay and retention, student equity, and expanding career and technology education are still important to her, but she recognizes that there is a more immediate, pressing need facing the school system.
“What is going to be the longer-term impact of this pandemic? Not just the economic on our budget but also on our students and educators,” Gallagher said. “I think as a Board we’re going to have to really think strategically about what those approaches are ... beyond next year.”
Gallagher thinks the district did a good job of implementing structures for distance learning quickly, but that now there needs to be a reflection on where shortfalls may have occurred.
“We’ve been learning, collecting feedback from parents, students, and educators and now we need to end looking at that data ... and see where the gaps are,” she said.
The mother of two, who has a background in social-emotional learning, also wants to see some structures put in place to help students who may have gone through trauma during the pandemic.
“During these times there are students that have lost loved ones, there are students who maybe didn’t have access to food as consistently as when they were in school, there are other factors that students might return with that have been partially caused by the pandemic,” Gallagher said.
If elected, Gallagher said she hopes to continue making sure students have all the resources they need to be successful, which includes seeing themselves reflected in the classroom.
Gallagher said she would like to see more diversity in the FCPS teaching staff but that it needs to be an intentional goal. She also knows that such recruitment, at the end of the day, goes back to funding and teacher pay.
“Overall, the numbers of folks who are going into the teaching profession are declining and it’s really concerning because we have a lot of growth and development in Frederick County,” Gallagher said. “To be able to attract teachers to the teaching profession we not only need to remain competitive to our surrounding counties but to other professions as well.”
Although she has been serving on the Board for less than a year Gallagher said she has learned a lot including how demanding the job is. A lot of time is needed in order to do it right, she said, but it’s rewarding time.
She also noted that to some, she might seem reserved, but that only helps her take in all perspectives and digest an issue fully.
“I don’t think for me that I need to say the same thing that someone else has already laid out on the table,” Gallagher said. “I think there are times that I feel it’s necessary to advocate on a certain issue, but in the past couple of months I’ve sort of been learning and sitting back and trying to observe and determine what the dynamics are and what the needs are.”
She will always be an advocate for the public education system as a whole though, Gallagher said, whether or not she is reelected.
“I would really like to continue the learning and work that I’ve started but I can always promise that I will be a listener, I will be an advocate and I will be a collaborator,” she said.