All seven candidates running for the Frederick County Board of Education seem to agree that the most pressing need facing schools will be addressing the social-emotional needs of students once they return in the fall.
The candidates participated in the first public forum Monday ahead of the June 2 primary. The forum was hosted virtually by the Women’s Democratic League of Frederick.
The candidates are vying for three open seats on the Board. Incumbent Board members Lois Jarman and Rae Gallagher are running to retain their seats. The third seat is being left vacant by current Board member Michael Bunitsky, who is not seeking re-election.
Candidates were asked several questions during the virtual forum relating to topics such as teacher pay, budgets, and the achievement gap.
When asked how schools should handle the academic and emotional gaps that may have occurred with students over the time of distance learning, all seven candidates agreed that making sure students are emotionally stable is more important than their mastery of academic subjects from the previous school year.
“I think the first thing that we need to look at when schools return is some sort of social-emotional learning plan. Learning cannot happen when social-emotional needs are not met,” Jarman said.
Candidate Andrea Artman agreed but pointed out that addressing the academic and emotional gaps that kids may have at the beginning of the year is something teachers do regularly.
“That’s something that our teachers have to do every year COVID or not ... when new students come in there is always going to be a gap for some,” Artman said. “This year is going to be a little different in that the gap could be even wider. We need to equip our teachers to do that assessment and be able to provide in-class opportunities for them to bring them up to speed.”
Candidate Dean Rose suggested pulling on community partners and resources.
“Organizations that can come together and help us deal with this type of trauma that our kids have gone through. That’s what’s going to help them propel academically,” Rose said.
Gallagher agreed that addressing the social-emotional needs of students will need to be a top priority and that collaboration across the school system will be critical in making that happen.
She also raised the idea of allowing students who feel comfortable learning in a virtual environment to continue.
“We have actually had a number of students who have really been able to thrive in this virtual environment because they may experience some anxiety or bullying or other issues within their school,” Gallagher said. “So I think we need to consider as a system how we meet both of these needs and allow students to access resources in different ways moving forward.”
A question about balancing STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — and the arts in curriculums also drew similar responses from the candidates.
All agreed that an equal balance of both was important but candidate Jason Johnson pointed out that the arts have always been involved in STEM, it just needs to be emphasized.
“No one creates a textbook where you can see things without the merging of science and art,” he said. “Right now with COVID, we’ve all seen the visual graphics...we’re all seeing science and art together.”
When asked about teacher pay and retention, a big topic in the county, David Bass said he was disturbed to learn how many teachers FCPS loses each year to other counties.
“Despite being one of the more wealthy counties in Maryland, our teacher salaries don’t reflect that. And so whether I’m elected or not I will continue to advocate for more funding for FCPS ... I think in many ways FCPS has been short-changed,” Bass said.
Candidate Sue Johnson agreed that salaries should be increased but that there should also be other incentives offered for teachers to stay in the county, such as professional development and help with housing.
All candidates also said that they would be a listening ear and voice for the community if elected.
“My view of the role of the Board of Education is to be the fiduciary to public tax dollars that are used to fund our educational system. Our responsibilities are to ensure that the superintendent is being held accountable and also to be representatives of the public,” Sue Johnson said.
Frederick County residents will vote for three of the seven candidates in the primary election and the field will be narrowed to six final candidates who will move on to the general election in November.