by Sanders Jett-Folk for Walkersville High School Lion’s Pride
While many people are aware of the bitter ongoing battle for the White House, it’s important for Walkersville High students to pay attention to the Board of Education election as well, as their decisions directly impacts the educational aspect of students’ lives.
The Board of Education of Frederick County Public Schools, currently headed by board president and Walkersville resident Brad Young, consists of seven members, each of which are elected to four year terms. Each member represents the entire county on the board. They are elected on nonpartisan ballots.
As there are currently three open seats on the Board of Education, a voter will be allowed to vote for up to three candidates in November 8th’s general election.
The primary for the Board of Education 2016 election took place on April 26, 2016. Eight candidates competed to continue onto the general election. The six that won were Joy Schaefer, Cindy Rose, Michael Bunitsky, Ken Kerr, Shirley McDonald and Lois Jarman. McDonald and Jarman both dropped out of the race following the primary, leaving only four candidates to compete for the three open seats.
Below, the four candidates are listed with corresponding information regarding their careers and political views. WHS Lion’s Pride reached out to all four candidates and asked them a set of questions. Their responses are included, either in whole or in part.
Stated Bunitsky regarding his accomplishments, “I have been a teacher and administrator in Maryland for forty-one years. In 1980, I moved to Frederick County and started teaching at Governor Thomas Johnson High School. In 1995, I left TJ to become the curriculum specialist for secondary social studies. I have run student programs such as Mock Trial, Model United Nations, and the Frederick County Association of Student Councils for twenty-one years.
“ I have been a negotiator for administrators, negotiating contract with the Board of Education. I have taught classes at Frederick Community College in national government, written questions for statewide assessments and for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). No other candidate has the length and breadth of my experience within our education system here in Frederick. I have lived in Frederick County since 1980 and I have made many relationships with business and community members. I also have built relationships with local government officials and nonprofit organizations. Outreach into the community and with these leaders is important in obtaining the financial resources necessary to increase technology and opportunities for our students.”
He stated that he believes FCPS is going in the right direction. He said, “Headed in the right direction is a very open ended question. Educationally, financially, building and maintenance, curriculum are just some of the topics to determine direction. Frederick County has been rated in the top five educational systems in our state for many years. Maryland has been one of the top states educationally for the last few years. So if those two things are true, and they appear to be, then we are doing something right. Given the numbers of scholarships received, the numbers of students graduating on time, I believe Frederick is a great place to be educated.”
Bunitsky has five main goals if he should become a member of the Board of Education. “1 – New staffing formulas to lower class size Pre-K – 12 and give more elective opportunities to smaller high schools. 2 – Increase the budget enough to continue to pay staff members according to our wealth as a county and to have enough teachers to lower class size. That means fully funding the salary scale that was just put in place by the current board. 3- Raise the per pupil allocation from the lower third in the state, to top third in the state. 4 – Close the achievement gap by putting motivated teachers in front of classes small enough that teachers can make a difference. 5 – Help the Student Member of the Board obtain a partial vote.”
He believes in a properly maintained and increased budget for FCPS. “Altering the budget accepts the premise that the budget will not grow. I want to grow the budget and get smaller class sizes… In my mind what ever those needs might be, a motivated, educated teacher with the resources to do the job in a well maintained building would find a way to meet those needs. I will advocate for the funds to do just this. I have stood before the County Council and asked for tax increases for our school system and will do so as it is necessary. Investment in education is an investment in our community.”
While an advocate for educational standards, Bunitsky disagrees with both Common Core and the implementation of the PARCC test. “As the curriculum specialist for secondary social studies from 1995-2016 I was responsible for writing all of the course objectives, requirements, standards, content, etc. for social studies in grades six through twelve. There is a set of materials from the Maryland State Department of Education that contains content standards to guide us. Each summer teachers are gathered in workshops to write the content standards for our courses. This includes elective courses which so many Frederick County students enjoy taking and our teachers love teaching. We should write our curriculum with guidelines from MSDE so that all of Maryland is following a general set of content.
“Electives should be completely developed by the teachers in our school system. They have the passion and expertise to develop rich, exciting courses. Common Core standards are mostly written for math and English. As the social studies person implementing Common Core standards did not bother me. I think the standards developed are generally helpful to states that do not have the curricular capabilities of a state like Maryland. Our state content has always been as good or better than most states. Adapting to the Common Core was more about money given to the state than it was about creating better content. I am not happy about having Common Core and the PARCC exams that go with them because it places an emphasis on testing and math and English at the expense of the other subject areas that can use the resources and smaller class size to give students a well-rounded education.”
He believes school choice should be limited to the schools currently within Frederick County, and does not feel new charter schools should be created. “All of our schools have academies within them that are meant to give emphasis to an area of educational opportunity. Students may choose whatever school they want to attend as long as that school is not overcrowded, overcapacity. Students attended my classes at Governor Thomas Johnson High School from all over the county if they wanted to attend TJ for the Visual and Performing Arts program that was developed there.
“As to charter schools, no I am not in favor of them in Frederick unless they are attempting to create some innovative way to teach our kids. Maryland has a law and set of guidelines for creating charter schools and I will follow the law. The initial startup for charter schools takes money out of the budget that could be used for lowering class size and other goals I have so it would be counterintuitive of me to support that. I will support the charter schools that currently exist as long as they are meeting their goals and attendance is good. In many of our schools we have academies. These are in many ways ‘schools within a school’. I am not sure why we could not have Montessori classrooms and teachers in some of our elementary schools. It would alleviate the startup needs of a charter, eliminate the yearly report and the eventual reauthorization of the charter, and eliminate some of the transportation needs…at least for students in that district.
“It seems more efficient and eliminates much of the political nature of setting up a charter, and the squabbling over the per pupil expenditure. Students should have as many choices as possible to create educational opportunities, in their school, in the county, wherever they can find them. The Board of Education should make sure that multiple opportunities for success are available to all students, regardless of the school district they are in, regardless of their economic standing, regardless of their educational skill level.”
Dr. Ken Kerr, a second-time candidate for the Board of Education, is an alumnus of Frederick Community College, Hood College, Towson University and Morgan State University. When asked about his previous experience with education and his career, he said “I was a school bus driver, and elementary school teacher, a businessman in private industry, and (for the past 22 years) a college professor and administrator. I hold a Doctorate in Education with a dissertation on assessing student learning. I have held several leadership positions in state, regional, and national professional organizations, and I am currently the Vice Chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission Faculty Advisory Council.”
When asked if he believes FCPS is headed in the right direction, he touted the district’s special programs of being a sign that it is. “A system that is above state and national averages according to common measures is going in the right direction. Innovations such as the LYNX program and dual-enrollment show FCPS to be a leader and innovator. I was instrumental in getting the Dual enrollment program started and have been in on early conversations about the LYNX program. As a member of the BoE, my influence in similar matters would be amplified.”
When asked whether his personal or political views would have a greater impact on him during his time on the board, he said “I’d like a 3rd choice—my professional opinion. I have been involved in accreditation and the evaluation of schools for the past 10 years. I have done strategic planning and budgeting for education as well. Finally, I have been successful in getting state law changed regarding mathematic requirements for college students. So, all of this professional experience will affect my service on the BoE.”
The main goals he hopes to achieve as a member of the school board are “Reducing the intrusive and disruptive effects of standardized testing, reducing class sizes, and strengthening high school programs to make sure all FCPS graduates are ready for what they want to do next.” He later put emphasis on reducing class sizes: “That is the single most important way we can address the needs of students.”
Kerr believes that while the Common Core standards are beneficial for FCPS, the curriculum itself is more important. “For Frederick County, the Common Core Standards are similar to what we had in place before. Using these standards as the basis for our locally-developed curricula is tied to a significant amount of funding that will be put at risk by ignoring them. The standards are somewhat less important than the curriculum and pedagogy that helps students meet them.”
He believes school choice should be a secondary concern: “I am a champion of strong neighborhood-based public schools that serve as the center of the community as well as its center of education. These neighborhoods and schools need the funding most. Until all schools are fully funded and performing well, I would not favor allocating resources away from local, neighborhood schools.”
When asked how her previous experience with education prepares her for the board position, Cindy Rose replied “I’ve had a child in public education since the mid 1980’s. I’ve seen all the fads come and go. I’ve learned you have to ask questions, or be left in the dark. We used to have the “Maryland Voluntary State Standards”. Each county controlled their standards and what happened in their schools. Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards weren’t written by us and aren’t controlled by us. My opponents seem to be amenable to ‘manage’ the chaos that comes our way. I want to be proactive, not reactive.”
She believes FCPS is not going the way it should be, and says standards are to blame for it. “No, I do not believe we are headed in the right direction. We don’t control what is being taught in the classroom; we spend too much time on testing. We sacrifice everything to English and Math standards. There is not enough time devoted to enrichment classes. We are beginning to rely too heavily on technology vs. a talented teacher. We disguise overuse of technology under the cloak of ‘individual learning’. We need to have control over standard writing which guides our curriculum and controls our hours and days. We need to give teachers back their classrooms.” Rose has previously written a letter to the editor of The Frederick News-Post calling for the resignation of FCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Alban, according to an article published by the News-Post in April.
The main things she hopes to achieve on the Board if she is elected is “…to achieve the restoration of the community controlled classroom; the restoration of standards written by our communities, not corporate outsiders who have no personal interest in our children or our communities.”
Rose stated that both her political and personal views will impact her actions on the Board. “My personal views affect how and what ‘my’ children are taught. A Board of Education is a legislative, policy writing body so my political views would guide those decisions. I am a Constitutionalist, I believe in the rights of individuals. I believe giving all the available information to the public, listening to their concerns and then deciding on what course of action to take. A Board of Education member is a ‘servant’ of the people who elect him/her.”
She is a strong opponent of the Common Core standards. “Whatever standards Frederick County implements in their classrooms should be decided and written by the people who live in Frederick County. Not one Maryland educator, let alone Frederick educator, helped write the Common Core State Standards. Many of the standards for the elementary grades are developmentally inappropriate. Yes, we write the curriculum, but the standards are where the knowledge is. If I say I want you to make a cherry pie, ‘cherry’ is the standard. How you ‘make’ the cherry pie is the curriculum. What if you want chocolate, or apple, or mincemeat? Why do outsiders get to limit you to ‘cherry’? Common Core demands Algebra be pushed to high school instead of starting in middle school. Doing so removed calculus from the Common Core standards. Anyone contemplating college is going to want to have calculus complete before they enter. When Maryland adopted the Common Core Standards, it gave up 85% control over our classrooms. We are contractually in control of only 15% of the learning day. Common Core touches every course because there is a literacy component infused into everything. Students are required to write more in music, art and PE because of the Common Core Standards.”
Rose says that Common Core is “exceptionally harmful to special education” students, citing her son as an example. “…my son, Ben is severely disabled but technically a 6th grader. He is being complex ideas such as density and mass. Ben has the mental capacity of a baby. He does not recognize his name, can not count to three, however, Common Core demands he be taught concepts beyond his abilities. He is being denied an education that is valuable to him because the creators of Common Core have no vested interest in what he learns. His teachers are being asked to waste precious learning time. They could be teaching him concepts he can grasp, not ones beyond his reach.”
She believes changes should be made to the budget, especially within the cost students pay to learn. “I do not believe students should have to pay to participate in sports, or band or pay lab fees. Before we buy or lease employee vehicles or pay thousands of dollars for professional dues, we should make sure no student will be taking money out of their pocket to participate in their education. Schools exist because of students. Students first, they’re why we’re all here.”
She is a proponent of school choice. She said “Yes, we should always be looking for new ways to reach and inspire young people. We are each unique and require different methods to successfully and joyfully learn. I’d like to remove the current utilitarian path of education and restore it to one that recognizes and embraces our individuality and humanity.”
Joy Schaefer (incumbent)
Joy Schaefer is an alumnus of Georgetown University. She was first elected to the Board of Education in 2012, and is the only current Board member that is running for reelection. In regards to her own accomplishments on the BoE, she said “Board of Education work is unique. You are accountable to a wide variety of people – first students and families, taxpayers and voters, business and community leaders, as well as governmental officials and regulatory agencies. That means you must work to balance a number of important but competing needs, with student needs first and foremost.
“You also work as a body. I do not have any authority as an individual, and any decisions made or directives given must be made by the full Board. Effective board members must have an open mind and be able to work collaboratively and cooperatively to ensure strong decisions are made. My past four years of experience serving on the Board of Education allows me to be an effective member because I can draw on what I have learned, and I have practiced these skills. I also have built strong relationships as a Board member with our local elected leaders and leadership at the state and federal level. This helps to leverage county, state and federal resources to benefit our school system. Lastly, I have strong relationships with a member or two from most Boards of Education across the state. I am able to learn about and share best practices that would benefit our school district. My experience serving Board member and my work and strong relationships with public officials and other board members in Maryland sets me apart from the other candidates.”
She has confidence that FCPS is taking a turn for the best. “Looking over time and specifically over the last decade, FCPS is headed in the right direction. Our student achievement steadily improves, the options and opportunities we offer students have expanded and grown, and we have targeted our budget to make sure we have resources we know our students will need for future success, such as educational technology tools. We have to keep our focus on making sure that we don’t lose the variety of options available to students, both in terms of academic offerings and extracurricular opportunities, and that we continue to enhance our courses and activities so that we continue to equip students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful once they graduate. Lastly, I want to increase our real-world learning opportunities for all students, at all levels. It is important for students to see the connections between what they are learning in the classrooms and solving real-world problems and applications.”
She believes her personal views take priority over her political ones. “Speaking from experience, my personal views on education, and not my political views, affect my work as a Board of Education member. Our public school system is the last place that political views should be imposed. The questions I ask myself a Board member center around what the effect our decisions will have on students, teaching, and learning. I look towards outcomes of our decisions in terms of whether they will help or harm student learning and what opportunities they may or may not create. I also have to ensure we are targeting our dollars and personnel, both limited resources, in ways that optimize learning and effective teaching. My overarching personal view is that every student, at every school, should have every opportunity available to access the courses, programs, and activities they need to be successful.”
Schaefer has three primary goals she would wish to accomplish as a Board member. “First, I am committed to decreasing class sizes. Much more can be done in terms of project-based learning, allowing for real-world and personalized experiences with smaller classes. Smaller class size also requires more teachers, which, in turn will translate into more options, classes and activities available to students. Second, I am committed to ensuring we stay on-target with student performance and school system goals we have recently put into place. We recently completed a new strategic plan for our schools and school system. We have set targets that center around student performance, access to programs and courses, student and family engagement, just to name a few goals. I am committed to making sure we review our progress towards the goals on a regular basis and we continue to make progress in improving our schools. Third, I am committed to seeing through a multi-year process to restructure our salary schedules for every employee group. This spring we adopted a new salary schedule for our teachers. This year we will embark on negotiating new salary scales for our support staff and administrators. I am committed to seeing this multi-year process through to completion. The new schedules will make us competitive in recruiting and retaining the best employees to serve our students, and they reward our employees for continuously improving in their skills and knowledge. It will also make our schedule of regular salary increases much more affordable each year, and therefore sustainable over time. Ultimately, this will help us have more funds to put towards classroom instruction and school activities.
While she supports current standards within FCPS, Schaefer believes they can be aligned to benefit the students more. “Overall, I am satisfied with the adopted Maryland College and Career Readiness standards. However, I think we would benefit from taking a look at when we expect, during a student’s career, they meet certain standards, particularly during the primary grades. I also think we should take the opportunity this year, as Maryland develops a new state education plan to align to the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that we rethink what constitutes college and career ready. I believe there can be basic requirements, more advanced requirements that demonstrate readiness for graduation as well as entry and success in college and in a career.”
She strongly believes choice is an important part of a student’s education. “Choice is something I believe is key to student success. Whether it is school choice or choice of programming, courses, extracurricular activities, it is important to afford students every opportunity to explore during their years with us. Students should be able to discover their interests and delve deeper into them. We should be providing families with ways to support their students in their discovery and learning. Whether an interest becomes a career or lifelong hobby, a critical part of our work is to open students to the joy of learning, and then provide a variety of choices and options to pursue.”
WHS Lion’s Pride extends its utmost appreciation to the four candidates for providing quick and in-depth responses. The candidates have various contact methods listed on their linked websites if voters have any further questions for them. Remember to go out and vote on November 8th for up to three candidates of your choice.