21 Aug 2014
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Nothing Fails Like Success

Is The Best School System In The Galaxy Failing My Kids?

Nothing Fails Like Success


I moved to Columbia from Michigan as a “gifted and talented” high school junior. The school I left had no Advanced Placement (or International Baccalaureate, if that was a thing then) classes.

Academically speaking, over the following several months at Oakland Mills High School, I got my butt kicked on a daily basis. Go Scorps!

And it was good. I graduated with enough AP credits to finish undergraduate school in three years and mitigate the cost of my ironically out-of-state education at Michigan State. Go Spartans!

When my kids entered the Howard County public schools 10 years ago, I knew they would be getting a level of education far superior to what most kids get in this country. That was one of the reasons my husband and I stayed in Columbia even as our daily commutes grew longer.

“Pools and schools, baby,” was my husband's mantra. Mr. Yemelyanov is particularly fond of Columbia's outdoor pools.

It never occurred to me that any of my kids might not be on a GT track to academic glory. And even as one of my kids suffered academically later in elementary school and on into middle school, I was certain that he was getting no worse an education than his GT siblings.

Then their school started changing names. The oldest entered kindergarten at Dasher Green Elementary and finished fifth and eighth grades at Cradlerock School. The middle kid is at Lake Elkhorn Middle School, and his sister is at Cradlerock Elementary.

I was sure that the Howard County Public School System, my benefactor, the best school system in the galaxy, knew what it was doing when it consolidated my kids' elementary and middle schools under a single name and administration. “Cradlerock School” sounded classy, to boot. Go Bulldogs!

Then the parents found The Study. It turned out that the change had not been well planned and that school performance and discipline were suffering as a result.

Worst of all, The Study had been completed by HCPSS–and never addressed by the school system–two years before the parents found out about it. My parent-friends demanded changes from the school system and got involved in the school board elections that year to make sure their voices were heard.

My oldest kid had been complaining for years that he hated school, that there were fights at school, that he didn't like his teachers. And I had been pretty much ignoring him.

Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe the best school district in the world might not be giving all its students the same amazing experience I had received.

Fast-forward two years. New school board elections are coming up and the county schools want to eliminate reading classes in middle schools.

Neither of my oldest kids have gotten a heck of a lot out of middle school reading class, as far as I can tell. The oldest learned how to fill out a fast food job application in eighth grade, which did not bolster my confidence in how the kids outside the GT programs are being prepared for the future.

All the middle kid has found in reading class are new opportunities for tormenting his captors.

The school system seems to have learned from the Cradlerock debacle that they need to demonstrate transparency and interest in public input.

Have they learned to actually take opposing views from within or from the community into account when they're making decisions that affect the quality of the education for that other 80%? Or are they still seduced by their own success?

The county school board, meanwhile, does not seem to have learned from the voter sentiment that brought its new “opposition” members into office or from the intervening months of public infighting among its members.

The antics of individual new members do nothing to address the concerns of the voters who put them in office. But long-term incumbents should take heed: the fact that our new members act counter to their own best interests does not mean that they don't have legitimate points to make about business as usual in Howard County schools.

At a time when our schools are facing new resource challenges, we need a school board that functions more as a platform for the concerns of the community and less as a stage for the individual biases and dysfunctions of its members.

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