Gaston A. Horne

Gaston A. Horne
  • Non-Partisan
  • Age: 28
  • Residence: Owings Mills

About Gaston A. Horne

Education

I attended schools in the BCPS. I graduated from Catonsville High and finished 3 years at Coppin State University

Background

Currently I am a purchasing specialist with American Office. In the past I have worked as a driving instructor, a youth sports coach and a tutor, so I’ve been around students and children in Baltimore County for a very long time. My experience is varied and includes positions more associated with the arts and performance as well as business, vocational and educational jobs.

    Questionnaire

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    1
    Why
    Why do you want to serve on the county school board?
    Horne: I think BCPS students are being short-changed, especially in my district. We’re told that BCPS graduates 90% of students on time, but when you look a little closer, you can see that we’re graduating students who aren’t ready for all that college or adulthood requires of them. They don’t have experience with financial literacy, they’re not prepared academically for college in some cases, and those that decide to forgo college in favor of going into the work force often don’t know all of their options. We want students who are globally competitive, but in my opinion, we aren’t helping enough. Teachers need more resources, students need more time, and I don’t think we’re doing enough to help them get what they need. With that said, BCPS does some things well. We offer very rigorous courses, schools are well kept for the most part, and that high graduation rate is great. But these things are disproportional across districts. In my district, that graduation rate is lower for some schools, the buildings are not as modernized as those elsewhere in the county, teachers have a lot more students in every class than they should and there’s a general sense of frustration around education. I don’t think that’s right. School is supposed to be a type of training for our young people to enter the world and we can do better.
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    2
    Technology
    Has the county’s use of educational technology in the classroom been appropriate? Do you support the system’s expenditures for student laptops?
    Horne: Technology in the classroom certainly helps, but again, is it being distributed equally? There’s no denying that having access to the internet and its wealth of information can provide positive experiences for students, and even social media can be used to create positive global relationships that can give students a new or different view of the world. However, we must do more to ensure that every student gets this opportunity, not just the students in richer parts of the county. This technology can help prepare students for the next steps in their lives. Technology based careers are on the rise and certainly won’t be going anywhere, and colleges are moving towards more online course work. Exposing students to technology early and often can be a huge boost for our students in their efforts to become globally competitive. Incorporating some technology into the building could help just as much as keeping technology involved in student learning. I think we could also use technology to help teachers and to help keep students safe. For example, instead of using something invasive to keep our students safe, such as metal detectors or armed guards, we could do something like using the ID cards that students already carry. We could have students swipe their ID to enter the school building or to check into class (something that teachers and professionals already have to do) and we keep track of who is in the building and save teachers some time by keeping track of attendance.
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    3
    Resource equity
    Are the system’s resources fairly and equitably divided among its schools? Does the system provide adequate support for students with large populations of minority or low-income students?
    Horne: I don’t believe they are. My district is very minority heavy and a fair amount of lower income students. There is significantly less technology in classrooms, money put towards building maintenance or educational programming in this district when compared to other areas in the county. I think the focus on higher testing scores as opposed to student improvement has contributed to this disparity. I also think the lack of funding has resulted in teachers who prefer to teach elsewhere in the county, if not in another county entirely. We need to correct this disparity. It’s doing a colossal disservice to the students of this district.
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    4
    Oversight
    What additional steps, if any, need to be taken to ensure that the board exercises adequate oversight over the superintendent? Do you see a distinction between the disclosure failures that led to former superintendent Dallas Dance’s guilty pleas and those that interim Superintendent Verletta White has admitted to?
    Horne: I do not see a distinction between the failures of bother superintendents. Ignorance is not an excuse at this level. There are far too many teachers, administrators and most importantly students, that depend on the sound decision making of the superintendent. Outside of personal accountability, I think public transparency will go a long way towards keeping the board and the superintendent from making mistakes.
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    5
    Ethics
    Are the system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure sufficient?
    Horne: Obviously, the systems rules need some changes in regards to enforcing these rules after the previous scandals with the superintendent. I think the current rules as far as reporting conflicts of interest and financial issues are good, but the enforcement is lacking. In my opinion, we need a process that offers either more transparency to the public, or more automation so that board members or the superintendent don’t have any opportunity to violate any rules or ethics. There are small changes that could be made, such as delegating maintenance of schools by rotation instead of having companies bid on contracts. That would eliminate the chances of someone falling into a conflict of interest by awarding contracts based on who they know personally. On the other hand, we could require more decisions to be issued directly to students and parents as opposed to posting them online with the board meeting notes.
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    6
    Discipline
    Do you think the school system's discipline policies keep students safe while appropriately disciplining students who exhibit poor behavior? What, if any, changes would you propose to the school system's discipline policies?
    Horne: For the most part, I think the system’s rules do keep students safe. I think overall, the blanket rules are doing what they were meant to do. However, there are some kinks that could be worked out. At some schools students complain about lots of small things that present a risk to student safety. For example, students I’ve spoken with in my district complain that its too easy for people to sneak on to campus from the surrounding public and they’ve done things as simple as saying hello to a teacher or student they know to things as heinous as selling drugs. Students complain that they feel uncomfortable when they use bathrooms on campuses or when they’re on campus after normal school hours or during an event. Some of those things just need better enforcement of rules that already exist. Whether that would include more police officers on campus, or more cameras or something else would require more research. However, we can do a lot to make students feel safer and more comfortable on campus by doing some simple fixes like modernizing and fixing bathrooms that are broken down, fixing the lights that surround a school’s campus so that areas are better lit at night, or shrinking class sizes so that its easier for teachers to give more attention to each student. All in all, I think the rules are fine, but we could do a little more to make them work better.
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    7
    Common Core/PARCC
    What are your views on the Common Core and the PARCC exams?
    Horne: I don’t think they work. The ideas behind them are fine, but in practice, it seems like something is missing. It is telling that when I help my little sister with her English essay, she is confused because her teacher’s advice doesn’t match the rubric from the exam’s grading system, and neither of them matches what a college professor would expect. But we need guidelines for what we should teach students, and when they should be expected to learn it. We need testing of some sort because it provides a method to see where students are in relation to others. Tests are important. But I don’t think the PARCC test is helpful. It’s supposed to test college readiness, but academics aren’t the only thing that leads to collegiate success. On top of that, the success rates on this test have varied wildly from district to district. There are some schools that have 86% of students listed as “college ready.” But there are other schools that are at 4%, which tells me that this test hasn’t led to any real changes in curriculum or funding or teaching methods. The key to the county’s success as a whole isn’t to force everyone into the same box and test them as a whole. Students need individual attention so they can improve. School success should be measured by that personal improvement as opposed to any one test. I don’t think standardized tests are an accurate representation of how well schools are serving their students.
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    8
    Diversity
    Should diversity be a factor in decisions about drawing new school attendance zone lines?
    Horne: I think it should be up to a point. Obviously, we can’t force different groups of people to move into new areas, and it would be hard to stretch some zones to add in those different groups. However, I think diversity is extremely important in schools. Students need to interact with people who are different from them. Not only does it teach practical lessons such as acceptance and tolerance, but it is more of a reflection of real adult life. When you go out into the world, you aren’t going to be around people just like you 100% of the time, and that is an important thing for students to get used to as early as possible. On top of that, diversity also leads to ideas. People see the world differently, and their race, ethnicity and background all influence that vision. Including diversity, along with curriculum that encourages discussion and critical thinking on those different beliefs can go a long way in preparing students for the future. Being exposed to different ideas can help students develop their own voice and their own ideas and their own views of the world and that will ultimately help them achieve greater success when they leave BCPS.
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    9
    School construction
    How would you set priorities for school construction and renovation? Has the county devoted adequate resources to maintaining or replacing school buildings?
    Horne: I don’t particularly think the county has done a good job of prioritizing construction and renovation, at least not in all cases. For the most part, schools have been built when and where they need to be. The new buildings have been both functionally and aesthetically pleasing. I think the county hasn’t done a great job when it comes to maintaining and upgrading existing school facilities. There are several schools in my district that have gotten money, but that money went to updating football fields and athletic facilities as opposed to simpler, easier fixes that would positively affect more students and teachers. Sports are important, but we should update classrooms, bathrooms, make sure the HVAC systems are updated in each building and the like. No student in Baltimore County should need to go to a trailer or portable room to take a class. And we certainly shouldn’t have any students worried about heating or cooling or bathroom conditions while they attend class. We have the money to fix those problems, and I think we should prioritize those issues before we pump more funding into other areas.
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