Why do you want to serve on the county school board?
Huffman: At the age of 14, I knew that one day I would go to law school and use my skills as an attorney to fight for children, especially children who are denied equitable opportunities to succeed. Since graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1999, I have pursued this mission as a litigator, policy advocate and nonprofit leader. I recently gave birth to twins and see service on the county school board as an extension of this mission that directly impacts my own children’s future. My decision to run is further fueled by recent events that demonstrate that the county school system needs stronger, more proactive and more accountable leadership. I have the skills and experience to help provide this leadership, and I am willing to put in the work.
Has the county’s use of educational technology in the classroom been appropriate? Do you support the system’s expenditures for student laptops?
Huffman: I support supplying each student with his/her own laptop but the county’s approach to acquiring and using the laptops and other educational technology (ET) in the classroom must be re-evaluated. ET is an important tool to support learning but it does not trump teachers, curriculum and a student’s own learning process. Thus the introduction of ET into the classroom must be informed by these other elements, as opposed to these elements having to conform to the ET. In addition, it is imperative that the county be proactive in identifying the potential for waste, fraud and unethical behaviors when making such large purchases and strengthen its policies and procedures to guard against negligence and corruption.
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?
Huffman: I believe that structural inequities exist within schools across our region and Baltimore County schools is not exception. I don’t have any easy answers but one solution I propose is to subject the school budget to an Equity Impact Assessment (EIA). Application of an EIA to all resource allocation decisions would force the school board and school administrators to affirmatively examine whether and how certain groups are or would be privileged or disadvantaged by the decision. Consistent application of an EIA would also surface and force the school board to transform policies, practices and procedures that create and/or perpetuate inequities.
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?
Huffman: Financial disclosures are designed to be self-disclosures, which I believe is the right approach. I, however, think it is appropriate for the school board to take a “trust but verify” approach when it comes to oversight. For example, if the superintendent states that he or she has no interest in any business during the reporting period, the school board could confirm by running the superintendent’s name through the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, which has records of all businesses created in Maryland. This would not be a perfect approach for someone who is not a principal in the business or who has business interests outside of the state. Such a limited search, however, would have alerted the school board to Dance’s potential conflict of interest. It is troubling that White failed to disclose the income she received, and I find her explanation a bit porous. That said, I do see a distinction between Dance and White. According to the indictment, Dance not only failed to disclose his business relationships and income, but when questioned about it took affirmative steps to further hide or obscure it. My understanding is that when White was questioned about her failure to disclose she corrected it by filing an amended form. One is arguably an oversight while the other is a clear intent to deceive. There is a difference and the difference has weight.
Are the system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure sufficient?
Huffman: I am not fully versed in the system’s rules on ethics, etc., so am unable to evaluate their sufficiency. Even if deemed sufficient, there is clearly a need for additional training of those who are subject to the rules to ensure they understand them as well as the consequences for any violations.
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?
Huffman: Students of color and students with special needs in Baltimore County are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white counterparts, which is evidence that the school system’s discipline policies are not adequately written and/or equally applied. I believe additional steps need to be taken to expose the school-to-prison pipeline and reform school discipline policies. I would begin by evaluating what we mean by “poor behavior.” Today, students are disciplined for behaviors that were not subject to disciplinary action when I was a child. I also believe that school system must adopt an updated definition of safety that not only includes threats to physical safety, but also the threats that students face every day because of structural inequities driven by racial, gender and class bias. This broader definition will help ensure that policies and practices designed to address one kind of threat do not inadvertently exacerbate another kind of threat. Finally, I would require all school personnel be trained in implicit bias so that they each one is aware of how his/her own bias influences the way they interpret and respond to different students and their behaviors. Each of these proposed solutions should be co-designed by students, teachers, parents and administrators.
What are your views on the Common Core and the PARCC exams?
Huffman: I think standardized tests have gotten out of hand and advocate that they all be re-evaluated, beginning with their stated objective. Moreover, I believe standardized tests are antiquated. When I was in high school, college-readiness was embraced as the ultimate goal, with vocational education offered as a lesser alternative for students who were not “college ready.” Those days are gone. College readiness now stands on equal footing with training in technical careers as well as entrepreneurship. Our public school systems should reflect this shift and provide robust education paths that allow students to experiment with and choose which path they pursue as opposed to being tracked into one path or another based on an arcane and/or biased standardized test.
Should diversity be a factor in decisions about drawing new school attendance zone lines?
Huffman: Yes, diversity should be a factor. We live in a diverse world and students should be exposed to this diversity in their classroom and learning experiences. I would not be a fan of gerrymandering attendance zones to achieve this diversity, but welcome innovative ways to achieve diversity that are not traditional or obvious.
How would you set priorities for school construction and renovation? Has the county devoted adequate resources to maintaining or replacing school buildings?
Huffman: To address facilities, I would advocate that the School Board flip the paradigm. I observe that too often school administrators allow facilities, capacity and enrollment to define student outcomes. This is backwards. I believe the correct approach is to set ambitious goals for student success and then work vigorously to conform every part of the system to those goals, including facilities, capacity and enrollment. In addition, in too many instances the school system finds itself absorbing the impact of various development projects on facilities, capacity and enrollment. If elected to the School Board, I would advocate that school system participate more proactively in the County’s many development projects in order to inform whether, where and when development occurs, and better manage the opportunities and challenges any given project presents.