Why do you want to serve on the county school board?
Henn: As a BCPS parent, I grew frustrated by the lack of responsiveness of the school system to stakeholders. Consistently, our concerns fall on deaf ears. I joined the Northeast Advisory to champion the concerns of parents, teachers, and students to the Board. In this role, I felt that escalating the concerns directly to the Board would result in positive change. But that was not the case. I am running to stay on the Board because I am tired of empty promises. The Board must hold itself accountable to the stakeholders we represent. All concerns must be handled openly and fairly. The Board must hold BCPS responsible for making this information publicly available and for delivering solutions. Board and BCPS work must be transparent and driven by data. This is especially critical for budget planning. Decisions made in secrecy serve the decision makers - not those they represent. Accountability to stakeholders is the most important issue facing the BOE. We must remove barriers to effective teaching and learning. We need to refocus on providing the basic needs of our students and teachers - safe, healthy, learning and working environments. We must develop long term plans for increased staffing to lower class sizes and for investment in our facilities. We must listen to our teachers and provide them with the staff and support they need in order to focus on teaching. Our teachers know what our students need. It is our job to make sure that they have the tools they need.
Has the county’s use of educational technology in the classroom been appropriate? Do you support the system’s expenditures for student laptops?
Henn: Effective teaching and learning require tools aligned with specific learning objectives. Technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It has a place in the classroom for certain tasks. Writing code would be difficult without a device. Research can be enabled by having web access. Technology is not a substitute for a teacher. Moderation and appropriateness of use must be monitored. The STAT (1:1 device) initiative is neither balanced nor fiscally responsible. There are no controls in place to ensure that student devices are used appropriately - with reasonable time limits and with restricted use for instructional tasks that require computing. Instead, instructional time by teachers has been replaced by time on devices. Programs such as Dreambox and iReady have minimum time requirements. Computerized “instruction” is not proven to result in improved learner outcomes. Rather, studies have shown that overuse of technology has led to serious cognitive and social deficiencies. Teachers report declines of focus, social skills, knowledge, and critical thinking. The costs of STAT continue to be unnecessarily exorbitant. BCPS has spent a ridiculous amount of money on the devices. There is no justification for the device selected based on real usage. For online uses, a basic device is more than sufficient. Device selection should be made on usage. But all students receive the same device - why? What concerns me most about STAT is the opportunity cost. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be allocated toward more urgent needs - deteriorating facilities, increased staffing, free meals, and safety and security.
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?
Henn: The system effectively identifies those schools with populations of students requiring additional supports. Additional funding is required for those supports - to provide all students with the necessary resources to be successful in school. I have supported funding for additional staff such as counselors, social workers, and pupil personnel workers to increase access to these services for students in need. I also support expanding student access to free meals, healthcare, and programs such as AVID which give students the best chance for success. I have called for, and support expansion of mentoring programs and enrichment opportunities - such as STEM, as well as increased funding for Career & Technical Education programs.
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?
Henn: Superintendent oversight is the responsibility of the entire Board - not just the Board Chair. Current processes, which limit oversight responsibility to the Board Chair, need to be revisited to ensure that the full Board has insight as to the activities of the superintendent. The Board, as a group, must examine and approve superintendent travel and expense reports as well as vendor interactions and outside activities. The superintendent must be held accountable to provide complete and accurate information requested by the Board, in a timely manner. Information requests by any Board member, not just by the Chair, should be fulfilled. Board members should not be required to file Public Information Act requests in order to receive the information needed to make decisions.
Are the system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure sufficient?
Henn: The system’s rules on ethics, conflicts of interest and financial disclosure are largely sufficient; however, the processes by which we enforce those rules are not adequate. All financial disclosures should be examined closely and revisited periodically to rule out conflicts of interest. All staff should be required to complete annual, comprehensive ethics and financial disclosure training. The Board needs insight into BCPS vendor interactions and must consider any potential conflicts of interest before awarding contracts - particularly ed tech contracts. An independent audit will hopefully identify additional opportunities to strengthen Board rules and processes to address potential impropriety and undue influence, particularly with regards to BCPS procurement.
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?
Henn: BCPS behavior and discipline policies are woefully inadequate, leaving too much discretion to school administrators to determine what consequences, if any, will be administered for offenses. Minimum disciplinary actions must be spelled out in policy and must be tracked and enforced. Consequences are not being delivered consistently throughout the system. This must be addressed through policy and enforced through regular audits. The safety of students and teachers must be paramount when making disciplinary decisions. If alternative placements are appropriate, that must be the course of action. We cannot continue to place students and teachers in harm’s way by allowing repeat violent offenders to return to the classroom. We must get these students the help they need, but must also protect those at risk of harm.
What are your views on the Common Core and the PARCC exams?
Henn: I support empowering teachers with the flexibility to adapt curriculum as they see fit to meet the needs of all students - to meet the shared goals of college and career readiness. Our teachers are professionals and know best how to accomplish that goal. We need to give them the latitude to do so. PARCC testing is both costly and time consuming and I support alternative assessment methods. Our students need more instructional time - not testing.
Should diversity be a factor in decisions about drawing new school attendance zone lines?
Henn: Yes, increasing the diversity in our schools should be a consideration when considering school boundaries. However, it is not the only factor. The health and safety of students should be the primary factor when determining school attendance areas. Students who can safely walk to a school (as determined by Board policy), should be assigned to that school. Balancing enrollment across adjacent schools is also critical to student health and safety. One school cannot be left overcrowded when nearby schools have excess capacity. Transportation safety is another key concern when considering school boundaries. Students need to travel safely to and from school, with minimal ride times. When changing school boundaries, we must consider the emotional and social impact on students and impact of splitting communities and peer groups, which can have painful, lasting consequences. Changing school attendance areas is not to be taken lightly, and must involve all communities affected.
How would you set priorities for school construction and renovation? Has the county devoted adequate resources to maintaining or replacing school buildings?
Henn: A long-term, independent facilities plan is needed to address issues objectively and to prioritize capital construction projects and spending. I would urge contracting with an outside firm to review and evaluate facility conditions including overcrowding, and to develop, without influence, a ten-year plan and budget for addressing our urgent school facility needs. Such a plan would prioritize projects based on an overall school environment rating and would also make recommendations on short-term improvements to maximize the safety and comfort of schools. Data, not politics, should determine the prioritization of new construction and renovations. In addition to sponsoring this study, I would work with the County Council to enact legislation that would require Board approval for school construction projects that deviate from the master plan.