Jen Mallo

Jen Mallo
  • Non-Partisan
  • Age: 48
  • Residence: Columbia

About Jen Mallo

Education

Master of Arts -George Washington University, Major: East Asian Studies, Language: Mandarin Chinese Bachelor of Arts—Wittenberg University, Majors: Economics, East Asian Studies, Language: Mandarin Chinese

Background

Chairperson, HCPSS Community Advisory Council Vice Chairperson, HCPSS Community Advisory Council President, Swansfield PTA PTA and school-based positions held: PTA Secretary, Cultural Arts Chairperson, Carson Reading Room Coordinator and Developer, Grant Writer, Grant and Project Manager, Guided-Level Reading Book Room Coordinator, Classroom Volunteer. Orchestra Support Coordinator, Boosters Casino Night Committee Member, Athletics Photographer President, East Columbia Cooperative Preschool Co-Founder and President, Parents AT Home in Howard County, a 501c3 charity Intelligence Analyst, Department of Defense

Questionnaire

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1
School safety
With rising concern over school safety, should county police officers or sheriff's deputies be assigned to all public schools, along with additional screening methods, such as metal detectors, student pat-downs and clear backpacks?
Mallo: There are common sense security enhancements that we can and should implement. We need to tighten the physical security of our school buildings with known workable, non-intrusive deterrents like locks, buzzers, open door sensors, classrooms that can lock from the inside, and conversion of our portables to brick and mortar secured facilities. At the same time, we need to avoid turning our schools into jails with metal detectors and student pat-downs. I believe HCPSS and Howard County Police need to ensure that there is a common understanding on the role of police officers in our schools. Our police provide critical security support to HCPSS – to include the existing School Resource Officers (SROs) – but we need to ensure that HCPSS provides a welcoming and supportive learning environment in which youthful misbehavior is not criminalized. Moreover, the cost of adding a police officer to over 60 additional schools is simply not the best use of tax payer dollars when we cannot even afford to buy new textbooks. Furthermore, some of the most effective dollars that we can spend to enhance school safety are in mental health and social-emotional programs. We can have the greatest impact on school safety when we build in mental health and community building into the curriculum and hire social workers to provide needed interventions as early as elementary school. We need to build our community up not lock it down with armed guards patrolling the hallways.
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2
Crowding
Is the county school system's program to reduce crowded schools through redistricting an effective method given projected shifts in population growth, housing development plans?
Mallo: In order to reduce crowded schools, we will need a solution that includes both redistricting and the construction of new facilities. Given the existing growth rate of HCPSS, the existing facilities are simply not sufficient. You cannot add the equivalent of a new school worth of students every year without actually building facilities to house them. At the same time, we would not be good stewards of taxpayer dollars if we simply proposed new facilities while many of our existing facilities are below 90% capacity. In terms of redistricting or school assignment, it can either be done on a voluntary basis or through changes to attendance areas. Dr. Martirano and the Board attempted to leverage voluntary student movement under the Jump Start program of dual high school and college enrollment. This program, while having value as an educational initiative, looks to be insufficient to reduce overcrowding at the three targeted high schools and certainly does nothing to address over crowding at elementary and middle schools. Moreover, the additional transportation costs stress an already insufficient operating budget. The most equitable solution to solve overcrowding system-wide is to do a comprehensive phased-in redistricting. With the development of long-range plans that include accurate housing development and population projections; smart, sensible, effective plans can be drawn up with an eye towards an equitable education experience for all with optimized facilities usage. Sensible redistricting must be part of the solution.
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3
Budget
Superintendent Michael Martirano has shifted budget priorities and is proposing to eliminate a world language program that's in place at eight (of 41) Howard County elementary schools and his budget might require increasing class sizes, by one student, in several middle and high schools. He would like to increase the number of social workers — at a pace of three per year — to help students struggling with mental health issues. Are these prudent choices?
Mallo: These are unfortunate but likely necessary choices given the financial situation. At the same time, I believe we need to develop a comprehensive multi-year plan that will enable us to reverse some of the trends – in particular, a plan that will reverse the increase in class sizes. I don’t believe any member of the Board or the Administration is comfortable with the class size increase – and it will take hard work by all of us to look at multi-year strategies to return class sizes back to where they need to be. As one who appreciates the importance of World Language instruction – especially in the early grades – I had hoped the pilot activity conducted by HCPSS would yield a model that could be expanded to all our schools. Unfortunately, one of the lessons learned was that such an expansion would have been cost prohibitive. The Board and Administration again made the difficult but correct decision to end this program. Additionally, it would be wonderful if we could add more than three social workers per year, but with the current budget crisis, it needs to be incremental. We need to target services for our most at-risk students and intervene with them to provide supports and services early in their education.
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4
Health care costs
The system's health fund has been in the red for several years — the deficit projected at $50 million by this summer — and Mr. Martirano has requested one-time funds from the county to start to pay down the deficit. But higher health insurance rates are also in the cards; this is one apparent sticking point in the ongoing union contract talks. How do you believe this problem should be addressed?
Mallo: These are two distinct problems. One is addressing the past—with fixing the deficit and financial mismanagement of the health fund and the other addressing the future—with rising costs for health care. In terms of the budget deficit, the school system and the Board of Education will need to work with the County Executive, County Council, and local legislators to develop a multi-year financing plan to repay it. This problem was not created in one year and is unlikely to be solved in one year. As such, a long-term strategic operating budget needs to be developed. We must stop treating each year as a separate budget crisis, and instead develop a long-term plan similar to what we currently do with the capital budget. If we took the approach of developing a multi-year operations budget with consistent and competent financial modelling, then we could align our budget to our educational priorities rather than just putting out fires. In terms of addressing the future, we need to ensure that compensation – which includes healthcare – is competitive so that we can continue to attract and retain the high-quality teachers and staff that we currently do.
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5
Achievement gap
How would you evaluate HCPS' efforts to reduce achievement gaps between students of different races and backgrounds? Does more need to be done?
Mallo: We need to begin by reversing the trend of increasing class sizes. This is one of the key ways that HCPSS historically has tried to give personalized, directed instruction that helps struggling learners. In the past four budget cycles, class sizes have been increased three times. The achievement gap will widen if we do nothing to protect smaller class sizes. As a Board of Education, we need to commit to continue to fully fund successful achievement gap reducing programs like the Black Student Achievement Program, Saturday Math Academy, Hispanic Liaisons, the International Parent Leadership Program, and more. As a school system, we also need to look at the overrepresentation of African Americans, boys, and special education students in suspensions and other discipline measures. We need to examine the structural hurdles to our students for athletics and activities where we currently have a policy that reduces student engagement. Once we identify the root causes, then we need to take active steps to fix bias in the system. We need to enact the 52 recommendations from the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. We also need to hire a diverse work force that reflects the demographic diversity of the student body because all our students need role models and teachers that look like them and advocate for them.
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6
Foose
Did the school board act appropriately in agreeing to pay former superintendent Renee Foose more than $1.6 million in salary and benefits to persuade her to resign?
Mallo: Yes. I believe the Board and County Executive negotiated an agreement that in the end was best for the community.
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7
Martirano
How would you grade Mr. Martirano's performance and his reorganization of the central office?
Mallo: Dr. Martirano deserves high marks for his efforts to rebuild morale and community relationships. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to engaging with students, staff and families. His reorganization of the central office has been purposeful with an eye toward more effective administration. In particular, the creation of Community Superintendents is an interesting organizational decision. It’s still relatively new, and as a Board member I would want to ensure that we review it over time to ensure it is functioning as planned and within budget.
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