50+ credit hours towards an Associate’s Degree, with plans to complete in the Summer/Fall CompTIA A+ Certification in Information Systems
For twenty years I have focused on a career in Information Technology, having worked for numerous public, government, and non-profit agencies. Additionally, I have owned a small business, worked in broadcasting (XM Satellite Radio), and am a freelance journalist (Village Voice Media, etc)
Given the financial situation facing CCPS and assuming no significant changes to state funding formulas or commissioner funding support, where does improving teacher salaries rank as a priority for you and why? If you believe it needs improvement, how do you propose doing so?
Helton: Recruiting and retaining quality teachers is a top priority of mine, and in order to do that, they must be compensated generously in the best of circumstances, or at the very least, fairly. I am deeply disturbed in talking with my own children’s teachers, that they must sometimes take a second or even third job to be able to make ends meet. A teacher is already expected to teach during the day, work from home on grading, lesson planning, and various other tasks, and be a part of their own families. It’s not fair that they are compensated so poorly that they need to consider additional employment, just to own a home or pay off their own school debt. The teachers of Carroll County went far too long without pay increases, and we need to ensure the CCPS honors the agreement recently made that corrects that disservice. At the very least, teachers deserve annual cost of living increases. I feel that CCPS need to look at its budget extremely carefully, look for alternative cost-saving measures that don’t require closing more schools and practice good, fiscal responsibility that allows for teachers to get the increases they deserve. CCPS should also look at other incentives such as Student Loan Repayment to assist in recruiting and retaining quality educators.
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In light of current school shootings and security discussions, what do you believe are necessary steps CCPS should take to ensure the safety of its students? What are your thoughts on School Resource Officers? Crisis counselors?
Helton: I applaud the Sheriff’s Department and the County Commissioners for their renewed focus of school physical security, but I feel that CCPS itself can play a larger role in securing schools. One technique we use often in Information Technology is random security audits. We probe our own systems to look for vulnerabilities that could compromise operations. Our schools should do the same. We need a dedicated physical security officer whose job it is to conduct random audits of school physical security. This officer should attempt to physically find flaws in each school that could lead to potential disasters, and provide schools with reports detailing these vulnerabilities so that they can be addressed. Something as simple as an unlocked door, an open window, or a secretary failing to follow identification protocols could lead to a tragic situation. We need students to feel comfortable talking to peers, teachers, and faculty about their concerns for their safety, and those concerns need to be taken seriously. Something as simple as reporting a threatening Facebook post could stave off an attack. As a child, I was bullied tremendously and was the victim of school violence. I could have gone down the path of so many, resorting to violence, either towards myself or others. My school, seeing my situation, found me a resource in the form of a teacher mentor who worked with me throughout my Junior and Senior years, and potentially saved my life. CCPS should explore these low-cost but potentially beneficial resources for students.
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In previous years, there have been discussions about CCPS graduates having to take remedial math and English classes at Carroll Community College. Do you believe CCPS curriculum is rigorous enough and what specific improvements would you like to see made at the local level?
Helton: I feel that with so much emphasis on standardized testing, teachers have been forced to teach towards the test. I think what is missing is the practical application of those English and Math skills, and by not using them in the day to day, those skills are lost. I think the material that is being taught is fairly solid (at least judging my own children’s development), but by judging teachers on standardized testing, the practical application can sometimes get left out. I would prefer that teachers get more autonomy for creating lesson plans, and that those lesson plans address the core material, but also include such valuable skills as critical thinking, creativity, and practical application.
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What further steps if any should the district take to improve career and technical education offerings?
Helton: As a product of a technical education, I feel society and CCPS don’t do enough for those seeking vocational and technical education. Our current facility nowhere near meets the needs of our student population, and while it may not be financially sound to build a brand new technical education center, creative means could be found to improve the situation for students. There is a noticeable decline in skilled tradespersons (i.e.. Plumbers, Electricians, etc.), and an epidemic of insurmountable college debt. By providing better resources to students who cannot afford, or simply aren’t interested in attending college, we can build the next generation of skilled workers. I have already reached out and hope to work with local and national businesses, in hopes of developing relationships with CCPS in terms of funding and supporting technical education. It’s in the best interest of these companies, as they could literally be helping to build replacements for the aging and dwindling skilled labor workforce. I myself benefitted from an apprenticeship, that turned into a job; we should consider looking into this as a possible educational tool again. Imagine graduating high school, trained for a highly skilled career, with a job lined up for you to start immediately. I think that with the right amount of cooperation between CCPS and businesses, we can really make a difference in these student’s lives.
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What are your thoughts on PARCC and standardized testing in general?
Helton: With so few states continuing to use the PARCC test, it’s difficult to say how effective it’s been in charting student success. We need a good way to accurately measure the success of students, and in theory, a standardized test should be a good way to measure. I feel however, that too much weight is placed on standardized testing. When teachers are being evaluated on their student’s test scores, some teachers are forced to turn education into test prep, and I feel that preparing for a test and preparing for higher education/adult life are two very different things. I feel the effectiveness of standardized testing declines as students get older. It’s a great way of measuring basic skills learned in early years, but doesn’t evaluate the practicality of the learning. A child may understand the concept they’ve been taught, but that concept is devalued if it can’t be applied to a real-world scenario. These tests also don’t evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for successful adults.
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How important is improving the diversity of the CCPS workforce and how would you proposing doing so? What would be appropriate goals for diversity hiring?
Helton: I think maintaining a diverse workforce is in the best interest of our students. First and foremost, we need to aggressively pursue high quality teachers from all walks of life, by offering them competitive compensation at hire, and retain them by keeping that compensation competitive. We need recruiters to actively search for highly qualified new teachers, and add incentives like Student Loan Repayment for those who commit to CCPS for a period of years and perform admirably. We focus so much on racial diversity, but to create a true culture of diversity in our schools, we should consider other factors like socioeconomic class and religious practices. We should celebrate all differences, not just the physical.