French to run for board

Former chairman says she can effect change in schools


After a two-year hiatus, former Chairman Sandra H. French has decided to seek another term on the Howard County Board of Education.

French, who served on the board from 1992 to 2004, said she has been wrestling with the idea for the past six months.

"I felt as if I made a difference and wanted to continue to make a difference," French said yesterday. "I love education; I love our students. It all just seems to point toward serving on the board again."

French, 62, said she has spent some of the past two years substitute teaching at county secondary schools, which she said has given her more insight about students.

French said she is most concerned with gangs, a lack of student activities, and academic achievement at the middle school and high school levels. She also believes the school system should have a student activities coordinator, who would promote positive after-school activities. French said the position was eliminated during the 1992 recession.

The person who would fill the position, which is not slated for approval during the 2007 fiscal year, would encourage leadership opportunities and give guidance to students, French said.

"We need more two-way communication between the board and the students," said French, who explained that she would also like the coordinator to explain the board's policies to students. "If the board members cannot do that correctly, we need to have a person in place to assist in that role."

French said she is looking forward to the possibility of working on the board again.

"I am really energized," said the Ellicott City resident. "I had a year of rest and a year of being in the schools with the kids. We need to move forward into the future. I think I can be a positive part of that."

French, a former teacher who served on numerous PTAs and was president of the PTA Council of Howard County, unsuccessfully ran for the board in 1990. She won her election in 1992 and served for two six-year terms. (School board members are now elected to four-year terms.)

Courtney Watson, who served on the board with French for two years, said French would bring considerable knowledge to the board.

"It is so important to have someone there who knows why things were done the way they were," Watson said. "She brings historical knowledge that few other candidates possess."

While French served on the board, the school system faced a grade-changing scandal at Oakland Mills High School, accusations that two top county school administrators abused their power by pressing for a grade change at Centennial High School, the departure of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, and false rape allegations at Mount Hebron High School.

When French left the board in 2004, she said she was tired of redistricting, which has become a routine task for board members.

French said she redistricted her youngest son twice during her stint on the board.

"The strongest board members are the ones who have been through the hottest fires," French said, recalling a saying from a former board member.

French added that the school system has made significant strides since she served on the board. She also said she looked forward to the board's expansion this year from five to seven members.

"Some of the stress has been alleviated," French said. "The work will be spread more evenly. We have an excellent superintendent and staff in place."

The addition of an internal auditor and ombudsmen has also helped the board in its duties, French said.

"Before, board members were doing all of that," she said. "It was extremely stressful. I'm not saying it will not be stressful. But I think it will be more manageable."

Changing seats

As the Howard County Board of Education expands from five to seven members this year, there is a chance that only one current member -- Vice Chairman Diane Mikulis -- could remain after the November election.

Of the current five board members, Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty have terms that expire in 2008. Sigaty is running for a seat on the County Council and will leave her seat on the board should she win in November.

School board candidates who have filed with the Howard County Board of Elections include Tony Yount, a retired system administrator; Di Zou, a senior at Glenelg High School; Patricia S. Gordon, a current board member; Joshua M. Kaufman, current board chairman; Larry Cohen, a retiring system employee; and Carmen L. Harman, a former teacher and stay-at home mother.

Other candidates who have announced they are running but have not filed include Frank Aquino, who ran in 2004; Ellen Flynn Giles, an advocate for students; and former school board member Sandra H. French.

Applicants have until July 3 to file for the election.

John-John Williams IV

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