School board sworn in, vows to work together

Civility sets tone as five promise to strive for quality

December 06, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

There are many reasons why most citizens choose not to become a member of the Howard County Board of Education. Long hours, phone calls and e-mails from unhappy parents, contract negotiations and policy matters are a few. And don't forget redistricting.

But Frank Aquino, Larry Cohen, Sandra H. French, Ellen Flynn Giles, and Patricia S. Gordon are not daunted by the less-than-desirable elements of board life, and have instead promised that they will work civilly to maintain the top-rated school system.

Monday, the five board members pledged to adhere to the constitution and laws of the state of Maryland as officially sworn-in board members.

"We're off to a good start," Giles said, after the 30-minute ceremony in the Jim Rouse Theater at Wilde Lake High School. "The campaign was marked by civility. I know that we can work together for the benefit of every child."

During his acceptance speech, Aquino, an attorney and general counsel for an environmental consulting and engineering company, thanked his family and employer for supporting his decision to be a candidate.

He also said he was thankful for the experience of unsuccessfully running for the board in 2004, when he was barely defeated by Mary Kay Sigaty.

"In order to win, I had to be ready to lose," said Aquino, who received more votes than any other candidate in the primary and general election.

Larry Cohen, a retired school system administrator, gave the most memorable acceptance speech of the night with a number of jokes mixed in. He even recited lyrics from a Rolling Stones song.

"We have a quality school system because we have quality students, teachers, administrators," Cohen said. "I will continue that. ... I don't claim to know all the answers. I will try my hardest to do my best."

Sandra H. French, a retired educator, former chairman of the school board and now a substitute teacher in county secondary schools, said she was thankful for the opportunity to serve on the board again after a two-year hiatus.

"They [voters] looked at my 12-year record and said they wanted more of that service," French said. "I am humbled."

Giles, a senior editor and analyst with Platts, a division of McGraw-Hill Co., who has been a fixture in school PTAs and system-wide committees for 22 years, thanked her family for their support during the campaign and reiterated the importance of the position.

"The fate of our nation and state is in the classroom," Giles said.

Patricia S. Gordon, an incumbent member of the board and a retired elementary school principal, said she was pleased that voters had confidence in her ability to continue to serve the children of Howard County.

"Your confidence in me is well-placed," Gordon said. "I will continue to do the best that I can."

Joshua Kaufman, the Howard County Board of Education chairman who was not elected to one of five board seats during the general election, told the board members that the position is a fantastic experience.

"You will meet wonderful people," Kaufman said. "You will make decisions that make total strangers cry. ... Stick together, work together, you will make the right decision every time."

Monday's ceremony attracted a who's who of Howard County public education.

Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of the Howard County PTA Council, said she looked forward to working with the new board.

"I feel confident that they will achieve their goals," she said.

Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, said she expected to have a collaborative relationship with the new board.

"Howard County is one of the best in the country," said DeLacy, whose union started contract negotiations with the school system. "We have to have the tools and resources necessary to provide it."

The board has expanded from five to seven, and the five elected members join Diane Mikulis, whose term expires in 2008. County Executive Ken Ulman has to appoint someone to replace Sigaty, who resigned her position after winning a seat on the County Council.

Sigaty was present at the school board ceremony, then later in the evening was sworn in as a County Council member.

At the Dec. 14 school board meeting, members will choose a chairman, vice-chairman, and begin work on an operating budget, which is scheduled to be unveiled next month.

French said she is ready for the challenge.

"The easy part is over with," French said to sum up her acceptance speech. "Winning [the election] is just the beginning. ... Stay tuned. Great things are going to happen."

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