School system is encouraging minorities to get involved

International parents are offered a free, six-week leadership class

January 21, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

On paper, Marcelino M. Bedolla appeared to be a good candidate for the Howard County Board of Education.

A Hispanic science teacher in Baltimore who has lived in Howard County since 1970, Bedolla regularly voiced concern about student achievement among ethnic minorities and sought to increase offerings for all students, including those not planning to attend college. But that passion did not translate to a board seat for the 70-year-old Bedolla, who lost in 2000 and 2006.

Of the four ethnic minority candidates who sought board seats last year, only Patricia Gordon - the first African-American elected to the board and an incumbent - won.

"I expected a higher percentage of the vote [in 2006] than I got," said Bedolla, a Mexican-American. "I was expecting a little more support from the Hispanic community. Apparently, I didn't resonate with the non-Hispanic voters. "

Gordon said that she did not think race played a role in whether white residents would vote for minorities.

"They've elected me," Gordon said. "Not only is my race well known, but I advocate very strongly for minorities."

Ethnic diversity will factor into Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's decision to fill a vacant seat on the school board this month. Ulman said minorities make up a "majority" on his list of candidates.

The school system recognizes the importance of parental involvement in the decision-making process and has made efforts to encourage ethnic minorities to get involved.

The system offers a six-week leadership class for international parents, including Hispanics (4.9 percent of the total enrollment) and Asians (14.3 percent).

The course is free, and participants meet for two hours once a week. Upon completion of the course, parents are required to pursue a leadership position with a school-based organization.

Young-chan Han, a specialist with the system's International Student and Family Outreach Office, said that parents who complete the leadership program likely will run in future school board elections.

"I think it will happen," Han said. "It takes time. We don't just pull leaders out of thin air."

Han's optimism does not address why members of established minority groups have not been represented on the board. "Maybe they just don't have time," Bedolla said. "A lot of it is time and effort."

C. Vernon Gray, a former five-term Howard County councilman who recently returned to county government, said money and privacy have kept ethnic minorities away from public office.

"It can be expensive," said Gray, who recently ended his 35-year career at Morgan State to become administrator of the county Office of Human Rights. "Many people do not want to run because it is politics. They do not want to be examined by the public."

Bedolla said the newest generation of Hispanic parents seem more active.

"I would hope to see them in the future," Bedolla said.

Bedolla suspects that many Hispanics in the county are not registered to vote. The school system has 2,364 Hispanic students.

"We need a registration drive to get them [parents] to register," Bedolla said.

Ultimately, ethnic minorities must take the plunge and run, according to Gray.

"You've got to pay to play," Gray said. "You've got to play to win. Be persistent."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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