The recent appointments of two members to the Baltimore County school board drew swift criticism from some community activists who faulted local and state officials for not seeking their advice and for not going far enough to diversify the panel.
But Donna Flynn and Earnest E. Hines, who attended their first board meeting last night, maintain that they bring a wealth of education and business experience to the task. They said they are hopeful that even their critics soon will see it that way, too.
"When I was in high school, I had a principal who liked to walk the hallways, and when I asked him why, he said, `I want to find out what's on your mind,' and I've never forgotten that," said Hines, 59, president and chief executive officer of Diversity Management Group Inc., a consulting company that works with new businesses. "You have to be willing to listen, you have to be willing to seek out people - not necessarily only when it gets to be crisis mode."
The Owings Mills man, who spent more than 30 years as an insurance company manager and executive, said in a recent interview that his business background has influenced his belief in making decisions "based on fact, not emotions."
Flynn, who began teaching English in 1970 at Holabird Junior High School in Dundalk, is coordinator for assessment and accreditation for Towson University's teacher preparation programs in the College of Education.
In 2002, Flynn retired from the county public school system after 32 years in positions ranging from teacher to principal to area superintendent. As principal, she opened Sudbrook Magnet Middle in Pikesville - the county's first magnet school - in 1994.
"My whole professional life has been devoted to public education," said Flynn, 58, of Catonsville. "I've been a classroom teacher, I've worked in [the] central office, I've had districtwide responsibilities, and now I have higher-education responsibilities. The school board will be an entirely new point of entry, and I have a lot to learn because I haven't worked at it from this perspective."
In preparing for her role as a school board member, she has been reading up on the system's priorities. She said she has paid particular attention to a recent audit that was critical of the system's curriculum. Flynn said she hopes to help develop school board policies, or tweak existing ones, to bolster academic progress and close the achievement gap.
Having watched the county evolve from mostly suburban to increasingly urban since he moved to Owings Mills in 1991, Hines said he has seen a "major shift" in the minority population.
"I want to make sure that we figure out ways to make the educational experience for all children as valuable as we can," he said. "We have grown into a more metropolitan area, and that puts pressures on the school system. We have to make sure we're continuing to put things in place to address that."
Flynn and Hines were appointed in May to each serve five-year terms.
When Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed them - on the recommendation of County Executive James T. Smith Jr. - some local activists were angered that Smith had not consulted them. The activists, including Pat Ferguson, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said former county executives routinely sought their opinions.
In May, Ferguson said Smith was ignoring complaints about what she described as the board's lack of diversity, and called the appointments "a slap in the face to the community leaders."
This year, local legislators introduced bills to change the school board's selection process, but none of the bills made it out of committee. The proposals ranged from creating a hybrid board, consisting of elected and appointed members, to maintaining a governor-appointed board but requiring state Senate confirmation and demanding the board be demographically representative of the county's student population.
Two of the board's 11 adult members are black. That ratio won't change when Hines, who is black, takes his seat tonight because one of the departing members, Warren C. Hayman, also is black.
Nearly half of the county's 106,000 students are minorities, with blacks making up about 81 percent of those minorities.
New school board members
Occupation: Assessment and accreditation coordinator, Towson University
Education: Bachelor's degree in English from Washington College; master's degree in English and American literature from the University of Maryland