French seeks fourth term on Howard school board

Incumbent emphasizes the need for cooperation

August 07, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Having served 16 years on the Howard County Board of Education, Sandra French said the one constant during her time there has been a "collegial kind of competition" and a sense of respect for one's fellow members.

That is why, the incumbent says, that as she runs for another term, she's concerned that this year's campaign has been full of negative commentary.

"We have candidates who have already decided which candidates would be good or bad, and they even have on the Web sites negative comments," said French, one of nearly a dozen candidates seeking to fill four vacancies for the coming term.

School board officials say French has served longer than any other board member since the county began electing members in 1974.

"We have to work together as a cooperative, collegial board when we're elected, and we have to be respectful of one another," French added. "And if there's not going to be respect shown this early, then I worry about the future of a board providing appropriate leadership if uncivil behavior continues."

Cooperation could be a buzzword during the next term as, like other jurisdictions in the state, Howard could face many challenges in educating its students. French noted that new federal and state guidelines raise the standard for graduation, calling for every student to be more prepared for life after school.

She said that it is imperative that the board and the superintendent make certain that students meet those guidelines.

"The new federal mandates … raised the bar from President Bush's No Child Left Behind law," she said. "And the law that the state just passed mandates that every high school graduate must be certified as both college- and career-ready.

"That's very serious, and in Howard County, we can do it for the majority of our kids," French added. "But there are a number of students that we're really going to have to proceed in working even harder with. As a board member, that's part of my oversight … ensuring that the right programs are in place, evaluated appropriately for their effectiveness and to make sure that money is aligned with these requirements."

French is seeking her fourth term on the board, having served from 1992 to 2004 and her current four-year term. Five years ago, she received the Willis Award for Outstanding School Board Service from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. Her appointments include the Governor's Task Force on Education Funding and the State Board of Education's Visionary Panel for Better Schools.

"She is a great board member; she visits schools regularly and makes her presence known," said Diane Miller of Ellicott City, a former fourth-grade teacher at Clarksville Elementary. "When it comes to making decisions, her primary concern is what is best for the children."

French said that as in previous terms, she gave it much thought and sought opinions of close friends before deciding to run again. Local issues she believes the board must tackle this year include sufficient funds to purchase land for schools and ensuring that gifted and talented programs remain vital.

She said she is excited about such programs as a pilot at several county middle schools that allows children to replace a full-year reading unit with units in other subject areas, including the sciences.

"It gets them focused on reading in that area of science," she said. "It would still be reading-related but it would be more subject-oriented."

She said that whatever challenges the school board faces in the coming year, cooperation is crucial to meeting those challenges.

"You need to remember that if you're elected, when you're on the board you need to work with all of these people and get them to agree with your position, because you need their votes."

The primary will be held Sept. 14; the general election is Nov. 2.

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