Letter: School board must reflect makeup of Howard County

January 23, 2012

When the filing deadline passed earlier this month, a large and diverse field of candidates emerged for seats on the Howard County Board of Education, offering themselves for public service at a critical time.

I applaud their participation, and look forward to the continuation of an important discussion about the future of our county and our schools that began last year.

Troubled by a lack of racial, ethnic and geographic balance on the school board, as well as performance gaps among individual schools and among groups of students, I and many others felt it was important to focus attention on the school- board selection process, to overcome these challenges.

The refrain I heard from many in the community was that the school board should reflect the diversity of our great County, and that all students have a right to the best education possible.

Prompted by this discussion, I convened a task force last July, headed by former state Schools SuperintendentNancy S. Grasmick, to examine these issues. Its diligent work fostered a vigorous debate about where our school system is heading, and the qualities needed in those who lead it.

For the first election since we began this important dialogue, there are now 15 candidates contending for three open spots, more than twice as many as four years ago, and the most since 2000.

They come from all over the county, and several are from Columbia and the Greater Elkridge area, neither of which, unfortunately, have representation on the current school board. There are also several well-qualified African-American candidates, seeking to hold a position on a board where there is currently no African-American member.

The results of the election, and the composition of the next school board, won't be known for months, but I am encouraged by the potential to address some of the concerns raised by Dr. Grasmick, state Del. Frank Turner and many others.

One of the undeniable strengths of Howard County is our public school system. For the fourth straight year, Maryland finished first in Education Week's rankings of state public schools, and Howard's schools are the finest in Maryland. With that distinction, however, comes responsibility. Parents, teachers and elected officials must work together to make sure our schools maintain and build upon their excellence.

Few people are more critical to that task then the members of the Board of Education.

The school board can and must be a reflection of our great county, and it is critical that all members of the community are active participants in the future of our education system and our children.

Ken Ulman

County executive

Howard County

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