Candidate Survey: Liz Barrett for Frederick County Board of Education
HSD – Middletown High, Middletown, MD
BA – English/Ethics, King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA
MA – English, University of Maryland, College Park
JD – Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, DC
Senior Writer & Communications Consultant
2014-present, Board of Education, Frederick MD; served as Vice President of BOE, 2014-2017; serve as chair Policy Committee. Served as Founding Chair of Sustainable Futures, Inc. a non-profit, parent-driven entity to create the first public charter school in Carroll County, MD (we were unsuccessful). I am a parent of FCPS students and a school volunteer.
Board of Education, Frederick County 2014-present; however Board of Education is non-partisan.
Why are you running for office?
I believe in public education. Our schools need to be safe, welcoming, and affirming for every student — without that basis, children can’t learn. I believe we have the ability to help students realize their purpose and passion and to grow into advocates and strong citizens. I am particularly proud of my ability to collaborate and work for consensus on a Board that is diverse in its thinking and political backgrounds. I am committed to delivering on the promises our Board has made in our Strategic Plan. My work on the Board has focused on fiscal responsibility, being more strategic in implementation of new initiatives, and in reaching and delivering the best education for students in groups that traditionally face challenges, including students from families who live at or below the poverty line, students of color, students with disabilities, and students for whom English is a second language.
For every challenge, I see opportunity. My goal remains to work with the taxpayers, parents, students, teachers of Frederick County to put FCPS on a sounder strategic footing. Our FCPS Strategic Plan provides the road map, but it’s meaningless unless we implement the Plan with fidelity and with accountability. During my BOE service so far, I have collaborated with my colleagues to develop better policy, to improve the way we engage with parents and families, taxpayers, and every other stakeholder in our school system. While I am proud of my service so far, I recognize there is significant work ahead.
In addition to the school visits, awards ceremonies, and regular Board and committee meetings, over these last 3+ years, I have personally met with over 200 parents, teachers, and staff members. Over coffee or over lunch, I have listened–and I have learned. I remain committed to those connections and to the work of being an effective Board member.
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
My favorite president is Abraham Lincoln for holding the country together and creating a way forward after the Civil War. Politics is such a disaster these days; it’s why I focus my service in a non-partisan office.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
“The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt. This book has helped me understand why so many of us (myself included) are so quick to stop listening to folks who may not align with us “politically.” Politics isn’t about making other people–or manipulating people–to agree with you; rather, it’s about listening and learning. So many of us pick ideas and then use them to support our own arguments; we’re cherry-picking support for what we already believe rather than listening and learning and then developing new ways of thinking and more effective policy solutions. When I was elected to the BOE in Frederick County in 2014, I immediately had to collaborate and work for consensus (and create majorities) with six independent and very different people, all with varied and policy and political stances. I take great pride that I have worked on shared priorities and made majority votes with every person on that Board. There are over 42,000 children in our school system and my constituents are them, their families, and every taxpayer in this County. It is essential that I do my best to serve each one; this book has helped me concentrate on that vital priority.
What is your favorite book about education, and why?
“Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America” by Johann Neem. I learned a great deal about how public education was started in this country and how essential it became for developing informed citizens, particularly as America grew between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Frankly, the book is particularly compelling because the issues and questions facing public education then are similar to those we face now.
What will be your top priority on the Board of Education?
Creating policy and providing fiscal oversight to ensure the very best education for every single child.
What is the biggest issue facing your county schools?
The challenge of delivering a personalized, challenging, happy education that helps to prepare over 42,000 individual children for a life that is purposeful is enormous; simultaneously we must be exceptional stewards of over $600M in tax dollars. Over a quarter of our students live at or below the poverty line, and a significant portion of our students have significant disabilities, and many others are learning English. We need to focus on the metrics identified in our FCPS strategic plan to ensure we are dedicating the right resources–both human and capital–to serving every student.
What are the three biggest issues facing Maryland schools?
1. Unfunded and unnecessary Federal and State mandates that over-complicate and hinder how we deliver and oversee local public education.
2. The need for capital improvements, both funding and innovation for developing new ways to build new and pay for renovation of schools less expensively, particularly in light of the prevailing wage requirement.
3. More instruction time (less testing), more time to bring more fun, more arts, more in-depth analysis of issues, back to the curriculum, and more time for teachers to do their best work and innovate.
Have you read your county schools curriculum? If so, which parts do you like and which parts do you dislike?
Yes. Frederick County has done a strong job of incorporating more critical thinking and higher level reasoning that our kids need. Our teachers and staff have developed some amazing offerings at the secondary level–in depth history classes, including new ones that help students understand and analyze 9/11 and exceptional science and technology. We need more arts and humanities. STEM is well-represented, but our kids aren’t reading enough literature.
We need to get past this “for or against” common core conversation. This talking point doesn’t reflect the nuance of the issue. I do wish our State legislators would provide more local control over standards in our curriculum. In particular, the standards are layered in such a way that content and expectations are not always developmentally appropriate; not all Kindergarteners will read by the end of the year–research tells us that is normal. But, the state standards create benchmarks, and curriculum, intervention, and services are designed to focus on children who simply need more time. Our local experts should be empowered to develop appropriate solutions.
What is your position on school spending?
Public school is a public good. Students who graduate from public schools go on for more productive and purpose-driven lives in the workforce, in the military, and in college. We need to carefully examine public school spending to ensure tax dollars are invested wisely in initiatives, programs, and activities that directly impact student achievement. For example, we invest millions in technology, but we need to do a far better job determine which technology initiatives are most valuable.
Please identify the three areas which you believe should be prioritized when it comes to school funding
Special Education, Teacher Pay, Vocational Skills
What is your position on teacher tenure?
I don’t have a strong position on tenure. Tenure helps us recruit and retain effective teachers. Teachers who are ineffective should be trained and counseled; if their performance does not improve, they should be removed. I believe in our systems for doing this in Frederick County, regardless of tenure status.
What is your position on standardized testing?
I support testing that provides teachers with data that helps students learn and achieve. I oppose most tests mandated by State and Federal entities in order to assess the effectiveness of particular schools, teachers, or entire school systems. For example, I oppose the PARCC test and have been vocal in my criticism. I championed a local Policy (511) that rolls back on hours students spend in testing in Frederick County and also supported student refusals for PARCC and other State- and Federally-mandated tests. That policy also allows parents to refuse on behalf of children who, because of disability or other reason, are unable to refuse for themselves. Students need far more instructional time and fewer standardized tests; we are awash in data that we don’t have time to act upon.
What is your position on classroom size?
Class size is often a function of budget. More classes require more teachers which requires more investment in salaries and more investment in spaces for classes to meet. Currently, we have some kindergarten classes, for example, with 24 or 25 students. This is not optimal. At the high school level, students who seek specialized classes are often packed in. We are dedicated to reducing class size in Frederick County; it is a budget and strategic priority.
Do you believe the Board of Education should having taxation authority?
Perhaps. I would welcome our legislature raising this issue and having robust engagement with the public. I am wary of inequities that may happen between counties — depending on income levels, school tax revenues from county to county could impact the investment in education from county to county significantly. Pennsylvania is the closest geographic example. There is significant variation on the quality and outcomes of public education in that state because of variations in school tax revenue. Taxing authority is often filtered down to towns and cities (smaller than counties), and this results in very small school districts. While local oversight is crucial, small school districts often spend more than a county would on certain jobs such as superintendent, etc.