Candidate Survey: Tara Huffman for Baltimore County Board of Education
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Defended the rights of homeless children; adjunct professor at CCBC
Served on the Baltimore City Board of Election Commissioners for 5 years
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Why are you running for office?
I am running because I believe that Baltimore County Public Schools can do better. There are individual schools that are standouts. As a district, however, BCPS is not providing equitable opportunities for all students, including students who wish to pursue a trade or start a business instead of going to college. In addition, students today face new or evolved physical threats as well as the threats that flow from structural inequities. If elected, my goal will be to make BCPS the safest, fairest and highest achieving schools in the state.
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
I honestly don’t have a single political role model. Every elected officials has strengths and weaknesses. So rather than hold up a single individual, I study politicians at all levels of government and of every political persuasion. I believe all elected officials have lessons to teach about how – and how not – to be an effective leader.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
My favorite book is the classic “Bureaucracy” by James Q. Wilson. It is a textbook but it opened my eyes to way governments function. My favorite line from the book: “the nature of a bureaucracy is to sustain itself.” This simple quip highlights the fact that most government agencies have lost sight of their mission and now just exists to continue existing. This makes them almost impervious to change, especially change that may lead to their own demise or demotion. If one has a full grasp of the way bureaucracies really work, one can approach politics and policy clear-eyed, resolute and with the patience reform takes.
What is your favorite book about education, and why?
Mindset by Carol Dweck because it makes the case that intelligence is not static and that there are things outside of tutoring and more testing that grown ups can do to help children succeed.
What will be your top priority on the Board of Education?
My top priority will be the equitable and effective distribution of education resources across the board – curricula, school facilities and school safety.
What is the biggest issue facing your county schools?
1. School shootings are increasing in frequency but they are not inevitable. I would work to figure out how to secure our schools against gun violence and other threats without turning schools into prisons, teachers into gunslingers and students into targets of profiling and excessive force.
2. Baltimore County schools are increasingly diverse and it is imperative that historical prejudices and discriminatory practices be surfaced and dealt with to ensure the safety and success of students and educators. I will work to identify and eliminate those parts of BCPS that perpetuate systemic and institutional racism and inequity, with a focus on the allocation of human and financial resources and school discipline.
3. Recent events demonstrate that there are holes in BCPS’ accountability systems, and a culture that allows unethical and legal behavior to go undetected for far too long. I will work to identify and eliminate those parts of BCPS systems and culture that facilitate or obfuscate fraud, theft and unethical behaviors among BCPS employees.
What are the three biggest issues facing Maryland schools?
Same as above except I would replace #3 with keeping up with an evolving economy and global market that demands new skills and a new way of working, and is changing at the speed of light. For many years, curricula and teaching techniques were evergreen. Today, they are antiquated before they really catch fire. Maryland schools, like other schools around the nation, have to figure out how to preserve those parts of public education that are the core of a thriving democracy while evolving as needed to support a working economy.
Have you read your county schools curriculum? If so, which parts do you like and which parts do you dislike?
I have not read the entire curriculum but I am struck by how much the curriculum still prioritizes college prep over the trades and entrepreneurship. This needs to change.
What is your position on school spending?
I believe their should be an “education budget” at the state and local levels that is held harmless by other demands and mandates, and that is tied to performance measures that must be met year after year. I believe that spending is an important, but not controlling, component of high performing schools. I also believe that spending can perpetuate or alleviate structural inequities. It depends on how it is managed.
Please identify the three areas which you believe should be prioritized when it comes to school funding
School Maintenance, Security, Teacher Pay
What is your position on teacher tenure?
I believe that teachers should be able to earn tenure, tied to performance and not just seniority. I believe that that bar should be high and maintained for a number of years before tenure is granted. Once granted, I believe tenure should come with the obligation to advance the field of teaching through scholarship, teaching-the-teachers, and/or formal mentoring of rising teachers.
What is your position on standardized testing?
While well-intentioned, I am concerned that standardized tests are causing more harm than they are good. There is more than one way to measure student performance and standardized tests do not account for the different ways that students learn and achieve. As importantly, standardized tests are typically geared towards college preparation and an increasing number of students would rather pursue a vocation or entrepreneurship. If we are going to have testing, it needs to be updated to reflect diverse student populations and 21st Century career opportunities.
What is your position on classroom size?
I believe classroom size is important, but not controlling. I graduated from a high school that had 2,000 students, with 30-33 students in the average class. Where we can reduce class sizes without sacrificing other priorities, we should do so. Alternatively, larger classes require different teaching techniques and teachers should be equipped to identify and employ those techniques with proper support.
Do you believe the Board of Education should have taxation authority?
No, I believe that should be left to the County Executive and County Council.