Red Maryland Candidate Survey: Tom Heffner for Howard County Board of Education
BS Electrical Engineering, M.S. Electrical & Computer Engineering, Masters Applied Positive Psychology
Entrepreneur, Podcast Host, Coach
Teaching experience at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Maryland, & University of Wisconsin. Taught Positive Psychology, Design, and Innovation Courses
No previous political experience
Social Media Accounts
Why are you running for office?
I was taught that if you can help, then you help. I’ve spent my entire career tackling impossible challenges … e.g. helping keep US & Coalition soldiers safe from IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan. I understand how to create innovative and impactful solutions to problems everyone else tends to give up on. Watching the HoCo BOE struggle over the last several years (and beyond) … with redistricting, budgets, etc, it feels like an impossible problem to a lot of residents. But it’s a lack of leadership and the right expertise that is lacking. That is what I intend to bring to help make it better.
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
I don’t look to politicians as my role model. I think we can aspire higher.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
What is your favorite book about education, and why?
Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I’m probably biased since she was my professor in graduate school, but this book taught me a lot about what helps students become successful. Hint: it’s not your raw intellectual capacity. It’s grit. And grit is something we can all cultivate and improve.
What will be your top priority on the Board of Education?
I’ll give you two: Creating a fair and transparent redistricting process that serves our children and creating curricula for students to help them learn the fundamentals of innovation. The ability to think creatively and generate innovative solutions will be as important as anything else they learn.
What is the biggest issue facing your county schools?
Paralysis and an inability to make necessary changes. If you have any doubt about this, see the latest redistricting effort. It was a mess on many levels. We ended up with a solution that was created in real time over the course of several hours. No matter where you stood on the issue, I think you can agree that creating a proposal that will affect thousands of children in a few hours, without sufficient analysis/reflection is a poor idea.
What is your position on the Kirwan Commission recommendations?
They are trying to improve education, which is a Nobel cause. I think ideas that improve education should be considered alongside ideas which are no longer working or that are clearly hurting education currently. There is a lot of emphasis on the recommendations (some of which are good). But what about the things we need to stop or remove? Otherwise, you keep adding and adding and adding.
What are the three biggest issues facing Maryland schools?
Redistricting, class sizes/resources, lack of an innovation curriculum,
Have you read your county schools curriculum? If so, which parts do you like and which parts do you dislike?
What is your position on school spending?
I think the more relevant question is how would you approach funding. We are in a year where the superintendent is proposing almost a billion dollars in funding, which some say even that is not enough. I think we have enough but I think we make poor decisions on funding. Take for example computers in the classroom. My son’s teacher remarked how they have computers for every student in ELA that they NEVER use. She says they are finicky, don’t always work, waste time trying to set up. How many other classes are doing the same? What a waste. There is a time and place for computers, but not every class needs one. I suspect that is not the only area where we are wasting money.
Please identify the three areas which you believe should be prioritized when it comes to school funding
What is your position on teacher tenure?
I think it is irrelevant if you hire well. If you hire and reward the best teachers in the world, then tenure becomes a good tradeoff for the school. Sadly we don’t hire and reward the best.
What is your position on standardized testing?
Standardized testing, for the most part is a waste of time. I’m not against it but it takes up too much time … and often times they don’t even use the data to help build a better educational plan for our children. True story – I once asked my son’s teacher about his PARC scores (since they are required to take them). After some prodding, she finally confessed, “”listen, we don’t use those test results for anything. We just give it because they told us we have to.” We don’t cultivate the best, the brightest, and the most creative by bludgeoning them with test after test after test. Use that time for other education, learning or socialization.
What is your position on classroom size?
It’s too big. Teachers are struggling to meet the demands of ever increasing class sizes and kids with 504s, IEPs, etc.
Do you believe the Board of Education should have taxation authority?