The stealth campaign for local board of education

October 13, 2004

When my children were smaller, they sometimes played a computer game called "Sim City."

The game gave young players simulated resources and asked them to use them to build a working, successful city.

But kids being kids, my boys decided to see what would happen if they let pollution get out of hand and skimped on law enforcement. Apparently, anarchy is fun to watch if it isn't real.

I thought about that last week after I talked to Tom Janus, the write-in candidate for Washington County Board of Education. Janus believes that instead of spending millions for Student Achievement Specialists, it would be better to give low-achieving students their own home computers, so they could work on lessons at their own pace.

That's the same basic idea that was espoused by Elmer Kaelin, the former CEO of Allegheny Power. During his tenure there, the utility gave schools computers so students could work as fast or slow as they needed to.


Those such as me who have trouble with new concepts could go over them again and again, while the whiz kids could fly ahead, without the intellectual dead weight of me and mine holding them back.

But as you see from my Sim City story, students need supervision, or else they'd be loading their computers with "Grand Theft Auto" or some other bloodbath-type game.

Somebody, preferably somebody who's running for School Board, should have pointed that out, but they didn't.

In fact, based on my search of The Herald-Mail archives, no candidate has written a letter on the issues of this campaign since the primary in March.

Perhaps this makes sense if you're an incumbent. Test scores are up and the superintendent has convinced the County Commissioners to fully fund the budget. It might seem like bragging to write and talk about the board's successes.

But if you're a challenger, don't you have to say why the people who are there now should either be replaced or do something different?

In fact, The Herald-Mail made that very point in an editorial in August and suggested that all candidates tell voters how they would cope with the No Child Left Behind Act and increase the percentage of students who go to a four-year college.

The editorial also asked about the next round of redistricting. At the last meeting of the school system's Minority Achievement Task Force, charts revealed that minority students' test scores are still lagging behind those of their white classmates.

Research indicates that one way to help low-income students succeed is to put them in classrooms with children from more affluent families.

But after the last redistricting committee recommended something very much like that, the School Board blinked. Instead, the system has begun a "magnet school" program in an effort to get parents to choose, instead of forcing them to act.

Are enough of them choosing to make a difference? The test scores, at least for now, don't show that.

Paul Slocumb, co-author of "Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty," told task force members that if the community doesn't act to help pull those in poverty up through education, they would face another generation of students who can't compete for better-paying jobs.

It would be nice to have a clue, in this campaign's last days, about who's ready to do what may be the unpopular thing to help the next generation succeed.

This past Saturday, members of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County worked on the Habitat for Humanity house in Boonsboro. While Richard Sirbaugh and his daughter, who will live in the house, worked on the roof, former County Commissioner Ron Bowers and Dr. Shahab Siddiqui helped install vinyl siding.

The Islamic Society of Western Maryland brought lunch, and though I went home with a sore thumb - I whacked it with a hammer - I also took home the good feeling one gets when working with a group on something worthwhile.

Funds are still needed for the project. If you can help, please call me at 301-791-7622 or e-mail me at If you'd rather contact Habitat directly, send an e-mail to Executive Director Sherry Brown Cooper at

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