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Washington County's newest BOE member

July 15, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Donna Brightman's first meeting as a member of the Washington County Board of Education went about as well as she could have expected, considering she'd spent the night before in the hospital with her husband, following his gall bladder surgery.

"We'd actually spent part of Memorial Day weekend in the emergency room, so it wasn't a total surprise," Brightman said.

Brightman said the doctors had planned to remove the organ with laproscopic surgery, which is done with scopes and a small incision.

"Laproscopic is in and out. But that didn't work," Brightman said.

Instead, her husband was left with a nine-inch incision and 44 surgical staples. Brightman ended up on a couch in his room at Frederick Memorial Hospital, because, she said, she believes, "It's important for a patient to have an advocate."

The next day, she said, her youngest son took a day off from school and relieved her, so that she could go to a 10 a.m. School Board meeting.

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Asked if she had considered skipping the meeting, Brightman said she would have, if it had been a life-or-death situation.

Brightman was appointed in December by Gov. Martin O'Malley to replace W. Edward Forrest, who resigned when a promotion made it necessary for him to do additional business travel.

She is no stranger to the school system, serving as legislative advocate for the Board of Education task force and Washington County Council of PTAs' legislative liaison to the Maryland PTA.

She also worked on the committee that is studying redistricting issues, but resigned when she became a member of the board. She said her proudest moment so far has been when she was able to choose which high school graduation to attend, then shake her son's hand on the stage at Boonsboro High School.

Asked what has been the biggest surprise so far about how the School Board works, Brightman said it was the amount of information that comes members' way.

"It's the sheer volume of information and paperwork you go through in one day," she said.

She added that while it was a bit overwhelming at first, "things are starting to calm down and I'm getting a handle on the issues."

Brightman serves on both the finance and facilities committees and will soon face a decision on redistricting.

She has an edge there, having served on the citizens committee studying the issue. She's attended all four public meetings on the proposal as well - and dealt with some unhappy parents.

But, she said, after the committee convinced many of those who attended that their input would not be disregarded, even those who were distressed seemed somewhat relieved.

"Probably the biggest thing I'm working on is a process or protocol to allow consistent communication with the county commissioners and the municipalities," she said.

The issues of growth, development and school construction are too important, Brightman said, for elected officials not to be in touch.

Brightman has advocated in the past for a council of governments, but said that what she's working on now would be less formal than that.

"We need to be involved with the planning commission, with new developers and we need to close the loop with the county commissioners on a regular basis," she said.

But Brightman hastened to add that "this is not a one-person show."

She said what she hoped to do was offer ideas and build consensus with other School Board members.

"We're definitely a team," she said.

Two other issues are high on her priority list now, Brightman said.

One is the BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure process that will bring new jobs to Fort Detrick in Frederick County and new residents to this region.

"I'm heading a task force through the chamber. There's going to be a huge impact on Washington County, especially east of (Interstate) 81," she said.

The county will have to deal with new residents and their needs, but without a seat at the table she said she fears that money needed here will go elsewhere.

Her other concern is getting parents more involved in what's going on in the schools.

"It always seems you get a lot of people to come out to meetings at the time of an emergency," she said, but not so for the ordinary business-type sessions.

"I've read that the county council of PTAs is having a hard time getting participation," she said.

Brightman, a landscape architect by trade, seems to be trying hard to cultivate a different atmosphere at the School Board - one in which she and her fellow members could be more complete partners in the process of planning for the future development of the county.

To do this, Brightman needs citizens' help. Without it, the crush of information and the strong pressure not to change "the way it's always been done" could grind down her enthusiasm. That really would be a shame.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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