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Three incumbents endorsed for Board of Education seats

October 28, 2012

For county school boards in Maryland, the next few years are likely to be noteworthy, in good ways and bad.

Certainly there will be challenges, as schools transition away from the well-intentioned, but ultimately unrealistic, No Child Left Behind parameters. And when the state decided last winter to dump a share of teacher-pension costs on the counties, school budgets became even tighter than they have been in the past. This is of particular concern locally, as backlogged maintenance costs continue to build.

But exciting times are on the horizon as well, as it becomes more apparent that alternatives to expensive, bricks-and-mortar classrooms might exist through the use of technology. And when quality college lessons on, for example, differential calculus, are beginning to show up on YouTube, the possibilities for the instructional process are obvious.

We have been impressed with the course steered by Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who had big shoes to fill with the departure of Elizabeth Morgan, whose decade-long tenure included numerous innovations and national honors.

We believe the incumbent board has done a good job both in the hiring of Wilcox and in working with him as he implements his own ideas for our school system without undoing some of the system’s more notable successes, such as its magnet programs. Further, in the often choppy waters that churn with thousands of students, parents, teachers and administrators, this board has been notably short of drama, which is a sign of competent leadership.

Therefore, we endorse the three incumbents for the board of education: Donna Brightman, Justin Hartings and Wayne Ridenour.

As board president, Ridenour has been the steady hand at the helm, and has demonstrated a capability to handle challenges of all stripes. Ridenour has helped facilitate the transition from a heavier hand at the top to Wilcox’s apparent willingness to allow for more decentralization. When disturbances do arise, Ridenour has been front and center to listen to concerns.

Hartings is serving out his first term and has received top marks from board watchers, and we are impressed with his vision of an education-driven local economy. That’s critical, since one common refrain we hear from job creators and economic-development officials is the lack of a talented work force. It’s not that Washington County doesn’t have smart kids, but those with necessary skills too often find little here to suit their capabilities. Hartings recognizes that the local brain drain is a cycle that must be broken.

Brightman adds valuable representation for South County, and beyond that is the board member who most often asks the tough questions that might cause discomfort to the establishment, but need to be considered nonetheless. Well-versed in educational minutiae, Brightman knows what’s on the horizon for schools as they move deeper into the 21st century.

This leaves two other candidates for board, Travis Poole and Melissa Williams. We take no position here, not based on any lack of qualifications, but because of some concerns that we have trouble overlooking.

As an attorney, Poole would certainly be an asset to the board, where legal questions abound, and in dealing with the ream of contracts that pile up on the board’s desk. On a board that is already well-represented by former educators, we also believe his perspective as an outsider would be of great value. Our concern is that Poole’s children, at the moment, are not vested in Washington County Public Schools; his school-age son attends classes in Frederick County, where his wife teaches. Poole says this will change, but is unsure when.

Williams has a long career in Washington County education, but as mentioned, the board is already top-heavy with former teachers. While teachers are obviously a valuable part of the equation, their interests in education are not the only interests.

We are also concerned that Williams would undo all that has been accomplished toward a West City elementary school.

In the end, voters will have a clear choice between a candidate who has worked inside the educational system and a candidate with an outside perspective. We leave this choice to the voters.

It is Brightman, Ridenour and Hartings who have our full support.

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