Nothing Fails Like Success

Is The Best School System In The Galaxy Failing My Kids?


I moved to Columbia from Michigan as a “gifted and talented” high school junior. The school I left had no Advanced Placement (or International Baccalaureate, if that was a thing then) classes.

Academically speaking, over the following several months at Oakland Mills High School, I got my butt kicked on a daily basis. Go Scorps!

And it was good. I graduated with enough AP credits to finish undergraduate school in three years and mitigate the cost of my ironically out-of-state education at Michigan State. Go Spartans!

When my kids entered the Howard County public schools 10 years ago, I knew they would be getting a level of education far superior to what most kids get in this country. That was one of the reasons my husband and I stayed in Columbia even as our daily commutes grew longer.

“Pools and schools, baby,” was my husband's mantra. Mr. Yemelyanov is particularly fond of Columbia's outdoor pools.

It never occurred to me that any of my kids might not be on a GT track to academic glory. And even as one of my kids suffered academically later in elementary school and on into middle school, I was certain that he was getting no worse an education than his GT siblings.

Then their school started changing names. The oldest entered kindergarten at Dasher Green Elementary and finished fifth and eighth grades at Cradlerock School. The middle kid is at Lake Elkhorn Middle School, and his sister is at Cradlerock Elementary.

I was sure that the Howard County Public School System, my benefactor, the best school system in the galaxy, knew what it was doing when it consolidated my kids' elementary and middle schools under a single name and administration. “Cradlerock School” sounded classy, to boot. Go Bulldogs!

Then the parents found The Study. It turned out that the change had not been well planned and that school performance and discipline were suffering as a result.

Worst of all, The Study had been completed by HCPSS–and never addressed by the school system–two years before the parents found out about it. My parent-friends demanded changes from the school system and got involved in the school board elections that year to make sure their voices were heard.

My oldest kid had been complaining for years that he hated school, that there were fights at school, that he didn't like his teachers. And I had been pretty much ignoring him.

Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe the best school district in the world might not be giving all its students the same amazing experience I had received.

Fast-forward two years. New school board elections are coming up and the county schools want to eliminate reading classes in middle schools.

Neither of my oldest kids have gotten a heck of a lot out of middle school reading class, as far as I can tell. The oldest learned how to fill out a fast food job application in eighth grade, which did not bolster my confidence in how the kids outside the GT programs are being prepared for the future.

All the middle kid has found in reading class are new opportunities for tormenting his captors.

The school system seems to have learned from the Cradlerock debacle that they need to demonstrate transparency and interest in public input.

Have they learned to actually take opposing views from within or from the community into account when they're making decisions that affect the quality of the education for that other 80%? Or are they still seduced by their own success?

The county school board, meanwhile, does not seem to have learned from the voter sentiment that brought its new “opposition” members into office or from the intervening months of public infighting among its members.

The antics of individual new members do nothing to address the concerns of the voters who put them in office. But long-term incumbents should take heed: the fact that our new members act counter to their own best interests does not mean that they don't have legitimate points to make about business as usual in Howard County schools.

At a time when our schools are facing new resource challenges, we need a school board that functions more as a platform for the concerns of the community and less as a stage for the individual biases and dysfunctions of its members.

Mary Manjikian February 27, 2012 at 06:43 PM
YOu need to run for schoolboard. You've got the credentials and you could be the one to make a difference.
Corey Andrews February 27, 2012 at 08:25 PM
You say that the students of the HCPSS MAY not be getting the education they deserve, which I agree with, but then you go on to attack the new board members. It is the three incumbents who are up for reelection that are the ones denying that the school system has some serious problems, not the new members.
Robert Rhodes February 27, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Corey, you need to be a better reader. Ms. Yemelyanov wrote the following: "The antics of individual new members do nothing to address the concerns of the voters who put them in office. But long-term incumbents should take heed: the fact that our new members act counter to their own best interests does not mean that they don't have legitimate points to make about business as usual in Howard County schools." Had you better reading comprehension skills, likely a result of you focusing more on getting elected to office than working hard in school, you would see that Ms. Yemelyanov had equally harsh words for the "long-term incumbents." Perhaps you should stay in school and focus on improving your reading skills and leave the School Board seats to the better educated adults.
Leslie Kornreich February 27, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Ms. Yemelyanov, - As someone who testifies frequently at Board meetings, I can tell you there is no increase in public discourse or input. You are allowed to speak for 3 minutes and at the end you have no idea if a single person on the Board is seriously considering your testimony and allowing it to be part of their decision making process. You are right that HCPSS is a victim of its own success - we are allowing our number one ranking to hide the fact that there are so many students that are not getting what they need from our school system. We have become so beholden to the almighty standardized test that we have forgotten to teach students about the world around them and how to explore it and connect with it. Our elementary students only study social studies and science for 1/3 of the school year. Why? Because they are not on the standardized test. I want to see us return to a more personalized education, where every student learns at his or her own pace and has a chance to show his or her individual strengths and talents -- the kind not measured by a standardized test. I would love to continue the conversation with you -- contact me at lesliekforboe@gmail.com and visit my website at www.lesliekforboe.com.
Nicole McFarland February 28, 2012 at 07:39 PM
What are the parents doing to bolster their children's education? It is not the sole the responsibility of the school system to educate and propagate well-rounded adults. The school system just doesn't have the time and money to teach everything to everyone. If there is something missing or short changed, the parents should be filling in where HCPSS leaves off.
Anne February 28, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Mr. Andrews, I would prefer that you concentrate on your studies rather than dilute your efforts by running for a seat on the School Board. I find your responses to suffer from poor word choices, awkward rhetoric, inappropriate metaphors & other failures of style. Most egregious, however, is your lack of basic reading comprehension as seen in your responses to both Robert & to Mrs. Kornreich. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt & assume that you have not been taught that which you need to know. And as a former professor having taught graduate level criminal justice & public administration I can assure you that the shortcomings evident in you now will follow you into your advanced studies should you choose to attend college. The very fact that the majority of Maryland high school graduates are deemed woefully unprepared by colleges & universities is a clarion call which parents & students have ignored for far too long. Please concentrate your efforts on your studies & find someone who can teach you to write!
Corey Andrews February 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Please keep the insults coming.
Jack February 29, 2012 at 05:47 AM
I do not believe any degree of education is a prerequisite for public service nor do I believe being a professional student automatically provides for the ability to make intelligent decisions. "The very fact that the majority of Maryland high school graduates are deemed woefully unprepared by colleges & universities is a clarion call which parents & students have ignored for far too long." Shall we add the fact they are unprepared for the workforce as well? It does appear young Mr. Andrews and Anne are in agreement. I am not going to hold his youth against him nor am I going to blame him for our failure to provide our children with a quality education. At 17 for Mr. Andrews to abandon his principals of bringing change to the system and settle for the poor quality education the hcpss has to offer would be a mistake. I wish him the best and I am sure he will work for both the community and his future as they are the same to him.
Jack February 29, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Principles, oh well, I am for abandoning our principals as well. The hcpss has not learned anything. The public outcry to Craddlerock, Reservoir and the lack of schools in the east amongst other things demanded some form of appeasement,nothing more. The people who sat in the hcpss for years and ignored these problems should be held accountable and fired.
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Kate, I was an award winning teacher for 25 years at Owen Brown Middle School/Cradlerock School/Lake Elkon Middle and was administratively transferred after expressing concerns to Dr. Cousin (whose children attended Owen Brown) at a District Planning Team Committee meeting about the newly hired principal, Linda Carter's (Michelle Rhee's old principal with the bogus test scores), practices at Owen Brown. It is not the new members of the BOE who are irresponsible but Mrs. French, Mr. Aquino, Mrs. Flynn-Giles and Dr. Siddiqui. They rubber stamp each and every suggestion brought to them by Central Office Staff. Mr. Dyer is trashed because he is obsessed (stop the law suites, Allen) with transparency. Ask Mrs. Giles why she voted against the addition of Pupil Personnel worker to support the 600 homeless children we have in Howard County. Do your research, Kate. Kate, read the fine print and ask for data/metrics that inform any program not driven by test scores. Check out the composition of the GT classes, look at the suspension rate data, examine who and where the dropouts are, examine technology usage, ask how professional development is being evaluated and how Cultural Proficiency is closing the achievement gap before you blame the new members and the student member who votes with them. Open your eyes and ask the opinion of the people who are the boots on the ground.
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 01:05 AM
"Our elementary students only study social studies and science for 1/3 of the school year. Why? Because they are not on the standardized test." Great point, Leslie. The children complain about this during the Simulated Congressional Hearings. As a former middle school and high school teacher, I was not aware of this until the children complained during the follow-up after the hearings.
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Corey, you are gaining the experience you will need to become Governor or President.
Corey Andrews March 04, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Haha. Yes, definitely, even though I would be crazy to ever want to be Governor or President. On a serious note, though, I have no interest in thoughtfully responding to people like this who would rather hurl an insult than give real criticism.
Liz B March 04, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Having had a child go through the highly touted Howard county school system, I believe most of the credit goes to the high educational level and high income of the parents in this county. The majority of kids leave the doorsteps of their homes knowing well what is expected of them from their parents, in spite of the fights, drugs, theft and everything else that goes on within the walls of Howard cty schools. The parents make the schools' job easy and makes the school system what it is. Anyone can tell you that teachers in low performing schools work far harder than those in schools where the parental influence to succeed is strong. Sorry, after seeing other school districts, I'm not impressed.
Jack March 04, 2012 at 05:53 AM
The hiring and seperation reports combined with the data on the school profile leave a telling trail. Not only could you see the disparity between the schools but you could see jumps in scores when they were redistricted in an effort to hide problems. The problem is we are being sold an illusion. The inflated worth of the hcpss attracts wealth and displaces current residents.
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Liz B and Jack make excellent points.
edb March 04, 2012 at 01:21 PM
It's the dirty little secret in HoCo that if you really want your child to succeed, parents must supplement the education, With the great wealth in HoCo, many parents are able to afford this with tutoring (I do). Americans have been lead to believe that our education system is superior to other countries and we stick our heads in the sand (we feel entitled here in HoCo, and we should, considering that 60 cents of our tax dollars goes toward education),,,,other ethnic cultures realize that it's not all that great and their children go to private tutoring after attending public school all day Ask any Chinese/American child living in HoCo and they will tell you that after school is filled with Math tutoring, Writing instruction, Chinese lessons, Science class, Music classes etc. etc. etc. We would have better prepared children if (especially in elem school) teachers were allowed to really teach instead of having to teach to the inane standardized test. We need to get back to the basics. And yes Nicole, it is the responsibility of the school system to educate our children, especially with the enormous budget that has been provided to them through the tax dollars of the citizens. Unfortunately, there seems to be mismanagement of that money and an ever increasing amount of money spent to teach to the All Mighty Standardized Test. It's a lose, lose situation for our children and that is very sad.
Robert Rhodes March 05, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Ann, "...award winning teacher for 25 years at Owen Brown Middle School/ Cradlerock School/Lake Elkon Middle...?" Exactly what teaching awards did you receive over 25 years (and please do give us the exact name of each award, the year in which each award was received, and the name of the organization from which each award was given)? We are all guessing that among those numerous teaching awards was not one for spelling...Lake Elkhorn Middle School.
Ann Delacy March 05, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Thanks for asking, Robert. I was awarded a Howard County Public Schools Merit Teacher Winner by the Chamber of Commerce based on a submission by the Owen Brown Middle School PTA President. Hammond Middle School PrincipaI Kerry McGowan, then an assistant principal at Owen Brown attended the activity. I was nominated by two students, one from Owen Brown and one from Mt. Hebron Hight School (and have a mug and book to prove it) as a "Whose Who Among American Teachers." The years I won these honors were 2003--the student was Nick Fambro--and 2005. The student in 2005 chose not to release her/her name. It's true, I am a horrible speller but I never lie. NEXT??????
Robert Rhodes March 05, 2012 at 10:43 PM
No one, not even me, accused you of being a liar concerning your post. Whenever someone who is running for public offices expounds on their award-winning talents without being specific about said awards, it seems only right to inquire. Next???
Thomas Diller March 07, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Very interesting Ann! You label French, Aquino, Giles and Siddiqui as rubber-stampers, yet you praise Dyer. You sat on the OBRC, you watch the board meetings, doesn't Meshkin and Vailancourt vote more often with French, Aquino, Giles and Siddiqui than with Dyer? Why is that? And then you go on bash Giles (someone who would straight up SMOKE you in ANY debate about policy, budget, programs, law, the school system in general, etc.) because she voted against the addition of a PPW right after the board had discussed adding $1,000,000 to the budget for the new digital learning program, adding another attorney, adding the "lean" position, and Pam Blackwell testifying that there wasn't an increase in children utilizing the services of PPWs. When you gave your little presentation as a representative of the OBRC, didn't you say that you PERSONALLY FELT that the budget didn't adequately prepare for the pension shift? And now your bashing a board member (one of four) who voted against raising the budget even more by adding another PPW? Didn't Meshkin also vote against adding one???????
Jack March 07, 2012 at 06:41 AM
Thomas, "doesn't Meshkin and Vailancourt vote more often with...." Thomas you're obsessed in an unhealthy way, you already asked both Meshkin and Vailancourt about their votes at Howardpubliced and they both answered you. What is this the third time since then you asked someone else about their votes? Are you trying to make a point or do you believe if you continue to repeat the question to people it will somehow change the answer Meshkin and Vailancourt publicly gave you? Then there is this unhealthy obsession you have for all things Dyer. You need help. So what is the real point you make here???? I am not sure but more and more you appear to be a coward with an interest in allowing the hcpss continue to operate without oversight at the mercy of the incompetence in the administration with their hands in the pockets of the tax payer.
Thomas Diller March 07, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Oh good, here's Jack with another completely irrelevant response to a post that he obviously didn't read. Meshkin and Vailancourt "both answered (me)" about what? What did I ask them Jack? And what did they "publicly" respond to? Please go to that cesspool of a listserv (Howardpubliced) and, in your response to this post, please post the links to their "responses" to me (or whatever it is that you're babbling about now).
Jack March 07, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Thomas, "doesn't Meshkin and Vailancourt vote more often with...." Find it yourself , you have been a member there for a long time. Now grow up and quit harassing people.
Ann Delacy March 07, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Jack, how about allowing me to put one of my signs in your yard? You can contact me at anndelacy@verizon.net.
Thomas Diller March 07, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Jack, I looked everywhere on the site for these imaginary posts that you're talking about and I don't see them anywhere. Since your memory appears to be better than mine in this instance, please post a link to what you're talking about.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »