By Olivia Adams, 2012-2013 Student Member of the Baltimore County Board of Education and 2013 BCPS graduate
Step back into school for just a moment. Linoleum flooring, scores of metal lockers and an army of students hungry for knowledge and life experience may spring forth from your memory. In addition, a dull roar of complaints about the school, spanning from a lackluster lunchtime spread to an archaic set of school-owned instruments, adds to the chorus of the public school experience.
I’m certainly not an exception to the complaining teenager rule; I have spent countless hours bemoaning to my classmates and teachers about the various shortcomings of my schools. It’s funny, though – I’ve been a student of public schools for the past 13 years, but I never truly understood the system until this past year.
On July 1, 2012, I began my indescribable year as a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education. I’m not quite sure what I expected upon entering my first board meeting; I visualized a room full of suits, and a soundtrack complete with impossible to decipher educational jargon. Although the attire of the room reflected the serious stereotype of a board room, the atmosphere felt more like a classroom than I had expected. The entire board and several members of the BCPS staff showered me with questions about my school and my hopes for the coming year. The beginning of the meeting featured a heartfelt welcome from board President, Mr. Larry Schmidt, and I received applause from the large audience present during open session.
When it became clear to me that student input garners a great deal of attention from the BCPS community, another student my age approached the Board during the advisory and stakeholder portion of public comment. Breana Echols, a senior at Towson High School, represented all BCPS Student Council organizations as the President of Baltimore County Student Councils. She received the same degree of rapt attention as the other speakers, and this characteristic of the Board really impressed me. Not only does BCPS ensure that a student member with partial voting rights sits on the Board of Education every year, but the county system also provides other invaluable outlets for student input, such as BCSC.
During the various reports on topics such as air conditioning and the new teacher evaluations, the Board and BCPS staff members worked together like a well-oiled machine to gather as much information and insight as possible in regards to the system’s endeavors. Board members asked perceptive questions about facts and figures, the impact of certain practices on students and families, and much more. Whenever I moved my microphone to speak, I was treated just as another board member, rather than just a high school student. Respect was and continues to be of upmost important to the Board, and this character enabled the Board to work comprehensively through tough decisions. Disagreements sometimes occurred, but these instances only strengthened the bond between Board members and, subsequently, the strength of the system as a whole.
I did not attend a BCPS middle or elementary school, as I moved to the state of Maryland in 2009, and only completed my high school education here. That sort of perspective has garnered in me a profound sense of pride and appreciation for the work accomplished by this school system. As evident by the system’s commitment to student voice, the most important interest group of the community, BCPS wants to do the right thing for kids. As a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, Superintendent Dance encouraged the development and implementation of the BCPS Inaugural Anti-Bullying Day, which promoted understanding and responsibility throughout the entire county. The Curriculum Committee, quite possibly my favorite aspect of my work with the Board, worked diligently all year to provide ample resources to teachers and principals in the county’s preparation for Common Core State Standards. In addition, the Board, Superintendent, and central office staff’s work to agree on an operating budget for the upcoming school year has enabled the county to alleviate some elementary school overcrowding in the central area, and provide the southeast area with a new STEM magnet program.
This role opened my eyes to the obstacles facing large school districts, and the astounding efforts put forth by those individuals who believe that anything is possible if one is willing to work for it. Every positive outcome oftentimes accompanies a difficult compromise or concession in which the needs of the entire student body of BCPS were deeply considered above all else. With a district as large as BCPS, I’ve learned that not everything will come easily. However, this county is wealthy in dedicated, incredibly passionate leaders who strive to ensure that, regardless of the resources available to us, we will become the greatest public school system in the United States.
I want to thank everyone I have worked with over the past year during my time with the Baltimore County Board of Education. I have learned more about myself this year than I could have ever imagined, and a large part of that came from my time with BCPS.