School board: Rae Gallagher | 2022 Primary Voters Guide | #Education

Rae Gallagher

Where you live: New Market

Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two previous jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Program director (Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.) with the Center for Supportive Schools 

Political experience (public offices held and when; as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years; do not include political party positions): Appointed to the Board of Education in 2020; ran for Board of Education in 2020, but was not elected.  

PTA or other school district-related experience: I am a member of my children’s PTO at their elementary school. In my professional role, I work with schools and districts in Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., to build leadership classes, peer mentoring, and social-emotional learning curriculum into school communities. I provide curriculum support, educator training, and classroom coaching to educators to help build safe, supportive, collaborative learning environments for middle and high school students.

1 – Why are you running for the school board? (75 words max)

I am running for the BOE because as a parent, as a community member, and as a professional deeply connected to education systems, I am personally invested in the success of FCPS. There is no greater investment of our county’s resources than the investment in the future of our students. Our entire community wins when we have a strong education system — and we need elected officials to keep pushing for positive change. 

2 – What is the most important issue in this race? How specifically would you address it? (100 words max)

A primary concern is the recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers and staff. Our pay scale is not competitive, but compensation is just one aspect of attracting and retaining high quality educators. The expectation that school-system employees will simply continue to do whatever it takes to get the job done is increasingly untenable. I will take long-term action in the budget planning process to ensure that all of FCPS’s employees access a comprehensive and competitive salary and benefit structure. I will work closely with other board members, teachers and staff to address workload, though solutions will not be easy.

3 – What experience (work, political or other) has prepared you to hold this position? (100 words max)

My educational and professional background is in nonprofit management and administration. My career has focused on providing support, advocacy, and youth development for students and their families. I currently work as a program director for the Center for Supportive Schools, where I have the privilege of working alongside educators and staff on social-emotional learning initiatives to build leadership capacity and peer mentoring for middle and high school students. I previously served on the BOE in 2020 and I developed a good understanding of the importance of working with other BOE members in a collaborative, compassionate, and effective team.

4 – What is one major issue the current school board has handled poorly? What would you have done differently? (100 words max)

In 2021, the Board of Education allowed employee contract negotiations to extend far beyond the start of the new contract year. In this negotiation process, teachers and staff re-entered school buildings in the midst of a pandemic without any promise of COVID-19 leave or clear directions on COVID-19 communication protocols. As a BOE member, I would recognize that FCPS remained afloat through the efforts of educators and staff who maintained their commitment to students — even when it put their own health at risk — and prioritized a fair and expedient process to complete negotiations.

5 – Has the district responded appropriately to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into restraints and seclusions? (100 words max)

The DOJ report highlighted how underresourced many schools and programs are, and that must be the first thing addressed. FCPS needs a comprehensive strategic plan to address deficiencies in staffing and resources that led to systemic use of seclusion and restraint. The plan should guide all aspects of programming to limit restraint and fully invest in our most vulnerable students, and the adults who serve them. When students have a well-trained professional in the learning setting who can recognize and address escalation of behaviors to appropriately de-escalate, restraints are less likely used while still maintaining the safety of all students.  

6 – What do you think of the district’s family life curriculum? (100 words max)

The current attack on members of the LGBTQ+ community perpetuated by other BOE candidates under the guise of “parental rights” in opposition to the newly adopted health curriculum standards is divisive, hateful, and hurtful. As a parent and community member, I support the family life curriculum and the ways in which the committee members and board members take curriculum standards and introduce resources and discussions in age-appropriate ways. The curriculum covers important topics to raise awareness about body autonomy, recognizing/respecting identity, and a variety of other health topics that are essential for students.

7 – What do you think of the school board’s choice of Cheryl Dyson as superintendent and of the process for choosing her? (100 words max)

I do not have any direct experience working with Dr. Dyson and I have not yet met her, so I have not formed any direct opinion of her. However, she is highly qualified and I am excited to see what Dr. Dyson will bring to FCPS from her background and experience. From an outside perspective, the process appeared thorough and I appreciated the opportunity for stakeholder input. However, I was concerned that during the interview process, only one student voice was included during meetings with the search committee. The board appeared to work quickly and efficiently through the process. 

8 – Frederick County ranks below other similar school districts for teacher pay. Does the district need to address that? How? (100 words max)

When looking at pay scales for teaching professionals across Maryland, FCPS consistently ranks at the bottom for teacher pay, particularly at entry points for employment. It is beyond time that we as a county, state, and nation invest in our education system in a way that supports and honors the people doing the work. As a member of the BOE, I will take long-term action in the budget planning process to ensure that all of FCPS’s employees, from bus drivers to substitutes to food & nutrition services to classroom educators, access a full, comprehensive, and competitive salary and benefit structure.

9 – The school district has an achievement gap between students of different racial and ethnic groups. How should the district address this? (100 words max)

Efforts introducing culturally responsive teaching methods, increasing the diversity of teaching professionals and administrators, and expanding access to universal pre-K are strategies to close achievement gaps. More efforts to address the significant achievement gaps for Latinx students — particularly English Language Learners — need to build on language and cultural experiences by accessing core curriculum while building English language skills simultaneously. Increased effort should be directed to ensuring all documents, systemwide announcements, surveys, and  communication are translated to Spanish (at a minimum, as the languages of Frederick County are quite diverse), so that all stakeholders — regardless of English proficiency — can access communications. 

10 – How well did the district handle instruction and safety during the pandemic? (100 words max)

FCPS teachers, staff, and administrators pivoted to meet instruction and safety needs of students throughout the pandemic. Communication from BOE members and superintendent was not always clear regarding metrics for determining building reopening, masking requirements, lunch protocols for distancing, and quarantine procedures in 2021. Board members should have established clear health/safety parameters for the superintendent and staff to problem solve and implement. COVID-19 protocols were not regularly updated and data was irregularly shared. Despite gaps in communication, teachers and staff provided creative problem-solving, involved parents/community members in support at schools, and did their best to meet student needs.

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