Jill Ortman-Fouse Questionnaire Responses

Brickyard Coalition Inc.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATES 2014

Name

Jill Ortman-Fouse
Street Address9419 Wire Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20901
BOE Election District
At-Large
Education
B.A. in media communications, UNC Chapel Hill, 1986.
Coursework toward Master in Public Health from UMD College Park
Occupation
Self-employed at T.E.A.M. Consulting. Strategic planning, facilitation, team building and leadership coaching.

 

Questions:

1. If elected to the Board, what would be your top three priorities for the next four years?

1) Promote a culture of responsiveness, accountability and transparency. 

We have an amazing population in Montgomery County. Our residents are talented, skilled, resourceful, entrepreneurial, and diverse – they have critical knowledge and know-how to contribute. We have experienced and cause-driven residents who want to make a difference. Our school system and BOE need to listen and respond to their questions and ideas. They must see our residents as partners not impediments. We need to find more ways to say “yes” to our community because the best ideas don’t always come from the top.

We need to take advantage of the resources of our unique population and their connections to educational and research institutions, non-profits and arts organizations among others. They want to be partners in the success of our students. 

In order to better encourage these partnerships, we must focus on transparency and accountability in decision-making. I recommend we start with the MCPS budget, and review each department’s funding according to measurable outcomes. Our school system uses more than half the budget of the county. We must ensure that these precious resources are being used on proven strategies for the maximum benefit of our students.

2) Attack the achievement/engagement gap.

It is in our county’s best interest for all of our students in our school system to have the scaffolding they need to reach their potential. As the county counsel’s Office of Legislative Oversight’s report on the achievement gap details, too many of our students are falling through the cracks. We do have a large cohort of students who are highly successful – and we are very proud of that. However too many students with special needs, low- income, African American and Hispanic students are being left behind. The future of our county rests on our engaging these students. We have a unique combination of resources that positions us well to be a model for the country on creating equity in opportunity. 

By listening to our teachers and principals and giving them the support they need, we will better be able to help all of our students reach their potential. We must give teachers what they have asked for: more planning time, smaller class sizes, flexibility in the classroom, trained support staff, etc. We also must provide the professional development opportunities to implement proven strategies for success. In addition, education is not isolated to the classroom. Our school system needs to work with the county as a team to better connect the resources inside and outside our schools; and to support the emotional, social and physical health of our students and their families. 

3) Support the whole child.

Reading and math scores on standardized tests do not define our students. We live in one of the most culturally rich regions in the country. We need to expand opportunities for our students’ enrichment such as courses and hands-on experiences that build a love of science, history, the arts, physical health and well-being. Such opportunities include field trips to places like Brickyard Farm so students can learn where real food comes from!

We must recognize and support the needs of the whole child – emotional, physical, social and academic. Hiring back the counseling and support staff that have been cut over the last several years is a first step.

2. Please list what you consider to be the top three failures of MCPS over the past four years and what you think should have been done to address these issues.

1) The achievement gap. 

As referenced above the achievement gap has widened over the last few years. Over the past years, I have worked with other parents in leadership, stakeholder and advisory positions in our school system. We have identified the barriers to success, and the needs of our most vulnerable students. And yet, we continue to struggle with MCPS to address those barriers and needs. MCPS’s proposed budget includes initiatives we have asked for in the past, but it is too little too late for too many of our students.

2) Unresponsiveness. 

There has been a lack of collaboration between MCPS and the community. This disconnect has wasted the time of countless residents who feel they must get louder and hang on longer just to be heard. This approach by MCPS has created needless animosity, and worst yet, the loss of potential partnerships that could have made a true difference for our children.

3) Lack of flexibility. 

Our school system is large, but I believe we need to take a careful look at the bureaucracy of our school administration. When an organization is top-heavy it can unnecessarily complicate the practical realities of getting the job done on the ground.  Each school in our system has a unique history, environment and population combination. Too often a one size fits all model has created the exact barriers to student success that we are trying to break down. For example, the range of learning needs in our classrooms now is extensive. By ignoring teachers’ requests we have lost experienced staff from high-need schools. By not hiring bilingual staff, as principals have requested, we have made it harder for families to engage and children to learn who have come to our county from other countries. By discouraging flexible schedules we have lost the opportunity for more electives for our students. 

3.  Would you be willing to support an issue or program even if the Superintendent did not?  If so, please provide three examples over the past two years where you have disagreed with or voted against a request or recommendation to the Board of Education by Superintendent Starr. (Non-incumbents please list three areas where you would have disagreed with Superintendent Starr had you been a BOE member.)   

1) Brickyard farm. The BOE leased school system land to the county without community input. Documents of the land transfer went “missing.” Suffice it to say, this decision represents the lack of transparency and responsiveness that is motivating my run for school board.

2) Staffing for schools. Current formulas for staffing do not best support the needs of students. For example, our ratio of students to school psychologists is up to four times the total recommended by the national professional organization representing school psychologists. School psychologists prepare the individualized educational plans for our students with learning needs. Despite strong advocacy, we remain understaffed. The same is true for counselors, community parent coordinators and high school registrars. Budget decisions that are not responsive to the needs of our students contribute to an unacceptable failure rate of our most vulnerable students, and put all students at greater risk for negative outcomes both inside and outside of school.

3) Polystyrene trays. As environmentally knowledgeable as Montgomery County is, it is a disgrace that we are still using Styrofoam trays in our school cafeterias. Our school system incinerates over 5 million trays annually. About a quarter of U.S. school systems have given up the trays, and we are out of step. Even though our County Council has spoken against the trays, our BOE continues to support their use. 

4.  Would you support and vote for providing the Board of Education members with full time professional staff to assist in fulfilling their elected duty to provide oversight of MCPS?  What specifically would your recommend?

Assigning additional staff to each board member is part of my platform. I do not believe that our BOE members are able to adequately manage the oversight of half the budget of the county without their own staff. In addition, they do not have the resources for the independent analysis necessary to guide best decision making and policy on behalf of schools. One option is to move staff from MCPS’s office of accountability under the purview of the BOE. 

5.  The Potomac Elementary School is one of the oldest schools in the MCPS system but funding for a new school was once again delayed this past year.  If elected to the BOE, will you commit to provide funding for a new Potomac Elementary School without any further delay?  

I have explored in detail the status of our MCPS facilities with the director of facility construction. I am still confused as to why our oldest and most overcapacity facilities are not receiving the funding they need to move construction forward. Especially given conversations that I’ve had with parents at other schools who have said they don’t want the construction they are being assigned, and don’t want to go to holding schools while it happens; or whose schools have recently been renovated (within the last two years) and are now on schedule to get rebuilt. A priority for me, if elected to the Board of Education, would be that the community’s input would be honored in the assignment of construction funding. Potomac Elementary, as one of the oldest schools, and where the community has clearly expressed the need, should receive funding.

6. Do you believe that public school land leased directly or indirectly to a private entity should conform to all Montgomery County zoning, master plan and other land use regulations that would apply to a private landowner?

Yes. The zoning and planning regulations exist for the protection of our community. Transparency requires consistency in their application.

7. Do you believe that any lease of school property should be made through competitive bidding and after public input regarding the best use of the property? 

Yes. Once again, transparency requires that the lease of school property be a public process, with decisions made in the best interest of the community. 

8.  The two MCPS Bus Depots at Shady Grove must be relocated to another site and other MCPS Depots are over capacity.  As we understand, there is a joint work group made up of MCPS and County staff led by the Department of General Services considering alternative locations for the Bus Depot. Would you favor or oppose the use of the Brickyard school site, located on a residential road with 3 traffic circles and 11 speed bumps, as a location for use by MCPS as a bus depot? 

I would oppose the use of the Brickyard site for location of a bus depot. The combination of location features of residential area, traffic circles and speed bumps prevent it from being a suitable or appropriate location. 

9. Assuming the selection process was made by competitive bid, would you favor using of the Brickyard school site as an organic educational farm in furtherance of the No Child Left Inside policy and as suggested by Governor O’Malley?

Yes. The organic educational farm is an example of the enrichment of education that I support. In addition, I believe I can be a strong advocate for this effort given my background in environmental advocacy and children’s health.

10. As a member of the Board, what would you do to improve the relationship between MCPS/BOE and the County Council?

My philosophy is that education is just like public health. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we invest wisely and comprehensively in a rich education that addresses the whole child, we will have a highly competent workforce and population that will help our county to thrive. The fact is, we all need to work together to make them happen. We can’t continue the territorial battles. It is imperative that MCPS, the BOE, County Council and our state reps all work together to make narrowing this gap a priority. I have been lobbying our county and state legislators for many years, working with the MCCPTA legislative committee and as citizen activist to secure the necessary resources for our schools so that all children can achieve success. I have developed excellent relationships with them as is evidenced by their endorsements. I have presented testimony before the House Ways and Means committee in Annapolis at the request of our Maryland state delegation. I look forward to working with all of them as a team unified by our common value of supporting our children.

I am about community and collaboration, and have been for my entire adult life. Whether I was producing documentaries on illiteracy, poverty and homelessness, or serving as a full-time volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and building houses in Guatemala, Mexico, and Costa Rica, or whether it was as president of my neighborhood association, or as president of our elementary school PTA, I have been about getting the job the done — fixing what isn’t working – and building bridges so people can work together for common goals. It’s what I do for my job, and it is what I want to do for Montgomery County.

11. If you are elected to the Board, will you commit to insist the BOE apply for mandatory referral with the Maryland National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission for any change of use of a school property before the BOE authorizes such change of use by resolution, agreement or other methods, as required by the Regional District Act?

Absolutely. The BOE cannot supersede established county planning and regulatory policies, or override the hierarchy of law as established by the construct of state government. 

12. Please share with us an overview of your campaign (including your key endorsements, major donors, fundraising, and campaign plan) and why you will be a competitive candidate.

I have been endorsed by a spectrum of leadership from the state to community level. I was very pleased to have Sen. Jamie Raskin, County Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, MD Attorney General Doug Gansler, Jeremy Crandall on behalf of Heather Mizeur (who was voting in Annapolis), and author and WaPo columnist Donna Britt, all speak in support of my campaign at my launch. I have also been endorsed by Takoma Park City Councilmembers Seth Grimes and Tim Male. I am receiving union and community group endorsements which have not been formally announced yet. A long list of community leaders to candidates has endorsed me. Among them: Alan Bowser (candidate for Clerk of Courts) and Evan Glass (County Council D5 candidate), Class Acts Arts founder Busy Graham, Young Democrats Vice President Will Roberts, civic activists from across the county including Diana Conway and Jean Cavanaugh. 

We plan to have over $13K in our account by the end of April. Our team is partnering with staff from other campaigns who have endorsed me to drop my lit, cohost events and share strategy. We will be designing a strategy that includes targeted canvassing and covering all important polling sites on election days.

13.  Why do you feel you are qualified to serve as a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education?

I work hard for efficient, common sense solutions, and I have a proven track record of success. I believe in building bridges with those who are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our kids and our county, and have worked together with teams of students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials on myriad school issues over the last 10 years in many different roles on the community, county, state and national level. 

My positions in school service include PTA president, Instructional Improvement Team member and MCCPTA delegate. I was also appointed to the MCPS Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and several stakeholder committees (principal selection, superintendent characteristics, etc.). As a member of the PAC, I sat on principal training panels, was a workshop facilitator and conducted welcoming environment surveys for schools, all with the goal of empowering families in their students’ education.

I also participated in the MCPS Study Circles program and have served on a national committee focused on schools as centers of community. When grassroots mobilization was necessary I have helped form coalitions and ad-hoc groups to push for better outcomes. I've spent most of my adult life committed to making a difference with my career and in my community work,  including serving as a full-time volunteer for Habitat for Humanity building homes in Latin America, on the board of our local YMCA and as president of my neighborhood association. I enjoy taking on challenges and I don’t give up, attributes that helped me complete an ironman-distance triathlon last year. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, and collaborating with our residents for the brightest future for all Montgomery County’s students.