As a service to our readers, The Business Monthly has asked candidates running for office in the Board of Education races in our coverage area to provide responses to a short questionnaire. Their responses follow unedited.

Maryland’s primary election day is May 14. Early voting runs from May 2 through May 9.

Questions for Board of Education candidates:

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

Councilmanic District 1

Gloria D. Dent: No response. No campaign website listed.

Ciera M. Harlee: No response. No campaign website listed.

Sarah F. Lacey: No response. No campaign website listed.

Hunter J. Voss: No response. Campaign website https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61558176593388

Councilmanic District 2

Robert A. Silkworth: No response. Campaign website http://robertasilkworth.com.

Councilmanic District 3

Jamie Hurman-Cougnet: No response. Campaign website JHCforDistrict3.com and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100095499584105&mibextid=ZbWKwL

Julia Laws: No response. No campaign website listed.

Erica McFarland: Campaign website ericamcfarland.com and facebook.com/friendsofericamcfarland

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

I have the heart of a teacher. I started school for Elementary Education before I became a wife and mom. As a parent, I volunteered for thousands of hours in the school, assisting teachers both in the classroom and behind the scenes with copying, laminating and other tasks. I really enjoyed being present in the school and helping to support the teachers. It also helped me to see the challenges that our teachers and staff face such as supply shortages and just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Through countless field trips, scout camp outs, career day, working in the classroom, being a cheerleading parent, helping out with the Chesapeake High School Robotics Team, and in my mentorship positions as an adult leader, I have consistently shown up for our children and continue to do so. Currently, I am serving on the AACPS Citizen Advisory Committee and the AACPS Strategic Planning Committee. I’m taking advantage of every opportunity to learn and serve. 

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

We need to ensure that each student is fully prepared for what’s next in their learning and post-graduation. Within our diverse set of learners, we must foster an environment where every student is given the tools to be successful in school and in whatever comes next- whether it be college, a trade school, an apprenticeship, a career, or the military. A well-rounded education paves the way for success in life. To meet this standard, we need to have enough teachers, mental health professionals, special education educators, nurses, food service workers, bus drivers, and all other positions that are critical to the needs in our schools. We need to offer competitive pay in today’s market and foster a positive work environment. I would consider it a great success to create a school system where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to do great things. The value of a great education cannot be understated. 

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

I support the pillars of the Maryland Blueprint; however, it requires oversight to make sure that what looks good on paper is producing the desired result. As a member of the community and as a member of the board, if elected, I will watch carefully to see that the intent of the Blueprint is properly implemented in a way that connects the students with the resources they require to be successful. Ensuring that what is mandated is funded while we maintain high standards already in place is certainly a challenge, but I am excited about the intentions of the Blueprint, and I am ready to rise to the challenge.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

I trust our educators and librarians to choose a wide range of age-appropriate books that reflect the diversity of our student population. Reading instills a love for learning, develops a creative imagination, challenges our mindset, supports us through tough times, and teaches us about the world around us. We are all unique in what speaks to us and we have the choice to read a book or leave it on the shelf, but we need to maintain diversity in book choices so that we all have access to the books that spark our interest.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I fully support efforts to celebrate diversity, ensure equity, and to be inclusive of all our students, teachers and their families. Every person should feel welcomed and included in our schools and be provided with the resources and tools that they need to be successful.

Chuck Yocum: No response. Campaign website chuckyocum4boe.com and facebook.com/chuckyocum4boe

Councilmanic District 4

Sarah J. McDermott: No response. Campaign website www.sarahforaacps.com

Stephanie Mutchler: No response. No campaign website listed.

Juan Carlos Villao: No response. Campaign website https://sites.google.com/view/votevillao

Councilmanic District 5

Tareque O. Farruk: No campaign website listed.

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

I’ve been active in community engagement through roles in the PTA and coaching youth sports, understanding the importance of service-based leadership. With over 30 years of experience in corporate America, including 15 years in leadership roles with private equity firms, I’m committed to leveraging my expertise in leadership development and organizational management to benefit Anne Arundel County’s education system. Throughout my career, I’ve held executive positions, accumulating extensive sales experience and overseeing eight-figure company sales. Now, as the owner of High Point Consulting, where I collaborate with my wife, we provide business development and growth coaching to professionals. I’m passionate about uniting our community to enhance our children’s education. With my background in leadership and administration, I’m ready to bring my dedication and service-oriented approach to ensure every student in Anne Arundel County receives a high-quality, inclusive education.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term?

1.Respecting all communities: As your representative on the Board of Education, I am dedicated to strengthening policies that foster an inclusive environment embracing all cultures. Despite AACPS’s efforts to promote inclusivity, many parents, students, and community members still feel marginalized and unheard. 2. Returning the focus to Academics: The Focus of AACPS has incrementally moved away from what its core mission should be: academics. Academics should be the first and core focus of any school system. Governance should be with the understanding that the outcome is an educated student. 3. Respect in the Classroom: A culture of respect should be woven into AACPS starting in the classroom. I have heard from teachers and students concerns about disruptive and violent behavior in our schools. As a member of the Board, I am committed to crafting a focused policy agenda that supports classrooms free from disciplinary disruptions.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

This reporting period comes as leaders in the Maryland General Assembly continue work on the $63 billion state budget. Legislative budget analysts have warned a budget deficit is looming starting in fiscal year 2026 at $1 billion and that, two years after that, it could increase to $3 billion. Part of the reason for the anticipated deficit is fulfilling the requirements in the 10-year, $3.8 billion Blueprint plan. I would evaluate the merit of possibly slowing down the implementation some, it would be more sustainable financially for all of our counties and for the state.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

I don’t believe in the overall concept of book banning. But there should be an evaluation process on sexually explicit material that doesn’t belong in front of the eyes of kids. A book would be rated “sexually explicit” if the material is deemed offensive and not part of the required educational curriculum.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

These are some of the points I would evaluate and address. 1. Develop Equity-Oriented Policies 2. Provide Professional Development 3. Diverse Representation 4. Address Socioeconomic Disparities 5. Promote Inclusive School Culture 6. Allocate Resources Equitably 7. Community Engagement 8. Data Collection and Evaluation. By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of equity and inclusion, schools can create an environment where all students and staff have the opportunity to thrive.

LaToya Nkongolo: No response. Campaign website latoya4boe.com and facebook.com/latoya4boe

Dana Schallheim: No response. Campaign website Danaforboe.com and facebook.com/danaboed5

Councilmanic District 6

Edilene Barros: No response. No campaign website listed.

Joanne Bache Tobin: Campaign website www.joannaforboardofed.com

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

My beliefs about education took root during my earliest years living in Asia, Central America, and Africa. My father was a U.S. foreign service officer; the family frequently relocated. Being a minority student in public schools was my parents’ conscious gift to me. In Nigeria, I shared a tiny desk with students who walked long distances barefooted to school because education mattered. In Cameroon, I started school not speaking the language. I attended high school and college in the U.S. and eventually was a faculty member at St. John’s College where I had earned an M.A. before earning my Ph.D. from Georgetown University. For 20 years I’ve been a senior moderator for the Aspen Institute’s leadership seminars, enhancing my own leadership and governance skills along the way. I also lead teams evaluating public charter school networks for accreditation. I’ve chaired the Board of Trustees for a local private school and served as PTSA Vice President at Annapolis High School, where my daughter graduated in 2020. On the BOE, I’ve served as Policy Committee chair and as BOE President, twice elected by Board colleagues. As President, I oversaw the hiring of a new AACPS superintendent in 2022.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

My top priorities include closing the opportunity and achievement gaps while also developing stronger gifted and talented programming, and supporting culturally responsive teaching and diverse hiring. We must continue to increase compensation for  teachers and staff to ensure AACPS is competitive with surrounding districts and other counties to attract and retain the best teachers, administrators, and staff. We must also hire sufficient counselors, psychologists, and social workers to ensure students’ mental health needs are met. Most importantly, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future must be implemented with fidelity.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

The unfunded requirements of the Blueprint leave ample opportunity for local control in school funding. Opportunities include innovative instruction and curriculum, particularly in math and reading, and providing greater mental health supports for students. Meanwhile, the areas mandated by the Blueprint, such as free pre-k for low-income families, starting salaries that adequately reflect educators’ education and preparation, and emphasizing career and college readiness, all align with improving student outcomes. The Blueprint also forces educational funding to areas most likely to see the greatest return on investment. Decades of research have been clear, for example, that funding early learning is far more effective in supporting students’ academic success, and cheaper, than funding later remediation. Similarly, paying educators well supports retention, a far more efficient use of funds than hiring and training new teachers. I believe we must continue to work with state legislators to ensure the Blueprint is adjusted where necessary, such as developing more accessible paths for credentialing early educators. Faithfully implementing the Blueprint, however, will result in education funding that is far more effective, efficient, and likely to reduce costs incurred by such things as remedial programs and the broader societal costs of youth incarceration.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

I am unaware of an urgent need to address the books available to students in AACPS media centers. Nevertheless, should any caregiver have a concern about a book available to students, there are policies and processes in place whereby they may request a review of a book. AACPS media specialists are highly trained and work to determine which books and materials are developmentally appropriate and meet the academic and social and emotional needs and interests of students at various ages. I trust highly trained AACPS staff to make the appropriate decisions based on those standards and all other best practices when they determine initial acquisitions and when serving on a review committee for a specific book.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I support AACPS’ approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Every student must feel a genuine sense of belonging in their school to grow and succeed. The AACPS system has made steady progress over recent years, but there is still much to do if every student is to have access to all the opportunities that the schools provide. In addition to closing opportunity and achievement gaps generally, areas in need of continued improvement include providing transportation for all students for school-based extra curricular activities, as well as ensuring that all students who walk to school have safe and appropriate walking routes available. Fuller implementation of truly inclusive environments for students with special needs is also critical. Finally, the Superintendent’s listening and learning sessions throughout the county have made significant improvement in parent engagement opportunities, but additional work to increase channels for parent communication and involvement at the school-based level is also important. Supporting those channels for parent communication will require fully staffing counselor and social worker positions as well as sufficient funding to keep class size to appropriate numbers to enable educators to give each student and family the attention necessary.

Councilmanic District 7

Dawn Pulliam: No campaign website listed.

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

Bachelor’s degree in government and politics with a minor in Spanish; Master of Science in Business (Marketing and Finance) from the University of Maryland. 28 years working in academia, industry, and government. 23 years at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, 4 years at Lockheed Martin, and current work supporting the Department of Defense, I’ve created and led programs preparing students for various career pathways (high school and college), including STEM-related research and education programs. Extensive experience managing large budgets and contracts in academia, government, and industry. Volunteer support for families navigating the college entry process, including applications, grants, FAFSA, tutoring, and mentoring. Active member of the AACPS ICST Board. With a background spanning academia, industry, and government, including extensive experience in higher education and budget management, as well as work in STEM education, I am well-prepared for this role. Over 28 years, I’ve developed programs preparing students for college, trade schools, and the workforce. I’ve also managed large budgets and contracts and supported families through the college entry process.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term?

Focusing attention in the classroom to drive academic success to include: 1. Create a distraction-free, safe, and supportive learning environment where teachers can inspire innovative and creative problem-solving skills in students. 2. Ensure that every student has access to exceptional educational resources and opportunities, empowering them to excel academically, socially, and emotionally. This includes preparedness for students going to college, entering a technical trade, or immediately entering the workforce. 3. Providing transparency and strengthening the relationship between parents/caregivers/teachers. 4. Providing oversight and accountability by using classroom experiences, formal training, and senior executive skills to prioritize funding, set sensible policies, and work with AACPS leaders to keep Anne Arundel County values in our schools. 5. No Politics and Social Agendas in the Classroom. Politics can infiltrate our classrooms and distract learning. We need curriculum and policies that empower teaching kids how to think critically … not what to think. If elected, my top priorities would include creating a safe and distraction-free learning environment, ensuring students are prepared for various post-graduation paths, and strengthening communication between schools and families.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend? 

Unfunded mandates create HUGE cost shares for local governments. Moreover, money

that does come from the state is often earmarked and comes with spending restrictions. The Local Board of Education has limited control over where and how it spends money. If elected, I will work with state legislatures to ease blueprint mandates and ensure local control with the AACO Board of Education. Returning local control to education will be a top priority of mine if elected to the board of education. The Blueprint’s unfunded mandates impose significant financial burdens on local governments, limiting their control over school funding. I recommend advocating for greater local control in spending and easing Blueprint mandates through collaboration with state legislators.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

We need a proper process that will ensures that our tax dollars are funding age-appropriate material. Addressing the content of media center books, particularly graphic novels containing inappropriate material, is crucial. I do not support the inclusion of pornography in any form within educational materials.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I believe that ALL students should be treated with the same respect as others. I support treating all students and their families with equal respect and inclusion. Any changes to the school system’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion should ensure fairness and respect for all students.

Jeremy York: No response. Campaign website voteyork.org.

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