Friday, September 5, 2014

Q&A with Jackie Fischer, candidate for Board of Education

The following are answers to the WashCo Chronicle Board of Education candidates' questionnaire for Jackie Fischer, candidate for Board of Education. Thank you very much Mrs. Fischer for responding to the questionnaire!

1) Why should the citizens of Washington County vote for you to become a member of the Board of Education?
Incumbents must prove that they have earned re-election.  The end of a four year term is a great time to ask what an incumbent Board of Education member has done to deserve re-election.  For the last four years, I have served as Chair of the School Board’s Policy Committee.  This committee is responsible for reviewing existing policies, drafting and recommending new ones, and ensuring that local policy complies with state and federal requirements.

    State and federal involvement in local educational decisions has dramatically increased during the last four years.  Common Core, student discipline, teacher evaluations, ethics, athletics, and student codes of conduct are just a few examples of areas in which state and federal mandates have infringed on local educational authority.  All of these issues come to the Policy Committee before reaching the full board.  As Policy Chair, I have led the committee and the board in
*communicating the importance of local educational authority to state policymakers,
*meeting our legal obligations while still maintaining as much local autonomy as the law will      allow,
*establishing new standards for determining whether policies and regulations are needed as  well as a new, clearer, streamlined policy format
*reviewing over 150 policies resulting in many consolidations, updates, and/or reformattings
*eliminating many outdated, redundant, or unnecessary policies and regulations.
    For our students, staff, and stakeholders, this work means smaller government, reduced regulation, less bureaucracy, greater efficiency, and a more transparent school system.  If the citizens of Washington County elect me to another term on the Board of Education, I will continue my work to eliminate redundancy, bureaucracy, and unnecessary regulation from our school system.  I have worked to earn your vote as an incumbent and I expect to be held accountable for my work on the board.  All incumbents should welcome this scrutiny.  My record clearly demonstrates what Washington County voters can expect if I am elected to another four-year term.

2) What do you feel the most important challenge is facing today's students? How can the county overcome this challenge, and meet the students' needs?
One huge challenge our students face is adjusting to the more rigorous Common Core Standards (newly renamed the College and Career Readiness Standards).  These lists of what a student should know and what skills they should possess by grade level have been researched and compiled by educators and curriculum specialists from all across this country.  They require students to explore theories and solutions so that they understand the why’s and how’s of language, math, etc.  To help the students, we need to help the teachers.  Common Core is requiring them to look at what they teach differently and, in many cases, to find new resources or adapt familiar resources to use in their instruction.  The school system has been and will continue to provide professional development to teachers and to accumulate many old and new resources from which teachers have the opportunity to choose materials.

3) What has been your biggest challenge in your campaign so far? How have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge in my campaign is getting out and about to do things like meet the public and place signs around the county.  My advancing arthritis coupled with an ankle injury sustained while heading on stage to help with the graduation ceremonies at South Hagerstown High School in 2013 prevent me from walking very far or standing for very long.  I recently purchased a mobility scooter which I am hoping will help me get around better.

4) How do you plan to improve the educational environment for our students?
First, the actual environment of many of our students has been changed for the better as during my two tenures on the school board, five new school buildings were constructed—Rockland Woods, Pangborn, Maugansville, BISFA, and Bester.  In addition, in that time, all of our schools have had various features replaced or enhanced to make the schools more comfortable, safer, and/or more attractive.  Of course, I will promote further improvements and/or new schools, if re-elected, as research actually proves that our students do better educationally in clean, comfortable, pleasant environments.  Also, if re-elected, I will advocate for the addition of technology, not just more computers and tablets, but for the infrastructure that is required to operate these devices and improve their functionality.  I will advocate for the hiring of teachers who are the very best we can find and for increasing diversity amongst our staff so all children have familiar faces to inspire and mentor them.

5) An issue on everyone's mind lately is Common Core.  What are your thoughts on Common Core? Should WCPS implement this national standard, should only local standards be developed to meet local needs, or a combination of both? Please explain.
The Common Core is greatly misunderstood by the general public.  The term “Common Core” has been wrongly substituted for an entire program of changes implemented by the federal and state governments.  The term was recently changed to “College and Career Readiness Standards” to more aptly name it and to halt the confusion between this one segment of the program and the program itself.  The Common Core, or the College and Career Readiness Standards, is a list of what students should know and what skills they should possess by grade levels.  It contains fewer items than have curriculums of the past, but it requires students to understand those items more deeply and to discover answers by exploring and analyzing rather than by memorizing.   It is not a question of IF the county schools should implement these skills and the rest of the program because it was implemented three years ago. Beginning with the primary grades, the standards have been advancing through the grades in succession.   The program as it exists in Maryland is a combination of national regulations as well as some created by the state.  We are locked into it.  The program itself is not bad; colleges have been complaining of freshmen needing remedial classes, employers have been expressing frustration over workers’ poor communication and math skills, and the United States has fallen behind many other modern countries on international tests.  Our standards must be raised to answer to these complaints and to the United States’ declining position in the world.  We want our students to be successful no matter what path they chose following graduation from high school, and we must prepare them to be life-long learners  Additionally, national standards will allow students to transfer from one state to another without finding themselves far ahead or far behind the students in that state.

6) Do you feel that it is more important to elect same-minded individuals to the Board of Education, or more important to elect those with dissenting points of view, to provide a broader range of options? Please explain.
While it is very helpful to have Board of Education members who possess expertise in a variety of areas such as, finance, curriculum/teaching, construction, law, etc., it is more important for Board members to possess respect and trust for one another so they can work together collegially.  Debate and discussion among the members is healthy; it compels everyone to consider the topic from all angles before making a decision.   But in the end, Board members must adhere to the first and greatest concern of any Board member which is the educational welfare of the students attending the public schools.  That is the deciding factor when making a decision.

7) An important part of life is learning from the past, and relaying those life lessons to our children so that they can also learn. What is one of the toughest personal challenges you've faced in your life, and how have you overcome it?
One of the toughest decisions I had to make was whether to pursue a career in education knowing that I was one of three children and that my parents could not afford to pay for college.  I really wanted to be a teacher, but I knew I would have to pay my own way so I worked hard in high school to be an honor graduate.  At graduation, I was awarded a Senatorial scholarship to the University of Maryland.  Unfortunately, it only paid a small part of the cost to go there.   Luckily, at that time, two State colleges in Maryland were offering free tuition if the applicant would sign a pledge to teach for at least five years in the state.  I signed on to this program and chose Frostburg.  To handle the cost of room and board and books, I took out a student loan, and to handle other expenses such as fees, laundry, and paying for occasional rides home, I took on a part-time job at the college.  I managed to complete my required classes, except for student teaching, in 3 and ½ years which meant I saved a semester of college living expenses. I still have the receipt I received the day I paid off my college loan.  I made the right decision and chose the right career.  I will always be a teacher in my heart.
 I have faced other difficult challenges in my life, but I chose to write about this one because in the difficult economic situation facing so many families today, I hope to inspire students who want to attend college, but whose families cannot afford to pay their way.  There are a number of solutions to this situation for students who are willing to search for answers and make some sacrifices.  Programs offered jointly through Washington County Public Schools and Hagerstown Community College can gain students college credits; the military offers training and college money to those who qualify; working for a year or two can provide the funds needed for an education; etc.  These are a few ways of defraying the cost of higher education.  There are ways to accomplish your goal; you just have to work for it.

8) Do you have any closing remarks you would like to share?
Board of Education candidates’ personal lives have become a major issue in this contest, and I would like to share a few facts about myself.  My husband and I have been married for 45 years and have one son.  We are financially responsible individuals who own our home free and clear and have a credit rating in the 800’s.  I taught English and journalism at Williamsport, Smithsburg, and Clear Spring High Schools for a total of 31+ years.  While teaching, I served on School Improvement Teams; advised the Junior Class, the school newspaper, and the prom for many years; co-directed class plays; served as a WCTA representative; and held the position of English Department Chair for ten years.  During that time, I was nominated twice for Washington County Teacher of the Year by two different principals and once for English Teacher of the Year for the State of Maryland by my supervisor.  My husband and I enjoy shooting primitive muzzleloaders in competition and participating in living history re-enactments covering the period of 1640-1840.  

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