So as the team of Eiland, Kirk-Davidoff, White and Woodcock completes its first sweep of Oakland Mills (some areas have even had two visits) today I had the chance to walk some streets in Stevens Forest. I came across the house of a longtime county, city, and village activist in the area of education. Who also, incidentally, wrote a Letter to the Editor last week in support of our opponents.
The resident was in his driveway getting his paper so we stopped and chatted. He wanted to make sure I understood that Oakland Mills has a lot of free and reduced meal (FARM) students and that something has to be done to move many of these families out of Oakland Mills and into other parts of the county, so those schools can bear part of the responsibility of children of families with lower socioeconomic standing. (Hey, I'm just telling you what was said.) The ensuing conversation, paraphrased, went like this:
B: I do think housing of folks who receive assistance should be more spread around the county. But I've lived here 15 years and for 15 years, this is all I've heard. We need to look at the achievement problem as an opportunity problem. Provide residents with good-paying jobs in Howard County so they have time to spend with their kids and better nurture their education.
R: Yes, those are good thoughts. But our schools are suffering under this huge burden of a disproportionate share of FARM students.
B: Not sure that's true. Plenty of kids from OMHS go on to great schools and great careers.
R: We can only improve our schools and our village and our property if we follow the course that our current village board has set.
B: But, like I said, their prescription is more of what we've all talked about, that hasn't worked. Look, one of the current board members' kids go to Stevens Forest ES. Their PTA was just recognized as a national model. Why isn't our board advocating or supporting transposing that model to all our schools in Oakland Mills? And why aren't we working on things that give parents more time with their kids, not less? Oh, and BTW, I know you wrote a letter supporting the incumbents. You can still, and should still, voice your opinion. Gotta vote for at least two of us, after all. Oughtta vote for all four.
And then pleasantries and small talk and see you later.
And the moral of this story is that this was an experience where the vision all comes together. Of course we need to have a full spectrum of housing, but having a full spectrum of housing means having the supports in place to help the people who live here now. We don't have those supports. We need to build them into our village framework so people have the opportunity to succeed, better their station, and if that means they leave Oakland Mills, so be it.
Meanwhile, our schools need support in order to adequately serve our residents. We, the village board, must advocate to all those concerned-- the HCPSS, Board of Education, HCEA, whoever-- that our students are valuable and capable and talented. And that they deserve your support. We should not-- should never-- as a village board, be advocating moving them anywhere as a solution. And that includes the concept of busing students out of Oakland Mills, which was actually raised earlier this year. I would attribute that to someone, but I can't even believe that person was serious.
Is the path of leading people to opportunity the harder one? You betcha! But it's also the noble and appropriate one and so that's the one we must follow. A path that boosts people up and that as village leaders, create a culture and a reality in our village of which we can all be grateful.
Let's be careful out there.