Opening remarks at 2019 HCPSS redistricting work session

Opening remarks at 2019 HCPSS redistricting work session

7:00PM, 2019-10-17

With some revisions.

Before I start, I would like to thank all the students and parents who shared their feedback with the board whether your position is supporting or opposing the proposal. The response from the community is tremendous. More than 700 students and parents testified at the public hearing sessions, for a total of seven nights. It never happened before. Unfortunately the superintendent’s plan is a turning point in this process. During this process, some ugliness have been demonstrated. I want to take this opportunity to denounce those radicals again from both the supporter side and the opposition side.  

The most disturbing aspects are those anonymous letters with fake addresses and names to spill hatred and racist comment. And you don’t know they are deliberately to do that to stir the pot or that is their true belief. We should be able to have a civil discussion on this. What we can do here is to unite and find a common ground to optimize capacity utilization and achieve equity.

In my opinion, school redistricting should not be a race issue. It should not be a political issue nor an ideological issue. It is a logistic issue. We need to set this right. Some schools are overcrowded and others are under-utilized. We need to balance their utilization rate. Let’s focus on the real issue here. Let’s focus on the issue of capacity.  In terms of achievement gap, we should not use redistricting to address that. If achievement can be simply solved by redistricting, the gap should have been resolved many years ago in other parts of the country and we would not still keep talking about this gap in the whole nation. 

When we try to catch two birds using one stone, we will eventually lose both birds. Try to detangle different problems carefully, and design an evidence based solution accordingly. A controlled study with different variables to study the achievement gap is very important. We need to refrain ourselves from making “feel good” policy, which is very dangerous. It is easy to feel good or self compliment ourselves to fall back to the self echoing chamber, even though that does not solve the problem.

We also should not just hastily follow other school districts’ opinion/result. Howard County is diverse. It is a wealthy county (top 10 in the nation) and it is doing pretty well. We should be able to develop our own plan to help each student, to close the achievement gap with a clear goal. We should design a step-by-step plan, and evaluate the intervention program’s performance year-by-year.  For example, for some student groups in some schools, students with FARM actually have higher graduation rate than their peers without FARM. The achievement is attributed to the special program and efforts by community, parents network and HCPSS staff who work hard to address the achievement issues. How can we explore such effort and explore whether such help for underprivileged students can be enhanced in other schools?

As a board, any decision may impact thousands of children negatively. We need to be really careful. Evidence based approach should be the only approach. I agree with the “do no harm” approach. We should be very proud that HCPSS is doing the best among all Maryland public school systems. We don’t want to start a revolution to break our current system. As someone who grew up in the country that had “culture revolution”, I want to caution that revolution is very unpredictable.

What exactly is the objective of this redistricting?  

  1. Every school achieve 100%? 
  2. How to achieve that? 
  3. The number of students is constantly increasing, how to rebalance that? 
  4. Are we leading to more developments such that we have more students than the school could handle?

All these questions should be laid out and well thought out before the polygons are being moved. 

We should refrain ourselves from frequent redistricting. Just like families need stability, the same holds true for the school system. Students, parents and communities like stability and predictability. What we have now, we will have three large redistricting in 5 years, which is totally detrimental to the school system. 

We should only move minimum number of students as necessary to balance the capacity of the schools. Keep walkers as walkers. Keep contiguous community together.  Improve social economic status for the needist, not just balance it out. 

We should always keep the cost in consideration. Even this redistricting vote comes before the 2021 budget discussion, I want to remind my fellow board members, the budget projection already does not look good for fiscal 2021. 

Saving every penny matters.

Personally I took some time to write a software to analyze the polygon moves and compute statistics on such moves. I have developed two plans based on community feedback and board members feedback. I am still finalizing the plan and will share it with all board members when it is ready. 

We know HS13 should be able to come online on time and a huge redistricting will be unavoidable then. However, we are not doing anything to prevent from moving the communities and students twice. This is unacceptable. Everybody talks about a plan. Unfortunately we don’t have a plan here. 

My fellow board members, let’s lead by example.  Don’t rush to a solution, instead focusing on the problem we have now. Take a step back, focusing on a few overcrowding schools and address them with equity in the framework. Evidence based approach should be our approach.

Don’t fall to the trap of the developers. I have been involved in community for a while. I know how strong their lobby is. More schools we open for development, more developments will follow that.  It is time to say NO to them as a school board. 

Policy 6010: 

The number one issue facing the school and guiding the Policy 6010 is capacity.

When I was running for the board back in 2017, I clearly stated that I am against massive redistricting. We should find better solutions which will disrupt as few students as possible. We should put our students first.

Then there are multiple criteria. How to evaluate different solutions more objectively is not easy, but it can be modelled. I developed a software to do redistricting. I am soliciting ideas on how to normalize, weight on different criteria based on each criterion. 

The way forward

We have more than 700 public testimonies in front of the board for 7 nights. That never happened before.  By my account, Only one parent clearly supports moving his own kids.  This tells us something. Vast majority of those testified, 99.85% of them love their own schools and don’t want to move their own kids. 

“Do no harm” should be our principal. Our school may need extra improvement or it may have reached its capacity limit with limited resources. However, we should not start a revolution to tear down our current system.

Let’s solve our issue with deliberation and with caution. 

END of speech.

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