Jim Davis, 81
School board member
Heather Marin Earhart, 44
1. Do you think the local school system is handling reopening plans and online learning properly during the coronavirus pandemic?
Jim Davis: Yes. The COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented stress on St. Mary’s County Public Schools and the local Southern Maryland community, forcing school leaders to take actions never before anticipated. Of paramount importance to the school board and to the administration was to take measures to ensure the safety of the children, our dedicated teachers and the support staff. With directives from the state board of education, and the health department, the St. Mary’s school board and administration took immediate steps to ensure social distancing for all students and staff. With counsel from numerous stakeholders including parents, health department officials, the local police force and state school administrators, the decision was made to undertake virtual learning requiring teachers to teach from their respective classrooms. Classroom learning would be, in part, scheduled in phases to incorporate a hybrid plan of virtual learning and in-classroom instruction. The decision to return to full classroom instruction would be predicated on local health data of COVID-19 infections. In an atmosphere of local health certainties and, with little or no pandemic history, I support the decision to incorporate our hybrid plan in its entirety. This is Decision Theory 101. We must minimize the risk to our children above all else.
Heather Earhart: If there is anything that the coronavirus has taught us, we have learned to adapt, be flexible, and be open to ideas and solutions. There is no right answer at this point and in this pandemic. I believe that the school system is doing the best that they can without having a real playbook. I appreciate the virtual learning tools that the school system is using and that they were able to pull it together and deploy quickly. If there was anything I would change, there needs to be more trust in our teachers to be able to teach virtually from the safety of their home. I continue to miss what we took for granted and look forward to the day we get back to the new normal and our children return to school. That said, I believe that it is critical that we continue to prioritize safety as we move forward. We as parents, educators and students — our children, are doing the very best we can.
2. Is the school system properly addressing equity?
Davis: The St. Mary’s school board has been aware of inequities within the school ranks and has worked tirelessly to improve leaning opportunities to all students. The board has advocated after-school classroom instruction to support students with special needs and has provided special training for those needing enhanced academic support. Fairlead Academy provides added tutorial instruction to students of all academic and social strata. Our charter school enrollment ensures all applicants are randomly selected without prejudice or bias. The school administration, of course, needs to do more to redress unfairness in the classroom. School discipline of minority students appears to be higher than white students and measures to help teachers better communicate with all students is of paramount importance. There have been numerous studies showing that culture bias in testing design has had a negative effect on minority student scores. These seemingly innocuous outcomes have far-reaching consequences to students who may be highly competent yet are experiencing different cultural backgrounds. As educators, we need to recognize what measures we can undertake to achieve solutions.
Earhart: No. I think this is an ongoing issue dating back to when I attended school in the Southern Maryland school systems. We need to look at the curriculum in our schools. My goal is to broaden civics courses for our students so they have a better understanding of our government and how our country works. They need to be more educated citizens. In addition to this, we need to infuse our courses with the true history of this country, rather than teaching solely from a Eurocentric perspective. As a graduate from the public-school system, I did not learn about the Freedom Fighters until I was in college. We are at a crossroads in our country and it is evident that we need to help educate our students on this history. Lastly, I would like to add more enrichment opportunities for our students. This helps with their social skills and gives them more opportunities to learn skills outside of the traditional classroom.
3. Do you see drug and alcohol use among students as a pervasive problem today?
Davis: Yes. Both St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) and State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) have presented numerous reports of local drug and alcohol abuse in the community as well as in our schools. It is most unfortunate that many of our young students are suffering from domestic and peer pressure and find that alcohol or drugs provide a coping mechanism. Our school counselors and nurses are trained to recognize students with impairment and to provide critical support to help these students work through their issues. Drug and alcohol abuse in this county is of epidemic proportions. I strongly advocate supporting our teachers and staff through all necessary measures in order to help our students find available options as they work through their problems.
Earhart: To be honest, I think our students are not as likely to use drugs or alcohol like they did when I was in high school. Unfortunately, I had many friends who became addicted and suffered with addiction for many years. Sadly, I lost a few of those friends. While I believe it is not as big of an issue, and drawing on my experience after watching many friends go down that dark road, I would recommend that our schools need more intervention and education to help students who are struggling with addiction, substance abuse and mental health. I also think we are still in the middle of an opioid epidemic in this county and that there needs to be education to help students who are impacted by this personally, whether it be a family member or friend. We have an opportunity to help and make an impact for our students and should use every opportunity to support, help and educate them on these dangers. Lastly, we need a community center.
4. Why should voters choose you instead of your opponent?
Davis: I would argue that I have years of experience as an engineer, an entrepreneurial businessman, and an educator. As a retired engineer and educator, I have been extremely active in community service as a college professor and as an executive leader who is engaged in numerous civic affairs. I have served as a member of the St. Mary’s board of education since the 2016 election, and I was instrumental in honoring our teachers’ salary contract. Specifically, I voted repeatedly to ensure that SMCPS teachers would receive their allotted pay increase even though there were pressures to alter our agreement because of budget shortfalls. I am a fifth-generation educator, and my wife, Ellynne, retired from SMCPS after a 19-year career teaching elementary school music and English as a second language. My daughter, Wendy, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis. She currently teaches English in the United Arab Emirites. I am a Vietnam-era veteran who served with distinction in the U.S. Army. I have bolstered my learning through reading my entire life. I am a member of the St. Mary’s County Friends of the Library; I have over 6,000 books in my personal library. As an assistant professor at the College of Southern Maryland, I was initially hired as an engineering instructor and subsequently also taught finance, accounting and construction management. I consider myself to be financially conservative and a political centralist. I have always supported public education, dedicated teachers and, most importantly, St. Mary’s County students.
Earhart: The beauty of our democracy is that we have a choice to vote for who we think is the best for the job. We need to vote for the candidate who is invested in working and making our community and education system stronger. I always encourage voters to do their homework before they cast their ballot. If elected, my first goal is supporting and bringing a healthy budget to our school system in St. Mary’s County. I will work with my fellow board members to prioritize people and schools when considering how our dollars get spent. There is an incredible need in this county for our county commissioners to see the urgency of fully funding the Board’s budgets each and every year. I will work to build consensus and camaraderie among stakeholders so that the budgeting process is smoother than it has been in past years. I commit to working with stakeholders on fair way to address overcrowding in our schools. As a mom of four incredible children in our school system, I am devoted and committed to advocating for our teachers, administrators, education system and students.