Updated: Jun 4, 2020
He may never have left his hometown of Brooklyn Park, but District 2’s Robert Silkworth has fostered generations of children in his community who’d become lawyers, doctors, even politicians. Since 1974, he accomplished this as a teacher at just one school, North County High.
When the world languages teacher learned of a full-body election for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, he immediately tossed his hat in the ring. It was the first time voters in District 2, which covers Severn, Glen Burnie and parts of Gambrills, would elect a candidate directly, rather than the governor appointing one.
In an election year where schools have shut their doors because of COVID-19, the candidate promises to bring experience and knowledge of the county school system to the board, and address mental health and the curriculum.
Silkworth said he has “a lot to offer” the board and the community he’s taught for 48 years, because he’s not running for himself.
“Back in January, someone asked me why I was running,” Silkworth said. “When I gave him the question back, he said I’m ‘running for the kids.’ That’s exactly why.”
The 70-year-old Millersville resident is the longest-serving teacher at North County; the chair of the school’s faculty council; and an advisor with the Teacher’s Association of Anne Arundel County. Many students at North County also know him as someone else: the announcer at the sports games.
His familiarity with the high-school, his district and its students are a key talking point in his campaign.
“I grew up in the community and went back to teach in the community,” Silkworth said. “When issues come up, it’s important to have someone who knows what’s happening in the trenches of the school.”
From Brooklyn, Back to Brooklyn
Silkworth is a “product of the Anne Arundel County school system” having attended elementary through high-school in Brooklyn Park. He went to Towson University after graduating, but decided to enlist in the Army Reserves in 1967, just as the Vietnam War was raging.
The government held a lottery draft by birth date, but Silkworth actually volunteered. He wanted to serve his country. Years later, he’d find out he would never have been drafted.
The enlistee served in the army reserves for six years, then graduated in 1972 from Towson with a degree in secondary education. He went to teach for two years at Southern Junior High, before transferring to Brooklyn Park high school, which would eventually merge with Andover High and form North County.
Silkworth taught French to one student who would become a lifelong friend--House of Delegates Representative Ned Carey, whose legislative district covers Pasadena and Brooklyn Park. Carey is a former county board member himself, but he still calls his old teacher “Mr. Silkworth,” and “bounces ideas off him” for his expertise.
“Leadership--that’s what he brings,” Carey said. “He’s very collegial, a ‘let’s get something down, let’s get something done,’ kind of guy. He’s the guy out there, leading the charge.”
Carey said Silkworth finds issues and solves them. He mentioned that Silkworth once came to him with a problem: some students were continuously truant, and he wanted to get them interested in school again. They worked with multiple national programs addressing truancy and were marginally successful.
“This was him thinking, ‘What can I do to help these kids?’” Carey explained. “He cares about the kids. Still to this day, he cares about the kids.”
Bringing Everyone to the Table
Silkworth announced multiple underlying issues he’d tackle as a board member, including increasing teacher pay and addressing poor student mental health, common conflicts many candidates have promised to work on.
Silkworth said retaining good teachers should be the priority from day one.
“Schools are not made of brick and mortar,” he said. “Teachers are the backbone of the schools.”
But the North County teacher has promised to bring lesser-known issues to the table, such as discussing the curriculum and surveying students on the proper start time of school.
Silkworth said he hasn’t made up his mind on either concern, but he wants to have that discussion-- especially regarding the curriculum. In 2018, the Board of Education voted to remove final exams, and instead installed quarterly exams.
“We need to do a better job of testing,” he said. “Many teachers believe that moving away from semester exams are not preparing kids for college.”
Importantly, Silkworth wants to “meet the needs of all our kids.” Some students have mentioned to him that the schools failed to teach them how to apply for mortgages or file taxes. Silkworth would establish programs to teach “practical things.”
One candidate has already dropped out of the race in District 2, so Silkworth and his opponent, Raleigh Turnage Jr., will move on to the general election in November.
He’s unsure of how the coronavirus will impact his campaigning come fall, but Silkworth has not once given up on the district he was born, raised, and played a part in.
“North County is a unique community with a tremendous amount of potential,” he said. “I’ve been somewhat of a part of that.”