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BOE D6 Candidate Conversation: Erin Lorenz

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Email Interview

1) AJ: What do you believe are the three most pressing challenges that the Board of Education for Anne Arundel County Public Schools will need to deal with?

LORENZ: The three biggest issues facing AACPS today are the increase in bias incidents, equitable distance learning and a safe transition to in-person instruction, and teacher compensation.

2) AJ: How can these challenges be met with success?

LORENZ: The first issue has largely to do with the way school was “before:” we have the unfortunate distinction of having an increase in reports of bias incidents. Since the ultimate goal is to return to school as we knew it eventually, taking actions now is essential. Too often I think kids – especially white kids – equate racism with “meanness” and assume that as long as they weren’t trying to be mean, they weren’t saying or doing anything wrong.

What we need to help them learn is that for certain words or actions, “meanness” is always the experience of the kids on the other end. Intent doesn’t always matter if the word or action carries enough weight on its own.

We should also note that hate groups (especially ones with a strong online presence) use this

gap between the intent of the offender and the impact of the action (and the reaction of the

victims) as a means of targeting young people online – especially young white men – and

attempting to recruit them into their movement via social media.

Online predation by these groups must be part of any investigation or conversation with the parents of the offending student. The classes that must be attended by the offending student and his or her parent are helpful, and I hope that the victims of these incidents do experience some comfort from the required apology level. But these are all reactive responses.

Proactively, we can take a number of steps to decrease these incidents, and fortunately, they all fall under our specialty: education. Firstly, we can adjust our curriculum to include the work and contributions of people of color. For centuries, these accomplishments have been either

overlooked entirely, or presented as one-offs during Black History Month.

Another action is to hire a diverse teaching force. A growing body of research demonstrates that students of all colors benefit from having even one teacher of color during their K-12 education, though students of color do appear to benefit most. If we are serious about closing the opportunity gap, this step is imperative. Taking this step requires making Anne Arundel County Public Schools an attractive place to work – and unfortunately, we could be doing much better. Our compensation package is not competitive with nearby counties, which severely limits our hiring pool. We can also increase our outreach and recruitment effort to HBCU’s.

Far from perfect, the current model for distance learning is not what I think anyone wants for

the fall, however that might look. The school system needs to consider access to internet and

technology, a student’s at-home support system, and other responsibilities the student might

have (such as a job, caring for younger siblings, etc). Further, teachers who may be responsible for online instruction in the fall will require training on how to structure curriculum for digital learning. For the past 2 months, teachers have taken a curriculum designed for in-person instruction and attempted to fit it to an online format. Over the summer, I hope the curriculum writers (who almost certainly ought to be paid overtime) will configure the curriculum so as to be more effectively taught online.

Finally, teacher compensation can be a touchy subject now due to budget constraints, but we

cannot allow it to stay that way. At the beginning of this pandemic, the memes about teaching

and salary were everywhere, with everyone from celebrities to next-door neighbors extolling

how wonderful their children’s teachers have been and how they should all be paid a million

dollars. But now push is coming to shove, and folks seem a lot more resistant than they did only seven weeks ago. The reality is that we have teachers in this county continuing to work at several step below what they ought to be paid, and on a salary scale lower than most nearby counties. At a time when the CDC is recommending lower class sizes and other extraordinary measures to keep staff and students safe, is now really the time to hold back on paying teachers what they deserve? Healthcare workers and first responders are certainly on the front lines of this crisis, but once we put kids back in the classroom, teachers join them as one of the most at-risk professions.

3) AJ: Why does mental health matter to schools in Anne Arundel County? What would be you suggestions to help students and even staff?

LORENZ: Mental health is finally beginning to receive the attention it deserves! Understanding the connection between mental well-being and student success is part of good teaching. For severe situations, we are dealing with students currently experiencing trauma. For them, getting to school at all is a victory. We also have students with diagnosed mental illness, who may require academic or physical accommodations. All of these students need tools to help them process and cope, and they need advocates in the building to ensure they can access their education. However, there are plenty of students who have no diagnosed illness, have undergone very little trauma, and are still suffering from mild anxiety or depression. You’ll find this is true for teachers as well.

4) AJ: Why is transportation an issue? What can be done?

LORENZ: Transportation ties into much of what I’ve already discussed. Our inefficient system has left out students in the most marginalized communities: low-income, urban, and rural. I support all of the recommendations made in the comprehensive evaluation done this past year, and I am encouraged that some of them are already underway in the absence of students.

But ultimately it’s the same story: students with resources can make it to school reliably because if they miss the bus or sleep in, they have a ride. Students without those resources miss the bus and then have no way to get to school and so they stay home and get further behind. It only widens that opportunity gap.

I also support a later start time. Research has shown significant improvements in both academic success and in mental health. Again anecdotally, many of my students have commented that since school has been shut down, they have been quite busy with schoolwork, but have felt more rested than ever before. Although there will be complications with moving start times, teachers and school staff can be allies in working through these.

5) AJ: What do you see as the strengths of Anne Arundel County Public Schools? Where can the system do better?

LORENZ: The biggest strength of AACPS is its diversity. Because we have so many communities as part of our system, we have the opportunity to develop a rich curriculum, incorporating strong content valuable experiences, and meaningful assessment that serves all our students and honors the heritage each of them bring. However, our teachers – our biggest resource – often feel hamstrung by overcrowded classes and limited resources. One of the biggest things we can do better? Hire more. Not just teachers, either: we also need more administrators, more counselors, more social workers, and more community ambassadors.

Administrators can truly get to know their teachers and learn how best to support them. Counselors can help kids build a course load that will serve their interests and their futures, as well as provide coping strategies when the stress becomes too much. Social workers and community ambassadors make sure the kids with the highest needs have whatever resources are available. And then we need to trust them to do their jobs.

6) AJ: What problems are peculiar to Anne Arundel County Public Schools and what issues are chronic widespread issues that schools around the country see?

LORENZ: Unfortunately, the extent of our bias incident problem is unique to AACPS. Because bias incidents themselves certainly are not confined to our county, collaborating with other districts that have seen a decrease in bias incidents could prove quite valuable.

Secondly, while teacher pay is a problem in many states across the country, the extent to which our teachers are behind similar counties in our state is peculiar to us. be addressed at the county or state level.

7) AJ: What are your thoughts on how to best help ESOL students integrate into a successful academic routine?

LORENZ: The needs of ESOL student vary greatly depending on age, previous educational experience, and levels of at-home support. Proposing a single solution would be impractical. ESOL teachers are among the most dedicated teachers we have in the county, and their strength is adapting to the needs of the students in front of them, whether that’s vocabulary, reading, writing, speaking, or listening.

8)AJ: What is your career background? What do you enjoy about it?

LORENZ: I have been a teacher for 13 years. I began in the winter of 2007, starting mid-year at a middle school in Montgomery County. I primarily taught 7th grade English, and I also directed the annual spring musical. In 2013, I was ready for a change - both to shorten my commute, and to move to the high school level. I have been teaching at Annapolis High School ever since.

I have primarily taught 9th and 12th grade, and have also served as the Drama Company director. I am also the coordinator for our exchange program with our partner school in Germany. I have served on a textbook selection committee, have spent two summers working in the curriculum writing academy, and been active on the Faculty Advisory Committee, as well as with TAAAC.

I enjoy working with students and building relationships that allow both me and the kids to grow. My experiences with the Drama Company have been profoundly moving. If I am successful in the election, I will have to leave my teaching position. This will be more difficult than I can say, especially in the absence of a proper ending to the school year, with no chance for a real goodbye to my students and colleagues. But I feel strongly that teachers need to be involved in decisions about teaching.

9) AJ: Why do you want to be on the Board of Education? Why should someone vote for you?

LORENZ: Related to my last thought in the previous question, I am running to fill a gap. Only one current Board of Education member has public K-12 teaching experience, and her term will be up this year. I want to make sure that a voice directly from the classroom in our community remains on the Board.

I’ve built relationships with students, their families, teachers, staff, folks in central office – and not just in Annapolis, but across the county. By maintaining these relationships, as well as building new ones in my new position, I hope to bring the practical concerns of teaching

to the Board to inform our decisions.