Near-death experience spurs BOE candidate

Joanna Bache Tobin’s motivation to be on the Anne Arundel County Public School’s (AACPS) Board of Education for District 6, comes, at least in part, from a near-death experience she experienced one week before 9/11. No, make that three near-death experiences. “I had to have 10 units of blood,” she recalled. “I heard them say three times, ‘We're losing her.’” Tobin had just delivered her daughter and there were complications with her delivery. She thanks great doctors at the hospital for saving her life and sending her home with her baby safe and sound. The next day was September 11, 2001. “That experience made it very clear to me that I wasn't going to spend my time, if at all possible, on things that didn't really, really matter to me, and that I didn't think would make a difference. And that's why I'm running in this race. I think I can make a difference.” Tobin, 57, is from Annapolis. She has a deep background in education. She previously taught at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and now serves as a Senior Moderator in the Seminars Program of the Aspen Institute. She also chairs accreditation teams evaluating public charter schools around the country. In addition, she chaired the board of a local private school. Tobin holds a B.A from Wellesley College, an M.A.from St. John’s College, and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University. For Tobin, the top three issues the new board of education will need to address are teacher retention, student wellness, and making AACPS as transparent as possible while making it more accountable. Her ideas on improving teacher retention include making a stronger effort in Anne Arundel County to decrease class size. Individual instruction improves both the academics of each student and also the emotional and social health of children, she wrote in an email to Arundel Journal. She also wants to address teacher retention to improve professional development opportunities for Anne Arundel teachers, teacher-to-teacher mentoring for new teachers, and the creation of more career opportunities within teaching. She wants to offer a career ladder that offers teacher’s advancement beyond moving to a non-teaching role in the central office of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Like other candidates, she also wants to retain teachers by allowing them more autonomy over their classroom and curriculum. Tobin addressed the issue of student wellness with a three-pronged approach. She noted an independent report that came out on the county school’s transportation department that was highly critical of its performance in January. “The 179-page report revealed gross inefficiencies and lack of contractor oversight, among other Issues,” Tobin wrote. She wants to help enact all 26 recommendations provided in the report. The second prong of addressing students well-being is to make sure they get enough sleep before school starts so they will be better able to learn. If that means coordinating the school schedules to provide for sufficient rest for students, that is what should be done, she wrote. “The science is clear,” she wrote “Change is uncomfortable and even hard, but the lack of action by the BOE and AACPS administration on this issue puts undue stress on teens and families.” And thirdly, she believes more counselors are needed to ensure a healthier school environment. “The current budget proposed by County Executive Pittman has made some progress in this area,” she wrote. “But there are still more counselors and social workers needed if students needs are to be fully met. If learning rests on physical and mental well-being, then schools must be environments that support that well-being. Counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals are as central to properly staffed schools as the teachers.” Anne Arundel County Public Schools transparency and accountability is the third issue that is at the top of Tobin’s list. She wrote she believes all board members must be ready to delve into issues to get accurate answers from AACPS. Asking hard questions will be required, Tobin indicated. “The Board is responsible to the voters for ensuring the superintendent and his staff are accountable to the needs of teachers, students, and parents,” she wrote. “If Board policy is not being effectively and appropriately executed, there need to be consequences and changes.” She was particularly concerned about the prevalence of hate speech and hate-related incidents in the county. She wrote the county was a state leader in cases of hate crimes and bias incidents, which must be addressed. She also believes building issues need to be promptly addressed whenever they became an issue regarding safety. If lead-contaminated water or asbestos construction materials were discovered, they needed to be mitigated immediately. “The problems must be remediated quickly and correctly,” she wrote. Tobin acknowledged the unique challenges the school district may be facing in the fall with the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. She said she recognizes that her’s is just one perspective on the larger board, but she is eager to meet the needs of students, parents and teachers if elected. “I'm prepared to work with them and see how we can move forward and understand,” she said. “And where we find the common ground that helps our students move forward, and especially under these circumstances now, with the school closures and the uncertainty moving forward. The most critical thing is to actually get the work done. Not squabble, get it done.”