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Hess Lists Priorities for County Schools

July 13, 2008

By Madison Park, The Baltimore Sun

Jul. 13–Patrick L. Hess, a lifelong Fallston resident, has assumed leadership of the Harford County Board of Education after the resignation of Vice President Salina M. Williams.

Hess graduated from North Harford High School and is the sixth generation of his family to live in Harford County. His wife, Lynn, is a kindergarten teacher at Jarrettsville Elementary School, and his three children have graduated from Harford County public schools.

Hess was named to the board in 2004, after board member Karen L. Wolf resigned. He was tapped to finish the remaining two years of Wolf’s term. Hess was reappointed in 2006 by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to serve a full five-year term on the board.

Hess is chief executive officer of Operations Management Inc., a restaurant management company that oversees Denny’s franchises. He recently sat for an interview with The Sun:

What was your interest in education?

I was interested in giving back to the community. My family has been in business in Harford County for more than 40 years, and I’ve been in business for 21 years.

How were you appointed to the school board?

I was first approached to fill a slot from Fallston. I never realized how interested I am in education. … I had to send my resume to the county executive or the governor, and a letter of interest. I was interviewed by the PNC [permanent nominating caucus], when it was active. Being a novice, the experience was somewhat unnerving.

What are your priorities for the school year?

Well, that can change each and every day. CSSRP [Comprehensive Secondary School Reform Plan] and making improvements and middle school reform. We’re starting the comprehensive redistricting of elementary schools. And there’s the ongoing budget and process of what we’re able to do. We’re going to have to be somewhat conservative of what we’re going to get because of the economy.

If you could go back, what would you change about the CSSRP process?

If I could go back and look at it again, I’d get more input from teachers and the community. When we did it, was it wrong? No. We did the right thing — we’re giving children more opportunities — with career paths. With CSSRP, our graduation rates have increased, our dropout rates have decreased, our HSA scores have gone up. … The report made some valid points, and we will be working on them in the next year.

What do you think are the strengths of Harford County public schools?

The strength is in its staffing. We’re working with a great group of people, and everything is for the best of the kids. It’s very refreshing to see people with such a commitment.

What do you think the school system needs to work on?

One of the things I want to work on is improving communications, not just on what’s presented at the board meetings. I’m interested to see if a parent has a problem, how fast someone responds to them. … The school system is viewed as unresponsive, and that’s something I want to change.

I also want the communication improved between elected officials, the board and the school staff, to open up more of a dialogue of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

The school board has been criticized and called a “rubber stamp” of the superintendent. What do you think of that?

I don’t understand what they’re saying. Not everyone votes for everything the same way. If it’s right for the kids, then we’re going to move forward with it.

Just the other night, the board voted to get a sixth-grade class for RAACS [Restoration Alternative Academy Charter School] — this was not [among] the superintendent’s recommendations. So there goes that rubber stamp.

We also modify the budget, change the budget and move money around. We are not a rubber stamp.

The elected versus appointed school board has been a contentious issue in the county. How do you think school board members should get their positions?

If you have an elected board, is it going to be that much better? They’ll answer to the people who got them voted into office, and that worries me. The school board has to balance enrollment. If the members are elected, are they going to do what’s right for all the kids or do what your constituents want you to do?

I believe that if people want an elected board, it should go to a referendum. I’ll stay out of it.

madison.park@baltsun.com

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