When music educator Rachel McCusker joined the State Board of Education (SBOE) in 2020, she was the first member to be elected as the teacher representative, a position long sought by MSEA as essential to bringing the voice and issues of frontline educators to the SBOE. There may have been no better time for the SBOE to witness the unceasing efforts of educators over the two years of the pandemic, or to understand the wide-ranging potential of a well-executed Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Rachel’s trial-by-fire tenure and her input in the selection of Mohammed Choudhury as Maryland’s new superintendent of schools makes her an experienced candidate ready to take on a new term with a grounded vision.
Rachel has made herself heard on the board with careful relationship-building, a studied knowledge of the issues, and humility. “When I first came on to the board there were members who were openly opposed to my very presence. Some of them didn’t even acknowledge me. Over time, the culture began to shift and my colleagues listened more attentively, began nodding in agreement, and accepted that teachers have a valuable perspective,” Rachel said. “By the end of the superintendent search process, of which I was a key committee member, the most vocally opposed members and I were having conversations and finding common ground. The teacher’s voice is no longer dismissed as a special interest.”
In her two years on the board, Rachel railed against the lack of transparency in the operations of MSDE and the SBOE. “I have consistently and repeatedly shed light on processes that squashed stakeholder voice or lacked sufficient transparency. Our superintendent search process had the highest level of stakeholder engagement of any this board ever conducted. We ensured that our new superintendent values stakeholder engagement and has a plan for robust stakeholder input.”
ActionLine asked Rachel to share the top five issues she sees as critical in the next two years.
Pandemic Recovery “We need to set new, realistic goals for student achievement and acceleration and fearlessly shine a light on the inequities which have been exacerbated by the extraordinary events of the last two years. Then we have to enact proven, common-sense strategies to move every student forward.”
Recruitment/Retention “I believe we are facing an historic exodus from education-related careers. The political attacks, the vitriolic rhetoric on social media, the workload, the decrease in autonomy, and the lack of competitive pay have led to a critical shortage and the effects could be devastating.”
Mental Health “Student suicide rates are up dramatically, drug use and overdose rates are up, school shootings are on the rise, violent behaviors in school are increasing, and the number of children who experienced severe trauma during the pandemic may never be known. We need the comprehensive support the Blueprint offers knowing that until children feel safe from trauma, they will not have the bandwidth to learn to their potential.”
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future “The Blueprint provides specific strategies, requirements, and legislated deadlines for implementation. I plan to be heavily involved in the board’s strategic plan addressing implementation.”
MSDE’s Culture Shift “Superintendent Choudhury is addressing the entire operational framework of MSDE under the supervision of the board. It must be a primary focus of the board to repair its relationship with stakeholders so that we have the community support and input needed to address the myriad of crucial issues facing education right now.”