Bess I. Altwerger

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Bess I. Altwerger
Bess I. Altwerger.JPG
Board member, Howard County Board of Education, At-large
Term ends
Elections and appointments
Last electionNovember 4, 2014
First electedNovember 4, 2014
Next general2018
Term limitsN/A
Ph.D.University of Arizona
ProfessionRetired teacher
Campaign website
Bess I. Altwerger campaign logo
Bess I. Altwerger is a member-elect for an at-large seat on the Howard County Board of Education in Maryland. She advanced from a primary election on June 24, 2014, to face seven other candidates for four seats in the general election on November 4, 2014. Bess I. Altwerger won the general election on November 4, 2014.


Altwerger earned a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. She was an education professor at Towson University for 25 years prior to her retirement. Altwerger is also the founder of Save Our Schools, a local advocacy group that opposes federal education initiatives including the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top. She has two children who graduated from district schools.[1]



See also: Howard County Public Schools elections (2014)


The June 24, 2014, primary ballot included incumbents Sandra H. French and Cynthia L. Vaillancourt as well as challengers Bess I. Altwerger, Corey Andrews, Tom Baek, Zaneb K. Beams, Olga Butler, Allen Dyer, Maureen Evans Arthurs, Dan Furman, Leslie Kornreich, Christine O'Connor and Mike Smith. French, Vaillancourt, Altwerger, Beams, Dyer, Furman, O'Connor and Smith faced off in the general election on November 4, 2014.


Howard County Public Schools, At-Large General Election, 4-year term, 2014
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngCynthia L. Vaillancourt Incumbent 15.9% 42,666
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngSandra H. French Incumbent 15.3% 41,254
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngBess I. Altwerger 13.6% 36,515
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngChristine O'Connor 13.5% 36,329
     Nonpartisan Dan Furman 11.9% 32,015
     Nonpartisan Zaneb K. Beams 10.6% 28,543
     Nonpartisan Allen Dyer 9.9% 26,719
     Nonpartisan Mike Smith 8.8% 23,615
     Nonpartisan Write-in votes 0.4% 1,107
Total Votes 268,763
Source: Maryland State Board of Elections, "Unofficial Results for the 2014 Gubernatorial General Election," accessed November 4, 2014 These results are unofficial.
Howard County Public Schools, At-Large Primary Election, 4-year term, 2014
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngCynthia L. Vaillancourt Incumbent 13.5% 15,851
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngSandra H. French Incumbent 12.5% 14,688
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngBess I. Altwerger 10.9% 12,733
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngDan Furman 10.1% 11,880
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngZaneb K. Beams 8.6% 10,042
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngChristine O'Connor 7.2% 8,477
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngAllen Dyer 6.6% 7,724
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngMike Smith 5.7% 6,730
     Nonpartisan Leslie Kornreich 5.4% 6,388
     Nonpartisan Olga Butler 5% 5,849
     Nonpartisan Maureen Evans Arthurs 4.9% 5,752
     Nonpartisan Corey Andrews 4.9% 5,744
     Nonpartisan Tom Baek 4.7% 5,482
Total Votes 117,340
Source: Maryland State Board of Elections, "Official 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election results for Howard County," accessed October 18, 2014


Altwerger reported $2,040.00 in contributions and $1,407.06 in expenditures to the Maryland State Board of Elections, leaving her campaign with $632.94 on hand as of August 19, 2014.[2]


Altwerger was endorsed by the Howard County Education Association (HCEA), The Baltimore Sun and Parents Choice of Maryland.[3][4][5]

Campaign themes


Altwerger provided the following responses to questions from the League of Women Voters:

"What do you recommend to address the achievement gap with Latino and African American students?"

HCPSS statistics demonstrate that the racial gap is really an economic gap. The graduation rate is over 90% for all students when factoring out poverty. To minimize these effects, we need to increase and better utilize resources to significantly reduce class sizes, increase support services and staff, provide rich and individualized curriculum, offer bilingual classes, and form parent partnerships[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"What are the benefits and challenges of the Common Core?"

The Common Core is an unproven experiment to standardize education with one-size-fits-all demands. It was initiated, developed and funded by corporate entities, rather than by Early Childhood, Literacy and Math Educators who have publicly challenged both the standards and associated PARCC testing. Our teachers must be free to create developmentally appropriate, engaging, personalized curriculum.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"Where can the Board of Education save money?"

It is the Board's responsibility to advocate for sufficient funding and allocate it wisely. Funds devoted to implementation of Common Core and PARCC testing should be used to enrich arts programs, achieve school equity in resources/technology, reduce class sizes, improve teacher salaries and working conditions and support innovative school programs to increase economic diversity in our schools.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"What policies would you support to prepare students who are not college bound?"

HCPSS offers all students enrollment in "Career Academies". Students choose among nine excellent "clusters" that will prepare them for careers after graduation. Currently, not all schools offer all of these clusters and many students must leave their home school to complete a cluster at the ARL. We need to increase availability of Academies in each high school, including classes and internships.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"What are the benefits and challenges of universal pre-K?"

Research demonstrates that rich preschool experiences can offset the effects of poverty on cognitive growth and development. Universal public pre-K education should be a national and state priority. However, it is crucial that programs are developmentally appropriate and nurture the curiosity, creativity, socialization and health of young children. Children learn through play, not skill and drill.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"In an increasingly digital world, how do we provide resources for students who may not have access to computers at home?"

Increased funding for access to technology in libraries and classrooms is essential. However, my own research on 21st century literacy indicates that mandated curriculum and test preparation limit opportunities to use technology as resources for authentic inquiry and problem-solving, especially in schools with low income students. Equitable resources and greater opportunities for use are critical.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"As a member of the Board of Education how would you define success for a student?"

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that graduates of our county schools have the knowledge and skills to reach their own personal goals as well as contribute to a more democratic, just and sustainable world. Successful students are prepared to further their academic education, pursue their career goals and participate as intellectually and socially well-adjusted members of society.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"What criteria would you use to evaluate the performance of the superintendent?"

Superintendents should ensure that our schools foster the emotional, intellectual and social well-being of our students, as well as their academic achievement. Performance indicators should include statistics on student involvement in school activities/programs, school suspensions, student violence, attendance and graduation rates, parent involvement, and teacher retention and satisfaction.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"What initiatives would you introduce to improve the school board's ability to hear from parents on a regular basis?"

To increase contact with teachers, students and families, Board members should establish a presence in schools and communities. Members should attend school activities, student performances and events, visit schools to observe instruction, schedule lunch meetings with teachers and students, and regularly attend PTA meetings. The Board also needs to hold more open meetings and community forums.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

"How do you ensure that schools have the flexibility to implement programming for special education students?"

All system level program and funding decisions for special education should be made collaboratively with the schools that have intimate knowledge of their student populations. A task force in each school composed of administrators, classroom teachers, specialists, para-educators and family members should determine the optimal instructional conditions for meeting the learning needs of each student.[6]

—Vote 411 Voter Guide profile for Bess I. Altwerger, (2014), [7]

What was at stake?

Issues in the election

Ethics claims against Cynthia Vaillancourt

On May 8, 2014, the Board of Education approved a resolution by a 5-2 vote admonishing member Cynthia L. Vaillancourt for violating board confidentiality. The resolution stated that Vaillancourt disclosed information from closed sessions to outside parties and interfered with work done by the county's five-member ethics panel. Vaillancourt accused her fellow board members of inserting themselves into the 2014 election by engaging in "nasty politics" and following "base motives." She also argued that fellow board members left her out of e-mail threads about ongoing ethics investigations, which forced her to directly contact the county panel. Outgoing board member Brian Meshkin, who joined Vaillancourt in voting against the resolution, also criticized the board for damaging the board's integrity with these accusations.[8]

Board president Ellen Flynn Giles stated after the resolution that the board had previously warned Vaillancourt about her communications with outside parties regarding confidential matters. The resolution could be the first step toward future actions against Vaillancourt including official censure and impeachment. Giles and fellow board members Janet Siddiqui, Sandra H. French and Frank Aquino were involved in the attempted removal of board member Allen Dyer in 2011.[8] Dyer remained in office through the end of his term in 2012 due to legal challenges to the board's actions.[9]

Suspension, resumption of Corey Andrews's campaign

Corey Andrews suspended his campaign for a board seat on May 19, 2014, in response to an increasingly negative tone in the election. Andrews cited the board's resolution against Cynthia L. Vaillancourt and claimed that board members have abused their powers to maintain their positions on the board. Andrews sent the following e-mail to supporters on May 19, 2014, to explain his campaign's suspension:

I got into this race to make a difference for the Howard County Public School System. It is important that we protect this local treasure.

The fact is, there are forces preventing those who want to make a difference from doing so. The Howard County Board of Education exposed its corruption a few weeks ago when it abused its power and censured Cindy Vaillancourt in the attempt to smear her name before the upcoming election. Board members have had their personal emails breached by school system staff. Critical documents have been withheld from some Board members. There have even been attempts at physical intimidation by other Board members.

Several Board members, along with a select few candidates, have been coordinating an effort to control the Board and who is on it. Two candidates have resorted to extremely negative campaigning behind closed-doors.

This is not the first time I have run for this position. When I filed to run, I was prepared for a heated campaign. I was not prepared to deal with corruption and abuse of power and am not interested in serving on a Board with people who use such unethical tactics.

Therefore, I am immediately suspending by campaign for the Howard County Board of Education.

Sometimes, it feels like the "bad guys" are winning. The people of Howard County deserve better than this.


The Baltimore Sun, (2014), [10]

Andrews reconsidered his withdrawal and resumed his campaign on June 10, 2014. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Andrews stated that he received supportive e-mails and phone calls after his withdrawal that encouraged resumption of his campaign. Andrews withdrew from the race after the deadline to remove names from the ballot so his name would have appeared on the primary ballot if his campaign remained suspended. He placed 12th in the primary election and did not advance to the general election.[11]

About the district

See also: Howard County Public Schools, Maryland
Howard County Public Schools is located in Howard County, Maryland
Howard County Public Schools is based in Ellicott City, a city located in Howard County, Maryland. Howard County is home to 304,580 residents, according to the United States Census Bureau.[12] Howard County Public Schools is the sixth-largest school district in Maryland, serving 51,555 students during the 2011-2012 school year.[13]


Howard County outperformed the rest of Maryland in terms of higher education achievement in 2012. The United States Census Bureau found that 59.5 percent of Howard County residents aged 25 years and older had attained a bachelor's degree compared to 36.3 percent for Maryland as a whole. The median household income in Howard County was $107,821 compared to $72,999 for the state of Maryland. The poverty rate in Howard County was 4.4 percent compared to 9.4 percent for the entire state.[12]

Racial Demographics, 2012[12]
Race Howard County (%) Maryland (%)
White 62.3 60.8
Black or African American 18.1 30.0
American Indian and Alaska Native 0.4 0.5
Asian 15.7 6.0
Two or More Races 3.4 2.5
Hispanic or Latino 6.2 8.7

Party registration, 2014[14]
Party Number of registered voters
Democratic 93,491
Republican 56,260
Unaffiliated 42,856
Other 2,302
Libertarian 868
Green 493
Total 196,270

Note: The United States Census Bureau considers "Hispanic or Latino" to be a place of origin, not a race. Therefore, the Census allows citizens to report both their race and that they are from a "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin simultaneously. As a result, the percentages in each column of the racial demographics table will exceed 100 percent. Each column will add up to 100 percent after removing the "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin percentages, although rounding by the Census Bureau may make the total one or two tenths off from being exactly 100 percent.[15]

Recent news

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See also

External links

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  1. The Baltimore Sun, "Towson education professor seeks seat on Howard school board," May 13, 2014
  2. Maryland Campaign Reporting Information System, "View Filed Reports," accessed October 20, 2014
  3. The Baltimore Sun, "Teachers union announces recommendations for Howard Board of Ed. race," April 24, 2014
  4. The Baltimore Sun, "Howard County Times' endorsements for school board race in the primary election," June 18, 2014
  5. Parents Choice of Maryland, "Voting Guide for Howard County," accessed October 20, 2014
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Vote 411 Voter Guide, "Howard Board of Education," accessed October 18, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Baltimore Sun, "Howard BOE accuses member Vaillancourt of confidentiality breach," May 8, 2014
  9. The Baltimore Sun, "Administrative law judge upholds Dyer impeachment," December 6, 2012
  10. The Baltimore Sun, "Andrews suspends campaign for Howard BOE," May 20, 2014
  11. The Baltimore Sun, "Andrews says he's back in race for Howard BOE," June 11, 2014
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 United States Census Bureau, "Howard County, Maryland," accessed June 3, 2014
  13. National Center for Education Statistics, "ELSI Table Generator," accessed June 3, 2014
  14. Maryland State Board of Elections, "Voter Registration Activity Report," March 2014
  15. United States Census Bureau, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed April 21, 2014