As the Howard County Board of Education faces difficult budget choices and searches for a new superintendent, campaigns are underway for the five district seats up for election this year.

Eleven candidates filed for the five open seats ahead of the Feb. 9 filing deadline. For the May primary, residents will vote for a school board candidate in each of their respective County Council districts. The two-at-large members, who are elected countywide, are not up for reelection until 2026.

All of the district races are contested except for District 3, where incumbent Jolene Mosley is running unopposed. As for the other incumbents, Antonia Watts in District 2 and Jen Mallo in District 4 are seeking new terms, while Robyn Scates in District 1 and Yun Lu in District 5 are not. The board also has a student board member.

The primary election is Tuesday, May 14. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Early voting will take place during the same hours on May 2-9. The two candidates in each district who garner the most votes on primary day will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

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The Baltimore Banner asked the candidates in contested races a series of introductory questions. Here are their responses, edited for length and clarity, along with information from public records.

District 1

Pravin Ponnuri

Age: 58

Residence: Ellicott City. Has lived in Howard County since 1996.

Occupation: A federal government IT specialist.

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Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for the county school board in 2016; member of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee from 2015 to 2019.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I am seeking election to the Board of Education with the goal of tackling the funding deficits that strain the services that make our school system highly regarded. My priorities include addressing the ongoing overcrowding in schools, enhancing school infrastructure, and providing support to our educators in order to attract and retain top talent. Furthermore, I aim to elevate educational standards to equip our children intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally for the global society. I strive for uniform excellence in all county schools, implement grassroots budgeting to target and eliminate inefficiencies, and emphasize education as the core focus of the school system.

Meg Ricks

Age: 43

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Residence: Elkridge. Has lived in Howard County since 2004.

Occupation: A teacher’s assistant at East Columbia Preschool.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the school board in 2022; elected to multiple PTA leadership positions including president, treasurer and secretary.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

Growing up in Chicago in a family that struggled to make ends meet, I benefited from programs like free and reduced price meals as well as the kindness and generosity of others including many dedicated and wonderful teachers. Despite facing severe overcrowding in a 1920s-era building with no air conditioning and a student population dealing with many challenges, our teachers strived to connect us to opportunities we would not have had otherwise. Those who championed and supported me inspired me to help others. That inspiration compelled me to serve my community and advocate for our schools and all students in Howard County. Public education made a tremendous difference in my life and I believe it is crucial today. My time on the Operating Budget Review Committee and years of PTA leadership deepened my understanding of the fiscal and other challenges we face. As a community leader and advocate, I have followed and participated in the work of the Board for over 14 years and I am ready to bring my experience, creative problem-solving, consensus building, and passion for education to this role. That is why I am running to become District One’s Board of Education Member.

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Andre Gao

Did not respond to The Banner’s questions.

District 2

Larry Doyle

Age: 74

Residence: Long Reach Village. Has lived in Howard County for six years.

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Occupation: Serving as the school system’s Black Student Achievement Program Community Liaison at Ducketts Lane Elementary and as a substitute teacher. Previously worked as an attorney and an adjunct professor.

Political experience: First time running for office.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I am running for the Howard County Board of Education because I am concerned about the education of our children and the social climate of our schools. Many children are not graduating and many who do are woefully ill-equipped to become productive citizens. The policies of our public schools often do not meet the needs of the students. I have been inside a number of our schools and, in some cases, the students are completely out of control and are beyond the ability of the teachers to reach them. In some cases, the teachers are in fear of the students.

It is often said that the problem is with the parents. We have taken power away from the parents and then complain that the parents are the problem. Actually, there is plenty of blame to go around including policies that do not serve the schools well. Howard County is known for having a great school system, but there are schools where the students need more help than the school can provide.

It is obvious to me that the real problem is not today’s students but the philosophy of parenting and teaching that is presented to the students. We must reevaluate the purposes of general education.

Antonia Watts

Age: 42

Residence: Elkridge. Has lived in Howard County for 10 years.

Occupation: Professional learning specialist.

Political experience: School board member since 2020.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I am running because it is urgent that we develop a system where every child has access to an education that fits their needs. In my current term, my focus has centered on student achievement, educator support, and fiscal responsibility achieved through the development of strong accountability measures. To improve identification of reading difficulties, I increased access to a reading screening tool for all elementary school students. I added several positions to special education to handle administrative duties, freeing our special educators to spend more time focused on students. Additionally, I was instrumental in redesigning the budgetary process to increase community engagement and advocacy for funding for public education. While I am proud of the accomplishments that I have highlighted, I am running because there is still much work to be done. From my experience working in education for the past 12 years, I have realized the importance of having an educator involved in the development of the policies and the management of the resources that impact our children. So, as a member of the board of education, I will combine my analytical engineering skills and board experience with my understanding of the classroom to positively impact student success.

District 4

Hiruy Hadgu

Age: 39

Residence: Fulton. Has lived in Howard County for the past 13 years.

Occupation: A reactor systems engineer.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for County Council in 2018.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I am running because the school system does not serve the interests of my children and those who look like them. This was evidenced by [how the] the school system and county responded to October 7 — the collective statements of condemnation — versus [the] deafening silence since, as the Gaza genocide unfolds. Instead of a collective response, HCPSS discouraged walkouts, and failed to tackle the climate of fear among teachers.

My criticism of Israel’s war crimes attracted criticism and unwarranted actions from certain groups, leading to my ouster from volunteer positions, though some organizations have stood by me.

My campaign aims to challenge the silence and inaction of the BOE on critical issues, including its passive stance on student and teacher freedoms and its superficial commitment to DEI and anti-racism. The BOE’s handling of the budget, reluctance to advocate for necessary funding, and mismanagement of the bus contract further demonstrate a failure to prioritize the welfare of students, especially those of color. This election, for me, is not just a campaign but a movement to address these systemic issues head-on.

Julie Kaplan

Age: 52

Residence: Fulton. Has lived in Howard County since 1995.

Occupation: A senior vice president of marketing and revenue operations.

Political experience: First time running for public office.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I am running for the Howard County Board of Education to restore and enhance our school system’s legacy as a pinnacle of educational excellence. My vision is to create an environment where every student discovers and hones their unique talents, supported by a rich array of programs. This campaign springs from witnessing the impact of fiscal mismanagement and proposed budget cuts on essential services and programs that underpin our students’ success. I advocate for a decisive shift towards prioritizing the educational needs and well-being of every child, championing smaller class sizes, reliable transportation, and the preservation of vital co-curricular activities. My commitment is grounded in practical budgeting, promoting inclusivity, and ensuring a safe, nurturing environment for all learners. As a parent deeply invested in the Howard County Public School System, my motivation is purely the educational prosperity of our children, devoid of political ambition. I am driven by the belief that quality education is a fundamental, not a privilege. My candidacy is an invitation to join hands in reimagining a future where our schools are equipped to offer every student the opportunity to excel.

Jen Mallo

Age: 54

Residence: Columbia. Has lived in Howard County for 34 years.

Occupation: Former language analyst at Department of Defense and teacher at National Cryptologic School; volunteer coordinator for Youth Food Insecurity.

Political experience: Member of Howard school board; elected in 2018 and reelected in 2020.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

I want to continue serving on the Board of Education because there is still work to do — work that needs experience, knowledge, and commitment to the students. On July 1, 2024, a new permanent Superintendent will begin. I want to be a part of the team who directs the permanent Superintendent to fix recent mistakes, rebuild trust within our community, and hold him/her to the inclusive values that supports students. As the only Board member not in their first term, I bring trusted leadership, experience, and knowledge that is singularly unique among the candidates. Having recently completed Georgetown University’s Certificate in Education Finance, I can continue to demand financial accountability and transparency while knowing the ins and outs of budgeting. I commit to remaining a champion for children — especially those historically underserved and underrepresented. My experiences serving on Blueprint for Education workgroups; as a former president of a preschool; raising three children attending Title I schools; navigating the world of special education as a parent; running a weekend food program for food-insecure youth; and currently [serving] as Board Chair have led me to want to continue to serve this great community and our students even through tough times.

District 5

Catherine Carter

Age: 44

Residence: Woodbine. Has lived in Howard County for 15 years.

Occupation: Education advocate and chief sales officer and small business owner for a cybersecurity company. Former public school teacher.

Political experience: First time running for public office. Recently appointed by Gov. Wes Moore’s office to the Maryland Board of Examiners of Optometry as a consumer member.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

The Howard County school system needs fixing. As a former public school teacher and passionate education advocate, I bring the necessary experience and expertise to initiate effective changes in our schools. I am committed to advocating for essential resources that will benefit all our students. Howard County requires an education advocate with my background who is ready to hit the ground running on day one. I am prepared to act by visiting schools; engaging with teachers, staff, students, and various groups; championing a multi-year strategic budget plan; and [advocating] for resources from local and state lawmakers. My years of advocacy have taught me that actions speak louder than words, and I firmly believe in the principle that “a well done is better than a well said.” Our students deserve someone who is not afraid to ask hard questions, advocate for solutions, and work with stakeholders. I am running for office because I am determined to fix the problems the Howard County school system faces and bring about positive change.

Andrea Chamblee

Age: 62

Residence: Grew up in Howard County, graduated from Glenelg High School.

Occupation: Adjunct professor at George Washington University. Previously worked as a regulatory compliance attorney for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — with a stint in the private sector — before retiring in 2021.

Political experience: First time running for public office. Holds unelected positions as a regulatory affairs professional fellow and with Everytown for Gun Safety.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

Howard County needs a seasoned, competent analyst on its Board to scrutinize contracts as well as other vulnerabilities and needs for improvement. The fact that our buses couldn’t get students to school on time is just a symptom of that need. In addition, we’re failing to meet the needs of our special education students. Maintenance has been deferred for too long, and teachers are leaving the area and the profession. My experience in contracts, crisis management, and teaching has brought me decades of experience working with politicians, patients, business leaders, consumers, and students. Howard County also needs me to champion the safety of students, teachers, and staff. As a widow of gun violence and a gun safety activist, I have strived to end the number one killer of American children and teens, gun violence. But firearms aren’t the only safety risk to the well-being of our students: Bullying, teen suicide, untreated mental health needs, dangerous walking paths, and poor indoor air quality impact not only our students’ ability to learn but their health and even their lives. I will be their champion for safety.

Trent Kittleman

Age: 78.

Residence: West Friendship. Has lived in Howard County for 52 years.

Occupation: Practiced law for over 10 years.

Political experience: First elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014; served in that role until January 2023.

In your own words, why are you running for school board?

Having served in the Legislature during the initiation, examination, and approval of the Kirwan Blueprint, I gained insights into the state of education in Maryland, and unfortunately, much of it revealed challenges. Since December 2023, my focus has been dedicated to the Howard County Public School System, evident in my monthly newsletter, “A Voice for Parents,” initiated in August.

While Howard County stands as a premier public school system in the state, the margin is narrowing. With five grandchildren attending Howard County schools, I’m committed to preserving its excellence.

My leadership, knowledge, and experience empower me to pose informed inquiries to department heads. For instance, as a lawyer, I knew upon reading the ZUM bus contract that it was inadequate, lacking certain critical provisions.

Despite our county’s affluence, the soaring cost of education is a stark reality, often fueled by new state-mandated responsibilities. Given the evolving fiscal landscape, creativity is imperative to sustain adequate funding for our schools. I believe I can contribute significantly to shaping these crucial decisions.

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