The Maryland State Board of Education’s first official teacher member is an elementary music instructor from Carroll County who considered herself a longshot for the job.
But she’s up to it.
Rachel McCusker was elected to the newly created board seat set aside specifically for a public school classroom teacher in an election that drew more than 8,200 votes from educators around the state.
The election results were made final in a public announcement Friday afternoon.
“I really believe that I have the skills that are going to be needed to establish relationships, forge some connections and work on collaborations to make some positive changes for the almost 900,000 students across the state,” McCusker said in an interview Monday.
She was endorsed during the election process by the Maryland State Education Association.
McCusker is a vocal music teacher in Carroll County at Linton Springs Elementary School. She’s been teaching in the county since 1994 and was the county teacher of the year for 2015-2016.
She holds a master’s degree in school administration, which she thinks will be valuable on the state board.
“I’ve always been fascinated by schools from a systemic viewpoint. I don’t just see schools from my little silo of fine arts,” McCusker said.
McCusker has also been involved in education activism at the local, state and national levels, particularly advocating for less standardized testing. And after the More Learning, Less Testing Act of 2017 passed the General Assembly unanimously and imposed an annual limit on the number of hours children can spend taking standardized exams, McCusker served on the Carroll County panel to monitor testing hours.
“I have very strong feelings about teaching to the whole child. And making sure that we’re looking at their needs from a very global standpoint,” McCusker said about her advocacy.
Her time working to forge collective bargaining agreements will also help on the state board, said McCusker, who likes to seek common ground and “win-win solutions.”
The statewide election for a teacher member to the board is the result of legislation passed by the General Assembly last session that will increase the state board to 14 positions. The bill requires Maryland’s governor to appoint the winner of the election among teachers. The nominee will then be subject to confirmation by the Maryland Senate.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will also make an appointment for a new parent member of the board, choosing between three nominees put forward by the Maryland PTA. The parent member of the board must have a student actively enrolled in a public school. That nominee is also subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The terms of the two new board member are set to begin Jan. 1.
McCusker said she is looking forward to working on issues headed for the state board, including possible implementation of Kirwan Commission recommendations, the hiring of a new state superintendent, and expansions of pre-kindergarten and career education. She also hopes to bring a greater voice to the anxiety and mental health issues students face in school and supports that are needed.
“While I’m not going to be able to change the world with this position, I can certainly bring voice to that,” she said.
McCusker plans to talk to teachers in all parts of the state to bring universal perspectives to the board, she said.
“That’s my mission every day: What do kids need? What do people across the state think kids need? And how do I bring that to this table?”