Seeking reassurance, Marilyn Praisner glanced at her 12-year-old daughter, sitting across the room.
"I've always been able to juggle it, don't you think so, Alison?" asked the 40-year-old candidate for the Montgomery County school board, referring to her service this year on the Maryland Congress of Parents and Teachers, the board of directors of the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital and the Montgomery County Drug Abuse Advisory Council, and as PTSA president at Banneker Junior High School. Praisner is also an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.
"I'm a great list-maker and a great organizer," she added.
If she is elected to one of the four available at-large, nonpartisan Montgomery County seats on Nov. 2, Praisner said her only continuing commitments would be to the drug abuse council and her job at the CIA.
Voters will narrow the field of candidates to eight in the Sept. 14 primary. Currently, Joseph Barse, Carol Wallace, Eleanor Zappone and Elizabeth Spencer, who is running for the 8th District seat in Congress, hold the four seats up for election on the seven-member board of education. A high school student elected by county students serves as an eighth member of the board.
Praisner ran unsuccessfully for the board in 1980 when she finished fourth among six candidates in an election to fill three seats. Praisner collected about 6,000 fewer votes than board member Blair G. Ewing, the third-place finisher, who received 100,937 votes.
After the election, Praisner says she took a year to think it over, and decided "to give the voters another chance." She was at a disadvantage last time, she said, because she waited until three days before the deadline to file as a candidate. This year's deadline was yesterday.
The family car parked in the driveway of her comfortable Calverton home sports a placard and an array of bumper stickers with the Praisner campaign slogan: "3 R's and More." Her platform, she explained, consists of a pledge to provide "responsible leadership, rational decision making, and representation for all."
Noting last week's finding by the state board of education that the Montgomery board's decision to close Rosemary Hills Elementary and to alter the attendance boundaries for Montgomery Blair High and Eastern Intermediate schools showed noncompliance with its own policy, Praisner said she believes the current board has lost the trust of the community.
"I wasn't surprised by the decision, even though it's unprecedented," she said, adding, "The people of the county want this issue behind them."
She said residents were frustrated that some board members did not attend all the school closing hearings and that it was clear some had made up their minds ahead of time.
A native of New Jersey, and a graduate of Rutgers University's Douglas College, Praisner and her husband Don, who is also with the CIA, have lived in the county 15 years. In addition to Alison, the Praisners have a daughter, Karen, 22, and a son, Michael, 19, who are graduates of Paint Branch High School.
"I value my family's support," she said, adding that her husband has resumed his post as her campaign manager. "My daughter has a 'Vote for my Mom' T-shirt and my mother has a 'Vote for my Daughter' T-shirt."
Issues of academic achievement are among Praisner's priorities for the school board.
"We moved here because of the reputation of the school system and I want to renew that impression" as a board member, she said.
She said she is opposed to uniform, countywide final exams that already have been instituted in some high school courses, noting that they have never been shown to be superior to teacher-developed tests. Questions regarding the time and cost benefits have not been answered by the board either, Praisner claimed.
The board's failure to use committees has resulted in considerable waste in the way the board operates, according to Praisner. She said, for example, she would like to see groups of board members responsible for researching specific segments of the school budget, and then present their information to the whole group for discussion.
She would also like to see the board meet in places other than the Educational Services Center in Rockville, to make the board's activities accessible to more citizens. "No longer are parents of children of school-age a majority. The board needs to explain the school system to the rest of the county," she said, citing the importance of meeting with civic and business groups to discuss the use of their tax dollars regarding the school system.
William Bevan, a colleague of Praisner's on the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital board of directors, praised her performance as chairman of many committees during her six years on the board. "She is a very bright person and able to assimilate materials quickly and make decisions," he said. Frank Kammel, chairman of the drug abuse advisory council, called Praisner "very civic-minded and very concerned about young people. Those two things will make her a very energetic candidate."
Having spent many years as a community activist, Praisner says she is sensitive to the problems that arise "when lip service is paid to community involvement, but not meaningful dialogue. I've been sitting before different local boards for so many years with what I know were good recommendations and did not have them addressed."
As a member of a 1976 task force that recommended a master plan for school facilities, she said she began to see the inefficiency of the board's operation.
Praisner said Elizabeth Spencer is the current board member she most admires, citing Spencer's honesty and integrity. She does not necessarily agree with Spencer on every issue, however, Praisner said.
Praisner is one of four candidates to receive the endorsement of the Educational Political Action Committee (EDPAC), a county organization formed last year because of dissatisfaction with the conservative shift within the current board majority. The other candidates endorsed by EDPAC are Odessa Shannon, James Cronin and Robert Shoenberg.
Praisner also has been endorsed by the Walter Johnson Community, a group attached to Walter Johnson High School, and Daryl Shaw, the former board president, who supported Praisner in her 1980 campaign when he decided not to seek reelection to the board. Shaw now is a special assistant to County Executive Charles Gilchrist.
Emphasizing her interest in issues of academic achievement, Praisner said it is clear that students need to know how to analyze information, noting that computers will have to become recognized as the arithmetic of the future. "We can't develop multiple-choice minds," she said.