Some school board candidates arise from PTAs, some from community activism and some from the peripheries of politics. Nancy C. Cummings of Bowie, one of four candidates for the Prince George's school board's Fifth District seat, arises from them all.
Her three children are graduates of county schools, and she once simultaneously belonged to four PTAs. She is married to former Bowie City Councilman John Bliss Cummings, is known in the city as an activist and has at least vague connections with most area politicians. She is a teacher and a member of the Prince George's County Educators' Association board of directors.
Cummings, who refuses to divulge her age but is about 50, works at Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie, but will move to another school at the end of the summer because of staff reductions. She will be forced to resign her teaching job if she wins the school board race.
Her involvement with the association and her years as a teacher have shaped her ideas on what the Board of Education should do. Much of what she wants to accomplish on the board is aimed at improving the lot and power of teachers.
She complained there is "often a parent-child relationship between the administration and teachers, rather than a partnership. It can never, of course, be equal, but the teachers are oftentimes definitely treated as underlings. There needs to be more teacher input in decisions."
The school board should offer more "lateral mobility" to teachers to prevent "stagnation," she said. She suggested international exchanges and exchanges with business that would allow business workers to temporarily switch jobs with teachers. Cummings, who describes travel as one of her main interests, also is a keen supporter of student exchanges.
She advocates incentives to encourage teachers to retire by age 55. "The system really needs younger people," she said. "To see some of these younger people being cut because of this year's school budget really breaks my heart." Teachers currently receive full benefits by retiring after 30 years, or at age 60, or at 62 under a newer pension plan.
At the same time, Cummings complained that too many senior teachers, especially those in library, driver education and music programs, have been cut. "Middle schools were spared," she added. "Middle schools are someone's particular baby. If you got into middle schools, you are pretty much okay."
Cummings said the school board also "has a problem responding to individuals and individual cases." She cited an experience of her own as an example: The youngest of her three children failed senior English and was not allowed to graduate with her Bowie Senior High School class.
"What we hoped was that she could walk with her class across the stage and get an unsigned diploma," she said. "But they wouldn't do that. It just broke our hearts." Cummings and her daughter made a presentation to the Board of Education, but she said it was unwilling to make exceptions. Her daughter later passed English and received her diploma.
She said she had received calls from other parents who are unhappy that school officials have not listened to individual cases.
With this year's budget cuts, she said, the school system must look into more "innovative financing," such as persuading computer companies to donate equipment to schools, saving money by selling unused schools more quickly and making schools more energy efficient. She said the school system should examine the use of solar energy where possible.
"She's not one to lash out on an issue," educators' association president John Sisson said. "She's not the most vocal person on the board by any means. She sits back and analyzes before she makes her position . . . She's not a screamer."
Sisson said Cummings' political background would be useful on a board where "education decisions are increasingly political decisions."
Many area politicians have appeared at her fund-raisers. Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Bowie) described Cummings as "a very dedicated civic-type person." Leo E. Green, a former state delegate and current Democratic state senate candidate, said Cummings has been "vital to the community."
But A. James Golato, the Fifth District incumbent now running for County Council, said Cummings' political connections probably won't matter. "People make up their own minds," he said.
Earlier this year, Golato endorsed an opponent of Cummings, attorney Gregory P. Barth. But Barth, who is recovering from an illness, withdrew from the race last Friday, and Golato said he will not publicly support any candidate.
Cummings hopes to receive an endorsement this week from PACE, the political arm of the educators' association. As the only candidate who is a member of the association's board of directors and with full-time association coordinator Greg Beard as her campaign treasurer, many say she has a good chance to gain the important endorsement.
Born in Rock Springs, Wyo., Cummings met her husband at the University of Wyoming. They moved to the Washington area in 1960.
She taught an assortment of adult education courses, including a course on "aggressiveness" at the University of the District of Columbia, and has worked as a part-time and substitute teacher. When her youngest daughter entered high school, she became a full-time elementary school teacher.
"I like working with kids," Cummings said, "but I'm at the point where I'm looking for another challenge."
A long-time acquaintance of incumbent Golato, Cummings said: "When he decided to run for County Council, I just thought it would be a good idea to run for the school board."