Carol F. Wallace, one of two incumbents seeking reelection to the Montgomery County school board, stands firmly by the board's controversial record but fervently wishes county voters would forget the past.
Wallace is one of the board's ruling majority, which since 1978 has consistently pushed school policy in a direction critics say is dangerously conservative. She and fellow incumbent Joseph R. Barse have been targeted for defeat by EDPAC, an educational political action committee that is trying to halt the drift to the right and is backing a slate of four opponents. There are four seats open.
"I very much support all the actions the board has taken" during a "very rough period," Wallace said in a recent interview. "When you act, you get reactions."
In the last four years, the board has plowed through a series of difficult school closing decisions that sometimes pitted communities against each other. Some decisions were challenged at the state board and one school closure was overturned this summer. The board also has made decisions that critics say reach directly into the classroom, bypassing administrators and principals and abrogating teacher autonomy.
The board also made voluntary a formerly required course in black history and culture for teachers and dissolved a committee that advised the board on minority relations, bringing cries of racism from black leaders.
"I really think the school closure issue should be behind us," Wallace said. "It was painful. It was done . . . now we have to look to the future and the future should be children in the classroom."
Wallace said widespread charges that some school closing decisions were racially motivated are untrue. "There is nothing racial about it. I'm interested in stability for children. I want good education where children are."
The board member said she supported about two-thirds of the closings, but felt the criteria for decisions should have included consideration of geographic location and renovations of school buildings.
She is quick to defend a series of board actions that require that all teachers give homework, that high school courses conclude with a final exam and that students who cut class more than five times automatically fail.
"I think that your policies must be specific enough not to be misunderstood," she said. Former policy, she said, required what was termed a "culminating activity" in high school courses. That could be "go stand on your head in the corner," Wallace said. Now all courses taught in grades 9-12 must end with a two-hour final exam.
Critics have charged that such actions are inappropriately specific for a policy-making board, should be left to the superintendent and other administrators and hamstring classroom teachers.
But Wallace contends the policy remains flexible: "Almost every member of the board said final exams shouldn't be just multiple choice, but should include essay questions. . . . Maybe we should have included that, too. . . .[The policy] is still flexible."
To questions of board racism, Wallace brings out a list she has prepared, countering what she calls "perceptions" with "realities." She cites, among other examples, increased black participation in the gifted and talented programs, from 4.8 percent in secondary schools in 1979 to 6.2 percent in 1981. Blacks comprised 12.2 percent of the schools offering gifted and talented programs in 1981.
She said that although the total number of suspensions rose .1 percent in the 1980-81 school year, the percentage of black children suspended declined .9 percent. In that year, black students represented 14.9 percent of all those suspended one or more times. Blacks make up 12.7 percent of the countywide school enrollment. Blacks have criticized the school system because they say a disproportionate number are suspended while too few participate in the gifted and talented programs.
Wallace said eliminating the requirement that teachers take a human relations course was coupled with instituting a day and a half of inservice training where teachers could select appropriate courses, including a controversial one on black history and culture and another multiracial course that includes information on Hispanic and Asian culture.
She said the board disbanded the Minority Relations Monitoring Committee because many members maintained an attitude of "antagonism" toward the school board. Wallace said Asians and Hispanics on the committee told her they did not feel comfortable expressing their views.
"I didn't object to what committee members said. I always objected to how they said it," she said. A new board committee, the Minority Affairs Advisory Committee, is "well-balanced," according to Wallace, and includes representatives from school staff, school security and geographic areas.
Wallace is especially proud of her role in establishing maximum class size, an issue she campaigned on in 1976 when she ran for the board unsuccessfully and again raised in 1978 when she was elected.
Wallace, 46, of Silver Spring, was born and raised on Staten Island in New York City. She attended Brooklyn College and received a B.S. in Education from Wagner Lutheran College, Staten Island. She taught special education for nearly 10 years, moving to Montgomery County in 1964. She has two sons, Richard, 16 and Michael, 15, who attend Springbrook High School. She served as school board vice president in 1980 and president in 1981.
She places herself "very definitely right of center" on the educational philosophy spectrum, calling herself a moderate conservative and "traditionalist".
She believes future budgets will be tight and board members will have to set priorities. "I don't want the classroom hurt," she said, adding, "My priorities will remain classroom, teachers, textbooks." Items such as driver education, all-day kindergartens and elementary school counselers may have to be sacrificed, she said.
"The thing I'm doing is really looking ahead. What needed to be done has been done. I think you have to ask, 'Are the schools better?' I think the answer is a resounding, 'yes,' " she said, summing up her board experience. "And I think it will get better, especially if I'm there."