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com March 30, 2012 A forum for the At Large and District 2 Montgomery County Board of Education candidates was on held March 26, sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and the American Association of University Women; and for District 2 candidates on March 29, sponsored by The Rockville Community Coalition, in cooperation with The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville. This is a summary of the candidates’ statements. March 26 Forum Opening statements Lou August, At Large. Mr. August has been an executive of high-tech companies. MCPS should “leverage its advantages,” including a huge corporate base. MCPS should have mandatory internships and blended e-learning. Morris Panner, At Large. Mr. Panner is a lawyer and software entrepreneur, with four children in MCPS elementary schools. MCPS is on a collision course with a budget crisis. We must continue to make investments. As a Board member, he would be more involved and collaborative with State and County officials. Aryeh Shudofsky, At Large. Mr. Shudofsky works in the financial services industry, through which he is skilled in budgeting, finance and collaboration. MCPS schools are among the finest in the country. We must be more concerned with life after students finish schools, including their participation as responsible members of society. Saqib Ali, At Large. Mr. Ali is a software engineer. He claims to be the most independent candidate. The Board has been captive of group-think. This has led to bad decisions: to sue the County Council, to permit dissemination of anti-gay flyers, open meetings act violations. The other candidates ignore this problem. Susan Byrne, District 2. Ms. Byrne would move focus from the budget to quality education, which other jurisdictions accomplish at a lower per capita cost. She has two children in MCPS schools – one child not in one of MCPS’ best schools. There are too many bad schools: we need leadership. MCPS fails black, Hispanic, gifted and talented, and FARMS students. She agrees with Dr. Starr that we have an “adult learning problem.” Jeanne Ellinport, District 2. Ms. Ellinport has three children, in high, middle and elementary school, respectively. She has 20 years of experience in education advocacy. She
works in public relations, and did so as Director of Jewish Outreach in the Clinton white house and for the American Red Cross. She is a graduate of Leadership Montgomery. Her goals focus on college and career readiness, narrowing the achievement gap, adequate professional development before curriculum rollout, and restoring teacher creativity. Fred Evans, District 2. Mr. Evans was a teacher or principal in Wootton, Rockville and Gaithersburg High Schools and Parkland Middle School. He has experience and knows the history. His priorities are closing the gap, stopping inter-governmental bickering, and looking hard at the budget. Rebecca Smondrowski, District 2. Ms. Smondrowski has children in Grades 6 and 9. She has held leadership positions in MCCPTA and has been active in political campaigns. Her goal is to produce well-rounded children. MCPS has lost the definition of the successful student: social and safe. She would expand community outreach, stop teaching to the test, and restore teacher creativity. Topic: overriding challenge for students Panner. It is hard for students to find their individual paths. Schools must take the individual into account. Ali. Achievement is correlated with race and class. A student living in Bethesda or Chevy-Chase is fine, but an African-American or Latino is not doing well. We have two separate systems, divided by wealth and race. Byrne. Students are not offered developmentally-appropriate education, but onesize-fits-all. We must fit programs to students – reach and teach each individual student. It can be done, not through more money but leadership. August. Students lack a sense of relevancy: that what they are doing leads to something. He advocates internships. Many parents prefer gifted and talented classes because students are better behaved; MCPS discriminates against students not in gifted and talent classes. Topic: discipline. Shudofsky. Discipline problems are correlated with the achievement gap. Class engagement is thwarted by teaching to the lowest common denominator. Teaching must be directed to the ability level of the student (gifted and talented education, for example). Smondrowski. Every child must be invested in where s/he is and where s/he is going. In every school, every student must be known by at least one adult. They will feel better, and the achievement gap will “naturally close.”
Evans. Discipline depends on consistency within the school building among teachers, administrators and parents: all must know the rules. He takes “umbrage” at the line between the west and east county: we don’t have to make that “assumption.” Ellinport. Every child must have a mentor and feel vested and safe. Byrne. Two-thirds of MCPS students are not thriving. They need curriculum, and social and emotional support, including social and emotional learning in class. NCLB has robbed them of this learning opportunity. Ali. African-Americans and Latinos have disproportionately high suspension rates. They need more support in school. Suspension exacerbates the problems: there is a pipeline from suspension to incarceration. August. Students need authenticity to remain engaged. Panner. Safety must be an absolute requirement. There should be an individualized approach to discipline. Topic: zero tolerance discipline Ali. Zero tolerance does not make sense: it is a one-size-fits-all response that leads to bad outcomes. It affects African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately. MCPS should have in-school suspensions. Evans. Egregious behavior (weapons, physical attacks, selling drugs) should not be tolerated. Byrne. Zero tolerance is problem-centered, not solution-centered. Students need social and emotional learning. August. Schools must focus every day on behavior. He disagrees with zero tolerance. Topic: evaluation teachers on the basis on student test scores Byrne. She would rely on MCPS’ professional growth system. Experienced teachers no longer feel that they are teaching. We must focus on the whole child. Shudofsky. He would not evaluate teachers based on test scores. Rather, he would expect one year’s growth for each student. Ali. Students test scores should be the basis of 20-50 percent of teachers’ evaluations. This provides the appropriate incentive to teachers.
Smondrowski. She would base some, but not too much, of evaluations on scores. Just accelerating students to the next grade doesn’t mean they have learned or are ready to function. We must look at where students come from. Panner. All teachers teach slightly differently. Evans. We should not evaluate on the basis of test scores. There are so many variables, including students’ abilities at the start of the year and class size. Ellinport. MCPS should focus on the whole child and growth through the year. The former Superintendent was “so data heavy:” we have lost some phenomenal teachers. Topic: charter schools Ellinport. Charter schools must have the same standards as public schools. Ali. Board decision regarding charter schools is a conflict of interest. Mr. Ali again noted the lack of independence of the other candidates. Shudofsky. Charter schools must be part of the arsenal. MCPS has promised to do “whatever it takes.” August. Competition breeds innovation. Charters will be more innovative. Panner. Mr. Panner is “not a fan” of charter schools. They represent a “cry for help,” and are symptomatic of the “opt-out” from public schools. Smondrowski. Charter schools are not an alternative to failing public schools. Byrne. Maryland has a bad charter law. Charters offer choice. Ali. Charters are not an “opt-out.” Rather, they are a response to urbanization, in which schools are not “up to par.” Montgomery County looks more and more like the District of Columbia. Evans. We need accurate facts: high minority schools can work. Topic: School construction and renovation in a time of infill, apartments, changing population Evans. The choice of schools for renovation is a political decision. The process must be open and transparent. August. MCPS has a structural budget deficit. We should be focused on e-learning and business-based learning: closing down, not repairing, old schools.
Ellinport. MCPS should look at how it evaluates use of construction money. Numbers from County planners do not correspond to school population growth. Ali. Decisions are made in secret, in violation of the law. The school board is a political body. Now we have “bobble-heads” and “group-think.” Panner. This topic points to enormous structural and demographic change. The Board will become a more political body. Closing statements Smondrowski. Ms. Smondrowski has substantial experience: she has not “just shown up.” Evans. Mr. Evans has an historical perspective. Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport is from New Orleans. MCPS has good schools. She is known for professional and educational activism. The system needs new eyes and new leadership. Byrne. Budgetary issues have been allowed to hold the system back: we need new leadership. As a project manager, she is organized and analytical. Dr. Starr shows great promise. Ali. Mr. Ali is the most independent candidate. He has experience as a state legislator. The Board is dysfunctional. He will work on minority issues, and has the support of Donna Edwards. Shudofsky. We have been moving backward: given the economy, it is hard to get a job. We must focus on life after school. We also should move forward with technology. August. Mr. August has a world-class educational perspective and track record. He is someone who connects the dots. March 29 Forum Opening statements Smondrowski. Ms. Smondrowski has two children, aged 15 (Special Education) and 11. She has 10 years’ experience working in the schools to maintain MCPS’ top level, and to foster community outreach and mentoring. She has been an executive officer in MCCPTA and worked as a legislative aid. She has worked for school-based legislation and securing additional funding for schools. The “truly successful” student combines social with academic competence and is safe and secure. Success is not data and test scores, but creativity.
Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport has children in Quince Orchard High School, Ridgeview Middle School and Fields Road Elementary School. She has worked in the Clinton White House, with the American Red Cross and with the U.S. Soccer Foundation. She has been an education activist for 25 years. She understands what kids need today so that the County can thrive tomorrow. Her objectives are career- and college-readiness, creativity in the classroom, narrowing the achievement gap, and professional development (particularly in connection with curriculum rollouts). Byrne. Ms. Byrne has children, each with special needs, in Cabin John Middle School and Stone Mill Elementary School. She is an organization and systems analyst. She seeks to return Board focus to quality education, rather than the budget and politics. Other systems accomplish more with a smaller per capita budget. MCPS judges its success based on standardized test scores and graduation rates. Even by these measures, it fails black, Hispanic, FARMS, GT and Special Education students: they don’t thrive in the MCPS model. MCPS has a high graduation rate, but 42 percent of graduates take remedial math in college. More of the same won’t work. She seeks education that is fun and pursued for the sake of learning. MCPS has a “fabulous PR department.” She offers “better leadership.” Ali. Mr. Ali was born in Chicago of Pakistani parents, spent childhood in Saudi Arabia and attended college at the University of Maryland, receiving a master’s degree in computer science. He was an ardent peace activist, and spoke out on human rights issues. He served as a State Representative from Gaithersburg and Germantown, working especially for increased transparency. He lost a close race for State Senate. He has two young daughters about to start school. The existing Board displays unhelpful “group think,” as evidenced by its threat to sue the County Council, Open Meetings Act violations and toleration of the dissemination of anti-gay flyers. Mr. Ali is independent. Evans. Mr. Evans has lived in Maryland since 1970. He was a teacher in Wootton High School, an Assistant Principal in Rockville High School, and a principal in Parkland Middle School and Gaithersburg High School. During his Gaithersburg tenure, 82 percent of graduates went to college. As a Board member, he would tightly examine the budget, truly close the achievement gap (MCPS needs a more committed emphasis), and promote community outreach. Question: how would you, as a new superintendent, begin your work and work with the Board? Smondrowski. Dr. Starr has done an excellent job in learning a complicated, majority and minority, County. His community outreach has been good. She would look at programs, understand how they work and determine how best to invest money in those programs. Evans. Mr. Evan would go out and listen, especially to those “grounded in the schools:” teachers, staff and students.
Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport would listen to the 70 percent of County residents who do not have children in the schools. She would also talk to business. She would be open and collaborative. Byrne. Ms. Byrne would identify strengths and weaknesses. She referred to a Board retreat and frank self-assessment of failings. She would compare MCPS to best practices. Ali. In his first day on the job, Mr. Ali would get rid of anti-gay flyers. Topic: school overcrowding and portable classrooms Ali. This problem can be alleviated only with money: there is no magic wand. Byrne. We need to think outside the box, let go of one-size-fits-all programming and use technology. (Children’s familiarity with technology is one reason that we have a 40 percent GT identification rate.) Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport recommends a County-wide boundary study to better utilize available space. Evans. Mr. Evans participated in the closing of schools in the 1970’s and the opening of new schools in the 1980’s. There must be political cooperation and the perception that all schools are good schools. Smondrowski. Ms. Smondrowski also favor a boundary examination, along with greater capital funding and better long-range school population growth planning. Topic: charter schools Byrne. Choice engages students, as evidenced by MCPS’ language immersion and magnet schools (which are somewhat like charters). Ali. The Board is hostile to charters. It is time to expand them. While families in Bethesda and Chevy-Chase are satisfied with good education, those in Wheaton, Burtonsville and Briggs Chaney do not get the same results: they want the charter option. As an “urbanizing” county, we need to look at charters. Smondrowski. While she does not oppose charters, she does not want parents feeling the need for these programs. There should be more options in public schools (especially in Special Education). Evans. Mr. Evans does not know what’s wrong with what we have. We have lots of choice – Richard Montgomery and Blair magnets, for example. He has not seen evidence that parents want to get out of the system. Charters provide no magic answers.
Ellinport. Charters must maintain the same standards as regular MCPS schools. She does not believe that we need them. Our system must be good enough for everyone. Question: how do we better serve students with special needs? Evans. Mr. Evans is not sure that it was a good idea for MCPS to have closed the Special Education centers. MCPS has particular problems addressing students with emotional needs. Teachers must be trained to meet the needs of mainstreamed Special Education students. This is a very important issue. Smondrowski. Ms. Smondrowski’s son is in the Bridge program. He was in GT/LD, but after middle schools was mainstreamed. Such students do not do well in large groups. MCPS needs more options. Ali. The school system fights parents who seek these services; we must make it easier for students to access them. He would reverse the Shaffer v. Weast burden on parents to establish the need for services and would reopen the learning centers. Byrne. Ms. Byrne has two GT/LD students. MCPS must do a better job with early intervention. Through cost/benefit analysis of the budget, more funds could be reserved for such needs. Ellinport. MCPS needs more staff training. Services have been cut. Topic: gifted and talented education – current state and recommended changes Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport observed that “this is a bit of a loaded question,” in that it suggests that MCPS is not doing a good job. She graduated from a magnet school. Too many students are now included, a result of social pressure. There should be options other than gifted and talented programming. Byrne. Now, to receive services, parents must prove need. We should develop a “service delivery model.” Ms. Byrne cited information provided by Dr. Starr at the recent Forum on Gifted Education showing a gap between those who are identified and those who actually receive services. Not every family “has the muscle” to procure the services from the system. Ali. Magnets are good, but there is insufficient access by African-American and Latino students. MCPS is two systems: white and Asian students are served well, but African-American and Latino students fall behind. We need to encourage AfricanAmerican and Latino access to magnet programs. This is a big societal problem of wealth and race. Smondrowski. MCPS should expand GT/LD programming. Testing and labeling in Grade 2 is unnecessary because we do not offer GT programming in Grade 3. There is social pressure that all children be gifted.
Evans. Mr. Evans has a problem with “forever-labels.” He experienced tracking as a child in Pittsburgh. MCPS has maintained tracks, now called more sophisticated names. Staff must be trained to make no assumptions as to students’ potential. Topic: students who do not go to college, increasing graduation rates Smondrowski. Students who are invested want to be successful. We need to engage all stakeholders. MCPS needs “trade schools.” Evans. Mr. Evans cited successful vocational programs, such as the Academy of Finance and auto-body and auto-technology programs. The drop-out age should be raised to 18. Ellinport. MCPS should provide options, like Einstein. We must focus on what to do today to prepare for a successful tomorrow. Byrne. We have narrowed the definition of success to top scores, and are “testing kids in Grade 2 for whether they are college-ready.” Parents and educators need to redefine success. Ali. Mr. Ali would emphasize graduation and college attendance. We must look for ways to increase graduation rates, not only in schools but also in homes and the society. Graduation will increase as the economy improves. We must find the political will and the money. Closing statements Ali. The system is very good, but the Board has made mistakes. The Board is a political entity; its dynamics are important. It has engaged in bad decision-making and needs an independent check. Mr. Ali has the background of an independent – something of a maverick. He can be independent because of his political base. He has a good understanding of the minority community. Evans. Mr. Evans currently is on the boards of the Mental Health Association and the YMCA. MCPS should have more mentoring programs. He would work with the County Council and the State legislature. Byrne. MCPS needs leadership, not money. She would bring cost/benefit analysis to identify programs meeting needs of students. Her organization and analytical expertise would facilitate analysis of MCPS against known best practices. She is also a project manager and an advocate. MCPS can do a better job focusing on students. Dr. Starr’s leadership holds promise. We should stop focusing on the curriculum and de-regulate the way we are teaching.
Ellinport. Ms. Ellinport attended school in New Orleans – the worst system in the country. MCPS is a phenomenal system. We must continue to grow and get better, focusing on the kids today for the County of tomorrow. She reiterated her emphasis on career- and college-readiness, creativity in the classroom, the achievement gap and professional development. Smondrowski. Students should be socially, as well as academically, successful. She has worked on developing mentoring programs and has a strong relationship with elected officials (necessary to procuring funding).
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