Q: What are your top three priorities if elected?
1) I am committed to ensuring that our schools remain among the best in the country by continuing to improve. Public education is the single greatest investment our community can make. Over the past decade, academic indicators have continually improved, making MCPS one of the highest-performing school systems in the country. Our schools are the key to the opportunities we all want for our children. MCPS must ensure that our students have equal opportunities to maximize their individual potential in order that they positively impact our society and culture. They must prepare them to contribute to and live in the world of the future. And our schools must provide students with choices when they graduate, whether it is college or the world of work. In addition, our schools’ reputation directly affects our economy. Montgomery County is the engine of growth for Maryland and our schools are the fuel for the engine. Businesses move to Montgomery County to take advantage of the MCPS school system. Jobs are attractive for employees because they are assured of a quality education system. Schools positively affect our real estate values. This trend needs to continue.
2) We must produce graduates with essential 21st Century skills. Public education at its core serves to prepare students for full participation in the adult world and in our democracy. However, today, our children graduating from high school face a difficult economy and stiff global competition. I believe that only by keeping our schools at the cutting edge can we prepare today’s students for the world they will enter. In addition to a focus on the basic skills of reading, writing, math, and science, MCPS must give students the essential skills for future success - the ability to communicate well, think critically, solve problems creatively, and collaborate with others. We also need to expand our world language offerings. I will support curriculum initiatives that challenge every child and that actively engage them through forward-looking teaching and learning strategies so that out students graduate with the skills needed for further education or the world of work.
3) We must provide students with opportunities to participate in athletics, arts, and extracurricular activities. We cannot simply focus on the academic needs of our students. We need to focus on the whole child. Our children need balance in their lives. Students learn valuable life skills both inside and outside the classroom. Children benefit from participation in individual and team sports, band and choir, theater and debate, and many other activities. These experiences develop self-discipline, foster creativity and build relationships with other students and adults. In order to graduate well-rounded young adults ready for the work force or college, we must continue to support and fund arts, athletics and after-school activities.
Q: Discuss the job performance of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr. Would you rate him excellent, good, fair or poor? Why?
A: This has been a transition year for Dr. Starr and he should receive high marks. He has commissioned outside experts as well as internal stakeholders for a report on MCPS, which is being used to guide a reorientation of Central Office to better support local schools. He has led multiple listen and learn events and student town hall meetings to gather information from various stakeholders regarding their perspectives of what is and is not working. He has held two book clubs, which have informed the community of his vision regarding student learning. He has established excellent relationships with elected leaders and he has proposed a responsible budget, which is likely to be fully funded. Dr. Starr has articulated his commitment to a strong board-superintendent partnership and recognizes a strong shared governance model best serves the interests of our students. All of these actions will serve him well as he makes future decisions regarding the direction of the school system.
Q: Assess the performance of the school board. Discuss a decision the board made that you disagree with. (For sitting school board members, assess your performance over the most recent term. Is there a decision you regret after having time to reflect on its result?)
A: I have spent three years on the board. During that time, the principal issues we have needed to address were the selection of a superintendent and maintaining the excellence of our school system during a period of fiscal decline. The board has done a commendable job on both issues. The board selected Dr. Joshua Starr as superintendent and I believe he is the right person for our system at the right time. We have also reduced over $400 million from our budget, and eliminated hundreds of positions, yet MCPS remains one of the highest performing systems in the nation. As board members we are respectful of each others' opinions on different matters as we focus on various issues and make our decisions.
One decision that I had the opportunity to reconsider involves the BCC middle school site selection. I supported the selection of the Rock Creek Park site, as it was the product of a site selection process that had worked well for many years with other site selection decisions. However, we learned that different processes were necessary when public parkland is recommended for a school site. The Board is now partnering with Parks and Planning to develop a more robust process that includes additional community stakeholders for these site selection decisions. I am pleased that the superintendent decided to reopen the BCC site selection process, a decision that I supported.
Q: Do you believe No Child Left Behind should be reauthorized? If so, what needs to be changed? Assess the law's effectiveness.
A: The basic intent of NCLB was good. We must ensure that all students are meeting at least minimum proficiency standards in reading and math. NCLB requires schools to focus efforts on groups of students, such as minority, special education, and English language learners as each of these groups’ performance is separately measured. However, I disagree with the emphasis on testing as the sole benchmark for success or failure and the penalties NCLB imposes on an entire school if even one subgroup fails.
I believe NCLB has had a negative impact on public education. The incessant focus on high-stakes testing has geared classroom instruction in many schools towards the sole purpose of passing these tests. Rather than being a floor for instruction, minimum proficiency has turned into a ceiling. Schools devote excessive time to test preparation at the expense of innovative teaching. It has also resulted in a shift away from instruction in other disciplines that are not tested, such as science, social studies, music, art, and physical education — disciplines also important in the education of the whole child.
I would change the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provisions as they are too rigid. They contend that every child is able to progress at the same level. Children have different needs and abilities. I believe there should be more flexibility and would favor multiple measurements of student achievement, such as assessments in science and social studies. Assessments should be of high-quality, valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities. Graduation rates should also be part of the determination of school progress. I support the use of growth models that measure student progress so that if they demonstrate positive growth, it is credited toward AYP.
Finally, I believe that schools that fail to make AYP should receive additional resources, training and support to assist struggling students, rather than only punitive consequences. There should also be some differentiation between schools that miss AYP on one or two measures from schools that miss on most, so there can be greater focus on the latter.
Q: The relationship between the school board and the county council has become divisive over the past several years. In what way can you work to bring more a more collaborative approach to the board and council?
A: The BOE has an interest in advocating for a budget that meets the needs of all its students. The County Council, as the fiscal body, has an interest in allocating scarce resources to the BOE as well as other agencies and local government. During a period of fiscal decline, these interests are more difficult to reconcile and this has caused much of the frayed relationship between the BOE and the County Council.
I believe both bodies have an obligation to understand and respect the interests of the other body. We must also be clear and transparent in our communications and must collaborate with each other, both in formal and informal settings. I have done that and I will continue to do that. Our community expects us, as elected officials, to work out our differences, since we all are in agreement that we share a common interest in the priority we give to education in Montgomery County.
Finally, I believe that the appointment of Superintendent Starr, who has pledged to work closely with county officials, will go a long way towards improving the relationship between our bodies.
Q: Discuss your approach to budgeting. Roughly what percent of spending (and why) should be allocated to the following: employees; technology; capital projects? What would you cut to find funding for projects?
A: One should approach budgeting from a holistic perspective: How much do we have realistically, and how can we deploy these resources to meet the needs of every child in a classroom? After such an assessment, percentages of spending are an accounting mechanism meant to provide useful information to stakeholders about how the funds are spent. We also must recognize that funds for employees generally come from current year appropriations and capital projects are generally funded from bond revenue.
As chair of the Montgomery County Board of Education’s Fiscal Management Committee, I have been passionate about ensuring accountability and transparency in the use of public funds and will continue to do so, especially in the difficult fiscal times we find ourselves. We have been forced to cut funding for projects and initiatives. The choices have not been popular but we have done it. We have been successful more than most because we have partnered with our staff, county council, county executive and the parent community to ensure that to the extent possible, the child in the classroom is held harmless from the deleterious effects of cuts. I make a distinction between mandated cuts and efficiencies. Indeed this year, in adopting its budget, the board has been fiscally responsible, holding the line on funding while ensuring alignment with our strategic priorities and maximizing the efficient use of our existing resources. I fully supported this balanced approach.
Q: Budget cuts have forced the reduction of county police officers in schools. Discuss your approach to disruptive students and how to address the disparity in suspension rates among black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.
A: When a child presents a danger to him or herself and to others in a classroom, we should intervene firmly and justly. MCPS has a partnership in place with law enforcement officers and the judicial system that allows for prompt intervention in cases where a child presents a danger to him or herself or to others. It is regrettable that budget cuts have forced the reduction of county police officers in schools under the educational facilities officers’ (EFOs) initiative. They were more than a police presence, they offered mentoring and a proactive presence for youngsters looking for positive role models. It is my hope that the county can fund this initiative more fully when the economy improves.
We should all be concerned about the disparity in suspension rates among black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. As a Board, working with the administration, we have sought to address this national challenge by working with the community, staff and appropriate agencies on solutions. We should continue to do more by clarifying expectations for classroom behavior and training school-based staff on appropriate ways to manage the classroom and actively seek to model successful programs and initiatives from other jurisdictions. The deployment of resources in the classroom to reflect the actual needs of each child is going to be part of the solution for addressing the disparity in suspension rates among black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. This is a matter of urgency and we must remain vigilant on this issue.
Q: Several of Montgomery’s school buildings are in need of upgrades and construction dollars from the state and county are scarce. Given a scarcity of available and affordable land for schools, and recent controversial decisions over where to build a new downcounty middle school, how do you propose providing safe and appropriate educational facilities for school children?
A: Ironically, the school system and some members of the community have had differences of opinion regarding the use of land owned by the school system for future school sites. Going forward we need to clarify expectations about the possible use of these very scarce resources so that these misunderstandings do not reoccur. Due to the scarcity of land, especially in the downcounty, we may need to revisit our guidelines, which generally describe 30 acres for high schools, 20 acres for middle schools, and 10 acres for elementary schools as the preferred size for our campuses. Building multi-story structures that limit the footprint of our buildings is one option, although we must ensure the safety of our students as administrators have raised concerns regarding their ability to provide adequate supervision in multi-story buildings. We will also need to look at creative ways of defining capacity. Technology is driving a large part of this. The question is: In the 21st century, what should a classroom look like? The question is easily the most important that school districts are confronting. As a Board member, I look forward to a dialogue with members of the community regarding this question. Our community has changed in population and needs and we must determine how best to design schools that are affordable and that meet the ne