Exiting school board member Laura Berthiaume says she no longer fits in politically in Montgomery County, and, for now, her children no longer fit in Montgomery County Public Schools.
Berthiaume, whose last day representing District 2 was Tuesday, told The Gazette in an interview Friday that she pulled her third-grade son out of the county’s public school system and placed him in a private school after last school year. Her two daughters also attend private school.
Berthiaume said the decision was, “for personal reasons, partly including Curriculum 2.0, and how math is being taught in Curriculum 2.0.”
“I think it’s true that for some children, there are some individual needs that it is extremely difficult for the school system to address,” Berthiaume said, declining to elaborate.
Many parents across the county have taken issue with the new curriculum, which changes the way students are taught and accelerated in subjects.
Berthiaume said she realized during her time on the board that the school system is a huge bureaucracy, largely unflexible to changes and new ideas.
Serving on the school board has helped Berthiaume grow and learn, she said — and have more conservative values. The lifelong Democrat is now a registered Independent.
She will not consider running for school board or political office in Montgomery County again, as she said she would not get elected.
“My points of view have gone [too far] beyond the narrow viewpoints of Montgomery County to have any political future,” she said. “You can sit there and say why not break the bubble, why not introduce that element of cross conversation. ... They are not going to hear it.”
Berthiaume, 48, of Rockville, said she is leaving the school board to spend more time with her family. Her son now attends Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac and her daughters attend Holton-Arms School in Bethesda.
Berthiaume regrets little about her time on the board.
She was a very engaged board member, said school board President Shirley Brandman (At-large) of Bethesda.
“She did her homework,” Brandman said. “She brought a lot of passion to issues. She asked tough questions.”
Often, and more frequently lately, Berthiaume was the only opposing vote when the school board was making decisions.
Even though school board members are not elected by political affiliation, in a county where all elected officials share the same political viewpoints, groupthink and trends often lead to exaggerated policies, Berthiaume said.
“It becomes a very large echo chamber,” she said.
Berthiaume was the sole member this summer to vote against a union agreement that gave base pay raises to teachers.
She warned other board members before the vote of the county’s unstable economy and income, and she said she was frustrated when her thoughts were largely brushed off.
“I was trying to say, ‘Hey, there is a pit on the pathway and you are walking right into it,’” she said.
Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said he wasn’t pleased with her vote, but understood her concerns. The union endorsed Berthiaume in the 2008 election.
“We always appreciated the critical eye that Laura brought to the school board,” Prouty said.
Brandman said that even though Berthiaume often disagreed with the whole board’s decision, she appreciated how she was willing to share her opinion.
Berthiaume said she is proud of a few things that the board did while she was serving, such as the board’s professionalism when searching for a new superintendent.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, now in his second year, is a good fit for the county and the school system, Berthiaume said, but she said she does not agree with his vision. The school system must realize it cannot use policy and programs to fix all of the problems students have, most of which stem from problems at home, she said.
Berthiaume explained that although families cannot be judged individually, statistically, children with alcoholic and abusive parents, who have an unwed mother, or are homeless, have less of a chance at success.
“We don’t like to admit that anything is out of our control,” Berthiaume said. “The answer is you let it become an excuse. But if you don’t view the problem clearly, you are not going to react to it well either.”
When asked if she would move somewhere else to run for political office elsewhere, Berthiaume said “it is always a possibility.”
She said she doesn’t think the school board and county will miss having her at the table.
“Does anybody miss a gadfly?” she said.