They came to identify the problem, discuss solutions and decide how to enact their plan.
It was an ambitious agenda for the first community meeting of the members of One Montgomery, an organization formed this summer to look at the problem of declining test scores in schools of the Montgomery County Public Schools Northeast Consortium and see how the trend can be reversed.
Ed Wetzlar was one of the founders of the group, along with Fred Stichnoth and Adrian Lees, all Silver Spring residents living in the Northeast Consortium area.
“I was concerned not only for the students, but also our property values,” said Wetzlar, who lives three blocks from Springbrook High School. “Schools are the foundation of your children’s future and, if you own property, schools determine the value of your property.”
Although originally focused on the Northeast Consortium — which encompasses James Hubert Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook high schools, along with five middle schools, 16 elementary schools and the Carl Sandburg Learning Center — One Montgomery would like to have a farther reach, Wetzlar said, working for equity in education throughout the county.
The organization’s reach is already growing, as several of the nearly three dozen people at the meeting Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville live in the Downcounty Consortium area. Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton high schools and their feeder schools make up that consortium.
“We have schools highly impacted by the needs of the student population,” said Jill Ortman-Fouse, a Takoma Park resident with children at Blair and Takoma Park Middle School. “The differences in the learning levels in our classrooms is huge.”
She said some of the reasons for the different learning levels are the large number of English for Speakers of Other Languages students; more students who move and change schools frequently; and those with unidentified special needs, requiring teachers to spend more time getting them up to speed for state exams.
Ortman-Fouse said she was at the meeting because “if we all partner together we can more easily get resources.”
After a presentation contrasting east county schools with those in other parts of the county by Dan Reed, a 2005 graduate of Blake High School interested in community affairs, the group was randomly divided into four focus groups, each tasked with brainstorming ways to promote school equity.
“We’re doing this to raise awareness of the differences in the schools, both performance and perception,” Reed said. “Our schools do good things but they could do better.”
The focus groups discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the county’s public schools, current opportunities and future threats to education, causes for the current state of the schools, and solutions.
Dan Wilhelm, who does not have children in the schools, said he is concerned about the number of east county students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. He sees better employment as one part of the solution.
“We need more higher-paying jobs in the east county,” he said. “A better balancing of income levels.”
Bernice Mireku-North of Takoma Park, a 1999 graduate of Blair, said she and her husband have yet to have children but are concerned about the future of east county schools because they plan to send their children there when the time comes.
“People come to this area for [job] opportunities and good schools,” Mireku-North said. “I’m interested in the solution [to improving the schools] and how to implement the solution.”
Stichnoth said after the meeting that he thought it was a good start.
“This is important stuff,” he said. “It is important to act as a community, figure out what our message is and do it.”