Montgomery County’s teacher’s union is recommending county school board member Christopher S. Barclay and Gaithersburg City Councilman Ryan Spiegel for the Montgomery County Council seats they seek in this year’s primary election.
In the same Wednesday announcement, the Montgomery County Education Association also announced its county school board recommendations, including those for incumbents Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, Judith Docca (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village and Michael Durso (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
The union also recommends former county parent-teacher association leader Shebra Evans, one of seven non-incumbent candidates running for school board positions.
Evans is pursuing an open at-large seat and therefore not challenging a sitting board member running for re-election.
Tom Israel, the union’s executive director, said the union’s recommendation for the school board incumbents seeking re-election indicates it thinks the current board has done a good job advocating for schools in tough economic times and worked well with the system’s employee organizations.
Israel said Barclay has stood up as an advocate for county schools in difficult budget times despite facing “abuse” for his decisions.
“When somebody casts hard votes to do the right thing and gets attacked for them, it’s important that we be there for them next time around,” Israel said.
Barclay, currently the school board’s District 4 representative, said he thinks the union’s membership understands the importance of his education advocacy as well as his ability to develop budgets, work with the County Council and the county executive, and deliver positive outcomes from difficult negotiations.
“It’s obviously a vote of confidence that this is a campaign that will be a winning campaign,” he said.
Barclay said he’s proud to have the union’s endorsement and that — in what he expects to be “an intense campaign” — he is looking to get many more, including those from his “colleagues on the council.”
“I think it’s important to get the support of the folks that I’ve been working with for seven years,” he said.
Barclay is running for the County Council’s District 5 seat. Councilwoman Cherri Branson was appointed to the seat and is not seeking election.
Spiegel is running for the County Council’s District 3 seat, currently held by Philip M. Andrews. Andrews is running for county executive.
Israel said he heard that union members were impressed with Spiegel’s past efforts in Gaithersburg to promote communities that are welcoming to immigrants.
“Folks really put a lot of value in somebody who got involved in politics because he wanted to promote that kind of tolerance and welcoming environment,” he said.
Spiegel said he is “honored” by the union’s recommendation and that he has made education “a top priority” before and during his time on the city council.
Spiegel said his work on Gaithersburg’s education committee included efforts to address overcrowding and schools’ ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers.
Spiegel said he has studied school system issues, including its teacher evaluation system and how development in the area affects the student population and the system’s resources.
“I’d like to think I’m not one of those elected officials who just understands how it would be on a surface level,” he said. “I really try to delve into the details and understand how it all works and what it all means.”
Evans of Silver Spring — former vice president of educational issues for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations — said the endorsement “makes me feel great to know the teachers understand my mission.”
Israel said Evans would bring “a unique combination” of experience to the board.
“She has a real appreciation for what the needs are in our high-needs schools but combined with actual experience working as an advocate for all schools and all kids,” he said.
O’Neill, currently the school board’s vice president, said she is “very proud” to have the union’s support and that she brings experience and an understanding of past issues that have reappeared in the school system.
“Being a board member is about a 30,000-foot view of schools and school issues,” she said. “MCPS is a huge system and you have to have that big view.”
Doccasaid that, as a retired teacher and principal, the union’s support for her campaign is “very important” to her.
Commenting on the union’s release that cited her focus on equity, Docca said that at “almost every board meeting I have something to say about equity” in the school system regarding African-American and Hispanic students.