Jill Ortman-Fouse said she’s running for a spot on the Montgomery County Board of Education to lend her advocacy experience, grow the county school system’s partnerships and improve the system’s responsiveness to voices in its community.
Silver Spring resident Ortman-Fouse, 50, is making a bid for an at-large board seat after about ten years of involvement in county schools, including parent-teacher association roles and advocacy efforts for Silver Spring school needs and groups who she said were not being heard.
Three other candidates — Edward Amatetti, Shebra Evans and Merry Eisner Heidorn — are also running for the at-large seat following school board member Shirley Brandman’s announcement she would not run again for the position.
Ortman-Fouse has two children in Montgomery County Public Schools and currently offers strategic-planning and team-building services through her company T.E.A.M. Consulting.
In one example of her past advocacy work, Ortman-Fouse said she and a friend formed an ad hoc group that successfully advocated for facility improvements at Northwood High School in Silver Spring and facility needs and a long-term principal at Silver Spring International Middle School.
She also served for about two years as a member of a school system parent advisory council that led workshops to help parents advocate for needs in their schools.
Ortman-Fouse said she wants to see the school system and the school board become more responsive to school community members who raise concerns and offer input.
“We need to expand the communication channels,” she said. “Residents want to give feedback and they want to get answers.”
The school system must also form more partnerships with those who “want to be part of the solution,” including parents, community members, businesses and nonprofits who can offer their talents, resources and knowledge, she said.
Increased partnerships, she said, will allow the school system to broaden the learning opportunities and resources available to students.
Ortman-Fouse said “too many of our students are falling through the cracks” and the school system needs to works with community partners to close its achievement gaps.
The system also needs to ensure it funds strategies aimed at closing the gap that are proven to help students, she said.
“I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job listening to our teachers and our community because we’ve been talking about these things for years,” she said.
Among the school system’s current initiatives, Ortman-Fouse said she supports expanding the Linkages to the Learning program that offers wrap-around services to at-risk students and their families, and the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success program that helps high school students prepare for and get into college.
In her grading of the current school board, Ortman-Fouse said she thinks it “needs improvement.”
She said she thinks the board needs more staffing and the system should establish an inspector general office to help with budget oversight.
Currently, she said, school board members take on a large amount of budget and policy work in part-time positions with “little staffing.”
“I think this model might need to be adjusted to meet the needs of our residents,” she said.