This story was corrected on Aug. 8, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
John Mannes is the 2012-13 student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. He was interviewed July 25 at the Board's offices in Rockville.
Congratulations on being the 2012-13 student member of the Board. What made you want the position?
I think it all started a couple of years back when I started doing student government work in middle school.
I realized I had a passion for policy. I wanted to figure out opportunities to get more involved and [we are] lucky enough to have a school system that has a student member of the Board.
Are you involved in the student government at Northwest?
Most recently, I have been working with the Montgomery County Regional Government Association but I was SGA president in eighth grade at Kingsview Middle School [in Germantown] That's when I started going to monthly meetings of MCR.
What platform did you run on to get elected this year?
Obviously there are no parties in education, so I did not have a platform.
The way the process works is there is a nominating convention in March. It is basically a debate style. The audience is [made up of] representatives from all the middle and high schools. Anyone can go, but the number of votes each school gets is based on student population — usually eight to 10 per school.
At the convention they get it down to two nominees. There are two candidates for two months.
I visited 50 schools during my campaign, at least two-thirds of the [middle and high] schools.
It really is great to visit out. Everybody wants a good education; everybody wants their activities to stay the same. Still, there are differences between schools and it's good to visit.
I didn't make any promises — I made, literally, a promise not to make promises.
In my opinion it's naive to make promises.
Our [school] system is good, it operates at a very high level. You shouldn't be able to put something through in a year, it needs to be thought out better than that.
There are a lot of things I'd like to see changed, like loss of credit — an issue the county has been working on. It's a major pet peeve of high schoolers.
Can you explain that?
If you miss more than five days of unexcused absences [in a class] you flat out get loss of credit.
It could be appealed but [we were] beginning to see a discrepancy between those able to appeal and those who are not.
In terms of knowing how to work the system?
Yes. I'd like to get rid of the entire policy although in 2010-11 they added back attendance intervention [by teachers and administrators] and an automatic appeals process.
How about if students can miss class, do the work and still pass?
What has to be understood is that if you're not attending class and being failed for not attending, then it is not in keeping with grading on understanding [the subject matter] and meeting key indicators.
Also, the state requires attendance and it's important to be in school.
What is the ideal solution?
Something disciplinary. I'd love to see something like administrative detention, or with a teacher, during the school day, maybe during lunch.
How about, make school interesting?
Yes, I know school [can be boring] and Dr. [Joshua] Starr [superintendent of MCPS] is working to make the students feel more a part of the school community. Community is very key to making the communication that benefits students in their learning.
I think we will see a change in the classroom. I can see students light up when the promethean boards come out and the class becomes more interactive.
What do you hope to accomplish this year as the SMOB?
I'm planning to start up two separate councils: a student advisory council which [Alan Xie, who served as SMOB for the past two years] had last year but his focus was on lobbying and outreach. I plan to do both but in two separate councils.
One of the main things I've started with is SMOB 365, there are 365 days in my term. Basically it is a photo blog, I put one up every day. It now is on Facebook and I would like to expand it on Twitter and other blog formats.
How will students get in touch with you about issues they want to discusss or have you bring up?
I look to be doing a lot of school visits next year. The way I see it, if a student can visit 50 schools in two months, why not visit them all in eight months?
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I'm definitely looking to move beyond college. I've always found it interesting, the overlap between business and politics. ...
I see myself being happy in ten years so whatever is the next right thing will make me happy.
A couple of things before we end:
There are a lot of issues other than loss of credit I'm interested in.
I really hope to work with the new superintendent. We were discussing core values and he showed us a clip from Steve Jobs about innovation and moving the system forward.
I'm proud and honored to be in this position to be able to be a part of this discussion.
I am a member and I am a student but it gives me a fresh prospective.
"Voices in Education" is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County's children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured e-mail Peggy McEwan at email@example.com.
The story was changed to reflect the correct tense in the statement about appealing unexcused absences.