School board swears in four members

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
(From left) School board electees Nancy Navarro, Patricia O’Neill, Shirley Brandman and Judith Docca were sworn in Friday. Navarro and O’Neill won re-election to the board.

It was a time for farewells and looking ahead as four people were sworn in as county school board members and three others said goodbye.

About 200 county and state officials, school administrators, family and friends jammed the hot auditorium at the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville on Friday to watch Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Molly Q. Ruhl swear in Shirley Brandman, Judith Ringgold Docca, Nancy Navarro and Patricia B. O’Neill.

Bidding their colleagues farewell were Charles Haughey, Gabriel Romero and Valerie Ervin, who resigned after being elected to the County Council in November. Her successor will be named this weekend.

‘‘The Montgomery County Public Schools are and should be the pride of the citizenry of Montgomery County,” said Docca (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village.

Docca, a retired principal at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, promised to ‘‘listen, learn and be responsive to the community, students and staff members.”

There are challenges ahead, she said.

‘‘The achievement of African-American and Hispanic students is not where we would like for it to be,” she said. ‘‘I would like to continue to work toward increasing the enrollment of these underrepresented students in [gifted and talented], honors and [Advanced Placement] classes.”

Docca also called the scores on the state’s High School Assessments ‘‘disturbing.”

More than one-third of all county students failed HSA exams in algebra and biology tests last year. School system officials say they expect passage rates on English, national, state, and local government, algebra I and biology tests will improve with this year’s 10th-graders who must pass the HSAs to graduate.

Brandman (At large) of Bethesda was less specific about areas she would like to focus on, but echoed Docca’s pledge.

‘‘I believe strongly that to be effective, a board member must be grounded in the community and continue to reach out and listen,” she said. ‘‘My decision-making must be informed by your input.”

Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, who was appointed to the board in 2004 and won a hotly contested election to a full four years in November, acknowledged her campaign’s volunteers and the voters.

‘‘Thank you for understanding that excellence should not be compromised, and that educating one child at the expense of another is unacceptable,” Navarro said. ‘‘Thank you for not succumbing to the politics of fear and manipulation. Truth has a way of rising above fear, and this is a lesson that we must always teach our children.”

Navarro also thanked Ervin of Silver Spring, who was sworn in to the County Council on Monday.

In her farewell, Ervin talked about the achievement gap.

‘‘I think that this board struggled with how we could create the climate for the system to really begin to close the achievement gap,” she said. ‘‘I know that there is so much more work to be done but I believe that we are at the beginning of significant systemic changes that will result in the system teaching all children.”

Ervin said she intends to continue to focus on the gap in her new role on the council, where she will serve on the Education Committee along with Chairman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown and Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.

The school board meets Saturday to interview five finalists for Ervin’s District 4 seat and appoint her successor.

Patricia B. O’Neill, who ran unopposed this year for a third term, alluded to one of the major items on the new board’s agenda: a possible new contract for Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has guided the school system since 1999.

‘‘When I joined the board in 1998, the board began its search to hire a new superintendent,” said O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. ‘‘I am proud that I was part of the group that hired Dr. Weast, and I look forward to raising my hand as we renew his contract for another four years.”

Haughey (At large) of Rockville bade farewell to the board and the community. He and his wife, Barbara E. Haughey, are moving to Charlotte, N.C., next month to be closer to their grandchildren. Barbara Haughey will resign as principal at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda.

‘‘School building administration is a particularly draining responsibility, so I’m truly happy that I’ve been able to persuade one principal to relinquish her school role and come with me as I leave the board,” Haughey said.

Romero of Montgomery Village, who decided not to stand for re-election in District 1 this year, gave each board member past and present with roses.

As he presented the roses, Romero quoted author Gabriel García Márquez, another fan of roses whom Romero referred to as ‘‘the other Colombian.”

García Márquez gave a rose, Romero told his colleagues, without looking at the color its petals. Instead, Garcia Márquez looked on the flower as representing dreams ‘‘because in its petals flows the blood of those who sowed,” Romero quoted.