Durso Decides Against Running for Re-Election to School Board

Eight candidates file for at-large post; O’Neill and Docca draw challengers


School board President Michael Durso


Updated 4 p.m. Wednesday: A flurry of candidates jumped into the Montgomery County school board race before Tuesday night’s filing deadline, but board President Michael Durso was not one of them.

Durso, who is serving his second full term on the board, months ago said he was leaning against seeking re-election to the District 5 post, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility. On Wednesday morning, the Maryland Board of Elections website only listed two candidates for the seat: Brenda Wolff of Silver Spring, a former federal education official, and Paul J. Pykosh of Olney.

Durso couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Maria Blaeuer. Submitted photo.

Incumbent school board members Pat O’Neill and Judy Docca will also face challengers who have emerged over the past couple of days. Maria Blaeuer, who lives near Gaithersburg, has filed to run against Docca in District 1, while Lynn Amano, a parent advocate from Silver Spring, and Laura Simon, a Potomac mother of four, will challenge O’Neill.

Blaeuer is an attorney who heads up programs and outreach at Advocates for Justice and Education in D.C. She's a mother of three children, with one attending Laytonsville Elementary School and another at Gaithersburg Middle School.

While her family has been generally happy with Montgomery County Public Schools, she said the system doesn't work equally well for everyone, especially for students with disabilities and non-traditional needs.

Blaeuer said she does recognize that she'll have an uphill battle to defeat an incumbent but thinks her background is an advantage.

"I don't have much name recognition and a complicated last name with four vowels in a row, but I also think that the reason why I'm doing this and my experience in this space makes me somebody that people can get behind," she said. "Yes, I have a whole lot fo background in education policy. But when it comes to education in Montgomery County, mostly, I'm a mom."

Laura Simon. Submitted photo.

Simon said issues of student health and safety are particularly central to her, and she’s concerned about the prevalence of technology in schools.

“I feel that our kids spend too much time looking at screens,” she said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I think our kids are becoming zombies.”

Simon, a yoga instructor with a background in business, said technology has its proper place in education, but leaders in MCPS must work to prevent students from becoming over-dependent on it.

Simon, who has two children attending county public schools, has served on the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Association’s committee for health and safety.

Eight candidates will compete to fill the open at-large seat currently held by Jill Ortman-Fouse, who has decided to run for County Council. These candidates are:

- Ryan Arbuckle of Kensington, an economist at the Federal Railroad Administration. Arbuckle has two children who attend school in Georgia and doesn’t have a direct connection with MCPS, but he said this could work to his advantage. “I bring an outsider’s view to the system,” he said. Arbuckle said that in order to narrow the achievement gap, MCPS should use technology to supplement in-class instruction for the children who need the boost most.

- Timur Edib of North Bethesda, an attorney who works as general counsel to BAU International University in Washington, D.C. Edib’s children are graduates of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, and he said he sees the need for more vocational programs in MCPS and a greater focus on teaching critical thinking skills. “Everybody doesn’t want to go to an Ivy League school, but I want to make sure every kid is engaged in school,” he said.

- Marwa Omar Ibrahim of Gaithersburg, a preschool administrator who said she wants to foster connections between schools and the community.

Clockwise from top left: Julie Reiley, Stephen Sugg, Karla Silvestre, John A. Robertson, Marwa Omar Ibrahim, Brandon Orman Rippeon and Timur Edib. Submitted photos.

- Julie Reiley of Bethesda, who has spent years as a parent advocate in MCPS. Reiley is a Yale Law School graduate and worked as a lawyer in private practice and for the federal government before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She said she decided not to return to practice after her son was diagnosed with autism. She has served on the special education committee for the MCCPTA and said she would bring her special education focus to the school board if elected. “I am a firm believer that all means all, and we want to provide a high-quality public education to all students regardless of how they learn,” she said.

- Brandon Orman Rippeon of Gaithersburg, a businessman who ran for the school board in 2016 and lost to Rebecca Smondrowski. Rippeon said as a board member, he would push MCPS to hold students to high standards, saying he disagreed with recent decisions to eliminate final course exams and change policies for entrance to AP courses. “I am for raising our standards, raising our expectations and raising our requirements,” he said.

- John A. Robertson of Clarksburg, an assistant principal at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown. He has said that if elected, he would focus on social-emotional learning and expanding mental health services.

- Karla Silvestre of Silver Spring, who works in community engagement at Montgomery College. Silvestre said she's served on numerous MCPS committees over the years, including the Latino Student Achievement Action Group. She also worked as a Latino liaison for the county executive in the Office of Community Partnerships. Silvestre, who has two children in county public schools, said she wants to be a voice for English language learners in the school system. "I just feel like the ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] population and low-income students just need more representation at the board level," she said. "It's a county full of many community advocates, but this population doesn't have a lot of representation advocating for their needs."

- Stephen Sugg of Rockville, a government relations manager for the Housing Assistance Council in D.C. Sugg, whose kindergartner attends Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville, said he’d like MCPS to explore closing the achievement gap by getting children outside more often. He noted that his son’s school sits next to Rock Creek Park, which he called the “best classroom in the nation.”

Story updated to add comments from Silvestre and Blaeuer and candidate photos.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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