Updated 9:35 a.m. Tuesday: Two candidates – an assistant middle school principal and a preschool administrator – have stepped forward to run for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County school board, a position now occupied by Jill Ortman-Fouse.
Meanwhile, a parent advocate has entered the running against incumbent school board member Pat O’Neill in District 3.
The new contenders have emerged over the past couple weeks, with the approach of Tuesday’s candidate filing deadline. Further reshaping the field of candidates, Ortman-Fouse on Friday announced she wouldn’t be seeking re-election to the school board and would be campaigning for an at-large County Council seat instead.
The two candidates for the at-large seat on the school board are John Robertson, an assistant principal at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, and Marwa Omar Ibrahim, an administrator at a Fairfax County preschool.
Lynn Amano, a parent advocate from Silver Spring, has tossed her hat into the ring in District 3, an area that includes Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
Robertson, 50, of Clarksburg said if elected, he’d bring a focus on social-emotional learning and aiding students who have mental health or other emotional needs. He said during his 25 years as an educator many students and families have come to him in distress, and he long felt he didn’t have the training to help them. So last year, he earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland.
“I’m looking at a lot of what’s happening with kids committing suicide and crisis referrals, and I think we can do a better job in terms of helping kids,” Robertson said.
For one thing, the school system could hire more social workers who are trained to provide therapy. Robertson said he’d also support better educating school staff about identifying students with depression or signs of trauma. Addressing these emotional needs will also give students a boost in the classroom, he said.
“It’s hard for the students to actualize their academic potential if emotionally, they’re dealing with stresses and trauma,” he said.
Before coming to Roberto Clemente, Robertson has held positions as assistant principal at Northwest High and Seneca Valley High. He has a seventh-grade daughter who attends A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring and an adult daughter who graduated from Clarksburg High School.
Ibrahim said she’s joining the race with experience in early child education and a desire to build relationships between schools, parents and community members.
The Gaithersburg resident is a product of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), graduating from Wheaton High School, and has spent her career as a pre-kindergarten teacher and preschool administrator. Currently, she works at Village Green Day School in Great Falls, Virginia, she said.
Ibrahim said she’d push for increased teacher training. She also wants to empower families to become partners in the education process by, for instance, offering parents video tutorials on helping children learn reading or math.
“I believe strongly in the community and what it’s capable of, and I’ve used that belief … to empower communities and to empower families, to educate families into helping themselves,” said Ibrahim, 31.
Ibrahim said she believes in expanding preschool to all children in Montgomery County. However, officials must carefully consider the path forward so they don’t harm the county’s existing early childhood education providers, she said.
“There are a lot of factors that might not be seen on the surface, but this is something I definitely want to give the county,” said Ibrahim.
Amano (left), 51, said she’s going up against O’Neill in part because she thinks it’s important for current MCPS parents to be represented on the school board. Amano’s daughter is a freshman at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (B-CC)
She has worked as a parent advocate in a number of capacities over the years, participating in the site selection process for Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington and serving as a delegate to the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA). She was president of the Loiederman PTA and helped advocate for a project to build a performance space at the middle school.
Amano said her insight as a parent at high-performing schools and schools with high poverty rates would help her as a school board member.
“I have an inside perspective of the challenges faced by both schools. The high achieving schools tend to be where the crowding is,” she said. “Then, with the higher FARMS [free and reduced-price meals system] schools, the achievement gap issues come in.”
Amano said if elected, she’d support fostering magnet programs, which can attract resources to struggling schools. She said she also wants to explore extending the school year or even providing year-round instruction at some schools in the county.
She’ll face a longtime incumbent in O’Neill, who is pursuing her sixth term on the school board. Amano said she’s not in favor of long-term service on the board.
“I would only be interested in serving, at most, two terms because I would assume there would be a parent who would better be able to represent the needs of the school system at that point,” she said.
Amano, whose adult son is a graduate of B-CC, said she has spent many years as a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband are currently co-owners of a Frederick-based distillery that makes shochu, a Japanese liquor.
This story was updated to correct John Robertson’s current job title. He is an assistant middle school principal.