Valerie Coll Credit: Photo courtesy Valerie Coll

A recently retired longtime Montgomery County Public Schools teacher has joined the race for a seat on the school board.

Valerie Coll of Silver Spring filed to run against incumbent Brenda Wolff for the District 5 seat on the Board of Education.

Coll, 61, worked for MCPS for 32 years before retiring in 2021. She taught third and fourth grades and held leadership positions in the Montgomery County Education Association, the county’s teachers union.

Coll said she felt drawn to run for the school board because it lacks representation of elementary school employees’ and families’ opinions.

That’s important, she said, because the largest share of students and employees are at elementary schools.

“That just seems to me to be, especially over the past couple years, a real glaring hole in the way that the board has been able to operate,” Coll said. “It’s a voice that’s needed and it’s representation that’s needed.”

If elected, Coll said, she would examine the district’s budget priorities and determine if “they make sense” and she would try to rebuild confidence and trust in the district’s leadership.

She highlighted that in recent months, the district’s employee unions representing teachers, administrators and support staff have each criticized MCPS leadership’s response to the pandemic. MCEA passed a vote of no confidence and each of the other unions also voiced several concerns.

“It takes the board taking on the responsibility to build that confidence … and making sure that people feel that the board is there as somebody who sees and hears and responds,” Coll said. “And you may not always like what the board decides, but you at least know that it was something that was done, not because the system decided it was the best way, but because the people who were elected to oversee the system helped guide the system to the right kind of decisions.”

Coll said she was skeptical, too, that an allocation of $500,000 in the recently passed Fiscal Year 2023 budget to hire a communications firm was necessary. The purpose, MCPS leaders have said, is to improve communication with families and do a “comprehensive review” of internal procedures.

But Coll said that money could be better spent.

“We have professionals in the communications department, who are hired because they’re good at their jobs. They know what to do. So, do we trust those people to actually take leadership of the job that they’ve been charged with?” Coll said. “Why are we bringing in somebody from the outside when we have people that are already being paid and are professionals and can do that work?”

Coll has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts in Boston and a master’s degree equivalent from Bowie State University. Both of her children are graduates of Springbrook High School.

Coll and Wolff are the only two candidates who had filed for the District 5 seat as of Tuesday afternoon. Wolff ran unopposed in 2018.

Originally, the filing deadline was Feb. 22, but that has been extended to March 22 as the state’s legislative map is challenged in court.

Three other board seats are also on the ballot this year.

Incumbent Karla Silvestre has filed for re-election to an at-large seat. She will be challenged by Domenic Giandomenico, a father of two from Silver Spring.

The District 1 seat is held by incumbent Judy Docca, who has not announced whether she plans to run for re-election. She has been on the school board since 2006. Jay Guan, an aerospace engineer from Clarksburg, is the only candidate who has filed for the seat.

Incumbent Scott Joftus and challenger Julie Yang have filed as candidates for the District 3 seat. Joftus has been on the board since December. He was appointed to serve the last year of Pat O’Neill’s term. O’Neill died in September.

The primary election is scheduled for June 28 and the general election is Nov. 8.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com