School board candidates assess work of superintendent

School board candidates assess work of superintendent

One of many questions in Bethesda Beat’s Voters Guide

| Published:

Asked to assess Montgomery County Public Schools’ superintendent, candidates for school board had more positive comments than negative.

Some said both — that Jack Smith is doing a good job, but they had at least one concern.

The strongest comment in either direction was by Stephen Austin, who gave Smith a “mixed review” and said he would not have renewed his contract.

Smith’s performance was one of the questions Bethesda Beat asked candidates for Montgomery County school board in this year’s nonpartisan race.

Over the next several days, Bethesda Beat will present the candidates’ responses to specific questions. To see their answers to all of the questions and for background information on the candidates, go to the Voters Guide.

Thirteen candidates are running for one at-large seat on the board. Two of the 13 candidates in the June 2 primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 3.

The District 2 and District 4 seats are up for election this year, too.

There are two candidates on the ballot for District 2. There is no primary in that race; both will move ahead to the general election.

In District 4, three candidates filed for the seat, creating a primary election. However, Ehren Park Reynolds has withdrawn from the race, but his name remains on the primary ballot.

Bethesda Beat asked school board candidates 10 questions about Smith and other topics.

Twelve of the 13 candidates for the at-large seat on the school board answered Bethesda Beat’s questionnaire. Collins Odongo did not respond to multiple invitations to answer the questionnaire.

All four candidates in the races for the District 2 and District 4 seats answered the questionnaire.

Candidates for three U.S. Congress districts that represent Montgomery County and for Montgomery County Circuit Court judge also are part of the Voters Guide.

Below are the candidates for all three school board seats and their written answer to this question:
How well has Jack Smith done as superintendent? Give specific examples (100 words max)

At-large

• Mitra Ahadpour
“Our MCPS superintendent has an enormous task. This role is charged with nothing less than facilitating an excellent and visionary education on behalf of every single precious child in our county. MCPS is large, perhaps too large, certainly one of the largest in the nation. Our school system deserves an outstanding, and highly creative senior leadership team to steer such a complex organization, with acute attention to encouraging broad community participation and input, and consistent and transparent oversight of our many important programs. I see room for improvement within MCPS, and I know together we can do better together.”

• Stephen Austin
“I would give him a mixed review. He has overseen the communication and the process of the Boundary Analysis, and I think that has been very poorly executed. I like him as a person, and he has an impressive background. He did actually warn the Board of Education of unintended consequences when they voted to elevate diversity above all the other factors in a boundary change. All that said, I would not have voted to renew his contract.”

• Anil Chaudhry
“He has advanced the uncomfortable discussions around equity and closing the achievement gap.”

• Sunil Dasgupta
“Under Dr. Smith, MCPS has produced evidence of the performance gap and contributing causes, supported systemwide boundary analysis, and pushed for universal screening for magnet programs, and automatic enrollment of qualified minority students into rigorous courses. But some answers remain elusive. On performance gap, how do we target students who need it most? On boundary change, what is the path forward knowing that it is both necessary and controversial? On labor relations, how do we encourage collaboration? On school design, how do we adjust to changing land use? Dr. Smith cannot answer these questions alone. The BOE should provide leadership.”

• Paul Geller
“Dr. Smith met with me soon after I was elected MCCPTA president in 2016. He wanted to know what the issues were and suggestions for things he should do. We discussed several specific items at one meeting that, in an ideal world, would be addressed. Today, nearly everything we discussed that day has either been resolved or is in the process of being addressed. Dr. Smith listens, cares and is not afraid to make needed changes. One example: Opening bidding to outside contractors specializing in net-zero buildings. MCPS is finally going to consider this thanks to Dr. Smith.”

• Jay Guan
“Given surging enrollments and demographic changes, I think he has done reasonably well. The establishment of the Dual Immersion programs is one such example. It is an innovative model where English learners are leveraged as an asset and provide native English speakers with exposure to another language. Simultaneously, native English speakers can help their ESOL classmates. Other examples include the establishment and expansion of various special programs such as IB, CTE, and the Aviation and Aerospace program. However, I think that MCPS needs to make improvements in school safety, accountability and collaboration with teachers.”

• Lynne Harris
“Dr. Smith has shown a real commitment to equity, access, family engagement, and expanding academic options for students. During his tenure, Career and Technology programs have grown, high-quality advanced academic programs like the IB magnet are expanding geographically, and the Dual Enrollment partnership with MC has expanded existing, and created new opportunities. In partnership with MCCPTA, the MCPS Family Engagement Team has been recreated and expanded. At the beginning of his third year, Dr. Smith added a deputy superintendent whose primary charge is looking at everything MCPS does through an equity lens.”

• Collins Odongo
Did not respond

• Dalbin Osorio
“Jack Smith has done a good job recognizing where our shortcomings are as an education system and trying to find innovative ways to close those gaps, but I think he can do a better job of being more transparent with the teachers he is tasking to serve our students.”

• Cameron Rhode
“Superintendent Smith and I share a data-driven approach, a strategy that benefits several aspects of education policy. (See #9 below.) Unfortunately, a recent Bethesda Beat article (Caitlynn Peetz, Feb. 17th, 2020) documents an apparent long-term lack of communication between the superintendent’s office and labor unions represented in MCPS. Keeping partners informed of major changes well in advance is important in any organizational collaboration. If elected, I will fully include and value stakeholders.”

• Darwin Romero
“I believe Dr. Smith has done a good job as a superintendent. He has demonstrated that he is willing to listen and learn from the community. He has slowly but surely implemented strategic changes such as providing the ACT/SAT test free of charge to all 11th-graders, expanding prekindergarten, and piloting a year-round school program. But the structural changes that need to take place within MCPS are not keeping pace with the rapid changes occurring in our classrooms and community.”

• Pavel Sukhobok
“Jack Smith made the right decision to waive the fees for students to take the SAT or ACT, thereby encouraging more students to apply to college. He also increased the number of minority students who are taking Algebra I by eighth grade, which indicates that more students will be college ready by graduation. Lastly, he rightfully promoted the Minority Scholar Program to help minority students not fall behind. However, he is too focused on diversifying the teachers. At the end of the day, a good teacher is a good teacher, regardless of what race their race.”

• Lumpoange Thomas
“Regarding Dr. Smith’s job approval, I believe he is implementing the Board of Education’s policies. My feelings on the job that most members of the current BOE are doing is not favorable. It appears through recent actions that most members have forgotten that they represent the wellbeing of all MCPS students.”

***

District 2 (in and around Gaithersburg)

• Michael Fryar
“The superintendent has overseen programs and initiatives that are taking us in the right direction. His administration is addressing the achievement gap head-on and gathering the data necessary to start reducing it. The MCPS report card project, pre-K services and free breakfast program initiatives are all positive steps.”

• Rebecca Smondrowski
“Looking at the big picture of the MCPS landscape, Jack Smith has improved the ability of the school system to serve the needs of every child. His implementation of Performance Matters is a good first step in identifying the needs of students to close achievement gaps. Working together, we have added career pathway opportunities and expanded services with things like reworking Alternative Programs and adding a recovery school. Superintendent Smith has brought us a new curriculum and expanded magnet/advanced learning opportunities, ensuring a rigorous education is available for all students in the system.”

***

District 4 (from Silver Spring north through Glenmont)

• Shebra Evans
“Under the leadership of Dr. Smith, we have redoubled our commitment to expanding access and opportunity so that all students have what they need to be college, career and community ready. Systemwide, that looks like universal screening for enriched and accelerated programming for middle and elementary school level. Expanded access to prekindergarten. Expanded access to AP and IB coursework. Extended school year for two elementary schools to prevent loss of learning during the summer. These are just a few examples of how the system is addressing disparities in outcomes for all students under the leadership of Dr. Smith.”

• Steve Solomon
“Dr. Smith has kept MCPS as one of the top school systems in not only Maryland, but across the country. If elected, I would be working with him for the next four years. One thing that troubles me is that three of his top officials all resigned in the last few months, which has led to a reorganization in MCPS administration. I would like to learn why that happened.”

***

Coming Monday: Candidates say what they think is the most important issue in the race.

Back to Bethesda Beat >>

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