For school board candidates, a range of views on top issue in race
One of many questions in Bethesda Beat’s Voters Guide
Candidates for Montgomery County Board of Education had a wide range of answers when asked what the most important issue in the race is.
The topics in their answers include: a countywide boundary study; closing the district’s achievement gap; enrollment growth; career and technical programs; diversity; and making sure instruction is rigorous.
Several candidates did not settle on one main topic, also citing drug use, safe schools, trust, and LGBT equality as concerns.
The question about the most important issue in this year’s school board races was one of 10 that Bethesda Beat asked candidates for Montgomery County school board in a questionnaire (before the coronavirus pandemic).
Bethesda Beat is presenting the candidates’ responses to specific questions over a period of several days leading up to the June 2 primary. 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 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 However, Ehren Park Reynolds has withdrawn from the race, but his name remains on the primary ballot.
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 of the candidates in the races for the District 2 and District 4 seats answered the questionnaire.
Candidates for U.S. Congress and 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 the question:
What is the most important issue in this race and what specific plans do you have to address it? (100 words max)
• Mitra Ahadpour
“The most important issue I see is implementing evidence-based practices to improve student learning, as well as their physical, mental and social well-being. We are facing a silent epidemic in drug use and mental illness in MCPS. Schools need to become equipped to address these issues. There are many resources available to prevent drug use, help students with treatment, and reduce school anxiety and stress. Providing safe, consistent school environments with no changes to boundaries; promoting strong parent engagement; and supporting our teachers, counselors, and staff are a few strategies for improving the education and well-being of all our students.”
• Stephen Austin
“The number-one issue is what direction the Board of Education goes in terms of boundary study/changes in the future. The specific issue that should be addressed is Policy FAA changes that were executed with very little community involvement, then used to initiate the Boundary Analysis. This analysis was originally announced as a much more impactful process than the board is currently discussing, but unless FAA is rolled back to the old language, we are boxed into considering diversity above all other factors when a new school is built or capacity has to be rebalanced.”
• Anil Chaudhry
“The most important issue is the lack of trust between parents, community stakeholders, and educators across the county. This is impacting the meaningful delivery of sustainable common-sense solutions to improve educational outcomes and driving wedges among various racial and ethnic communities in the county.
1. Making closing achievement gaps a countywide responsibility through transparent community-driven decision-making
2. Providing community-based safe and orderly learning environments for students and educators, including libraries and community centers
3. Using test data and other research on students’ performance to inform instruction and defund programs with limited impact on educational outcomes”
• Sunil Dasgupta
“While school boundaries may be the runaway issue, our focus should absolutely be on closing the performance gap while enabling students who are doing well to do even better. There is no one silver bullet, but hiring more staff is step one toward reducing staff ratios; retaining and training teachers better; improving rigor and content in the curriculum; targeting resources to those who need it most; rebuilding the home and school partnership; and enabling investments in health, safety, and wellness. To do all of this, we need a strong BOE to secure resources, reprioritize, and rebalance capital and operating budgets.”
• Paul Geller
“Boundary changes are a key issue in this race. As I have shared with Dr. Smith several times, MCPS needs to have a candid CIP conversation with the community, and present three options: 1) we do nothing; 2) every person in Montgomery County pays $4,000 to quickly eliminate the MCPS construction backlog; or 3) we rethink how we can best utilize existing schools to accommodate all our 166,000 students.
“Another issue is the importance of receiving a world-class education. This includes addressing the achievement gap, reducing overburdensome testing, and making sure all our graduates are college/career ready.”
• Jay Guan
“We are on the cusp of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ Our education system needs to evolve to prepare our kids for a rapidly changing economy and society. To ensure that our kids are future-ready, we should establish and expand Career and Technology programs that focus on drone operation certification, data science, artificial intelligence, and small business/entrepreneurial related programs. We need to invest in a multidisciplinary approach to STEAM education for ALL kids. Furthermore, we need to investigate and evaluate how we can more effectively incorporate technology and innovative instruction methods.”
• Lynne Harris
“MCPS must provide consistency in academic courses and opportunities, uniform excellence in delivery of them, and access for all. It should be easy for every student, staff, and family member to identify courses and programs common to all level-alike schools, locate unique opportunities not commonly available, and understand how to participate. Unique options must be geographically located so that all students can access, looking at transit as a resource. Information must be accurate, useable, easy to find and transparently shared. We need objective criteria for advanced courses. All students meeting those criteria should be enrolled, with an opt-out option.”
• Collins Odongo
Did not respond
• Dalbin Osorio
“The most important issue in this race is closing the opportunity gap. My specific plans to address this include a combination of strategies. For starters, a Grow-Your-Own initiative that focuses on quality teacher retention and recruitment with a focus on former MCPS students becoming teachers, while also simultaneously investing in culturally competent curriculum development. Lastly, an overarching commitment to the ‘3 C’s’: career, college, and community where every policy we craft and aim to pass is geared towards all students being successful within those three tenets.”
• Cameron Rhode
“Students should always feel that the board is looking out for their physical and mental well-being. This includes eliminating malnourishment and undernourishment and promoting exercise during and outside of the school day. Also, LGBT students have reported that their concerns are often dismissed by in-school administrators and that sometimes they won’t see changes unless teachers stand with them. These concerns are not merely social (bullying); they are also structural (such as lack of gender-neutral restrooms). If elected, I will work to make sure school administration is accommodating of LGBT students’ and teachers’ needs.”
• Darwin Romero
“There are many important issues that I would like to advance in the first four years. One in particular is diversity. Our student population has drastically changed over the last 20 years, but our school system largely remained the same. We need to increase diversity at all levels of MCPS — leadership, teaching, as well as in the delivery of the curriculum. I would push to hire culturally competent diverse administrators and teachers. I would also request that the school system offer additional compensation to teachers who are bilingual and who have broader experiences beyond the classroom.”
• Pavel Sukhobok
“The most important issue is the BOE continuing to water down our education system. For math, students no longer need to know the formulas and there is increasingly less emphasis on practice, the hallmark of strong math skills, because that’s not fun enough. In social studies, most students wouldn’t be able to tell you what century the Civil War happened or who Thurgood Marshall is because names and dates aren’t ‘real’ history. In English, students are fortunate if they get through a couple of books and major writing assignments each school year. Let’s bring academic rigor back to MCPS.”
• Lumpoange Thomas
“The issue I find most important is balancing how to improve the quality of education for all MCPS students. We need to provide additional programs and services to children who live in underserved communities, while simultaneously ensuring our high performing students are academically challenged. I would support policies and programs that would guarantee every student multiple pathways to access rigorous coursework to meet their individual needs.”
District 2 (in and around Gaithersburg)
• Michael Fryar
“Expanding the availability of comprehensive, educationally sound services, including more magnet and themed schools, expanded pre-K programs and additional vocational alternatives, is my priority.”
• Rebecca Smondrowski
“The most important issue in the BOE election is how to effectively meet the varying needs of all students while maximizing the value of every dollar spent from the budget allocation. We need to make sure that all students can easily access the appropriate pathways and programs. We need to carefully consider the adult-to-student ratio within the classrooms and professional development opportunities so that we can best support our teachers in supporting our students. We need to address the school and learning climate within each building to ensure that the environment promotes collaborative achievement for students and staff.”
District 4 (from Silver Spring north through Glenmont)
• Shebra Evans
“In a school system of more than 166,000 students, we are facing an increase in student enrollment. Enrollment growth impacts both the capital and operating budget. Montgomery County Public Schools has grown by more than 23,000 students since 2010. MCPS has sought to balance fiscal constraints with overcrowded and aging facilities and infrastructures. As board president, I testified in support of the Build to Learn Act. This legislation would provide additional school construction funding for Montgomery County and across the state.”
• Steve Solomon
“Although the curriculum in MCPS is strong, I believe that changes need to be made to better prepare students for real world jobs. I would expand vocational and technical programs to more schools in Montgomery County.”
From Saturday: Candidates assess Superintendent Jack Smith
Coming Tuesday: Candidates pick one issue the school board has handled poorly