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Incumbents Retain Seats in County School Board Race, Joined by At-Large Winner Silvestre

Two races decided by roughly 3 percentage points; O’Neill to become longest-serving member

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Candidates in Tuesday's election, from left to right: Julie Reiley, Karla Silvestre, Lynn Amano, Maria Blaeuer, Judy Docca, Brenda Wolff and Pat O'Neill

The field of women comprising the county’s first all-female school board is set following Tuesday’s election, with longtime incumbents Pat O’Neill and Judy Docca retaining their seats, joined by at-large electee Karla Silvestre.

Brenda Wolff, who ran unopposed for District 5, will join O’Neill, Docca, Silvestre, District 4 member and board Vice President Shebra Evans, District 2 member Rebecca Smondrowski and at-large member Jeanette Dixon to round out the all-female school board, as the board’s lone male, President Michael Durso, did not run for re-election.

Since Montgomery County began holding elections in 1953 to select school board members, 49 men have been elected, as opposed to 30 women, according to Montgomery County Public Schools  data. However, since 1998, the field has remained fairly even with 10 male members and 11 female members.

New school board members will be sworn in at 1 p.m. Dec. 3.

The women elected on Tuesday all appeared to share a similar interest in running for the school board during their campaigns, voicing strong opinions about working harder to close the achievement gap, expanding early childhood education and promoting more transparency.

A 20-year incumbent, O’Neill flexed her seniority, beating challenger Lynn Amano in comfortable fashion, 158,312 votes to 90,280 votes. Vote totals are unofficial and do not include absentee and provisional ballots.

With her re-election, O’Neill, of Bethesda, is likely to break the record of the board’s longest-serving member before her next four-year term is up. If she serves all four years, O’Neill will oust former member Blair Ewing as the longest-serving board member. Ewing was a member of the board for 22 years, and at the end of her newest term, O’Neill will have tallied 24 years on the board.

“I’m very excited and relieved,” O’Neill said Tuesday night. “A lot of blood and sweat went into the election and I’m looking forward to four more years.”

O’Neill said she will focus on her work to close the achievement gap and address aging facilities and overcrowding.

In the night’s closest school board race, incumbent Judy Docca knocked off education attorney Maria Blaeuer by roughly 4,000 votes for the open District 1 seat. Docca, of Montgomery Village, said she was surprised by Tuesday’s results.

“I knew it was going to be tough, because (Blaeuer) was a really vivacious candidate, I think, and people were listening to her,” Docca said. “I know I’ve been there a long time and I’ve been talking about a lot of the same things for a while, but I’m going to try to work really hard at it and do as much as I can to help our students.”

Docca was elected to the school board in 2006 and the 79-year-old had previously worked for MCPS for 38 years. She confirmed Tuesday her upcoming term will be her last on the school board.

In another close race, the open at-large seat was won by Karla Silvestre, who topped Julie Reiley by about 7,000 votes.

Silvestre, of Silver Spring, will replace Jill Ortman-Fouse, who chose not to run for re-election. She was defeated in the June 26 primary for an at-large county council seat.

Backed by a group of Democratic county officials, Silvestre said she leaned on her various support groups in the final days leading up to the election, intent on doing “everything in my power” to win the election. With that feat complete, Silvestre said her victory was extra sweet.

“I’m thrilled. I’m so happy,” she said shortly after final results were announced. “I had butterflies all night.”

With two incumbents combining for more than 30 years of experience and other county allies, Silvestre said she believes she will be a strong force on the board, where she intends to focus on expanding early childhood education, dual language programs and college access to close the district’s achievement gap.

In an unopposed race to represent District 5, Brenda Wolff was victorious. With nearly 99 percent of votes, the 66-year-old Silver Spring resident will replace Durso, and had gathered endorsements from County Executive Ike Leggett, the Montgomery County Education Association and CASA in Action.

Wolff could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

For more election results, click here.

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