School Board Candidates Weigh in on Achievement Gap, Boundary Solutions

School Board Candidates Weigh in on Achievement Gap, Boundary Solutions

All call for universal pre-k, better representation of district to lawmakers

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Montgomery County school board candidate Lynn Amano speaks Wednesday during a forum at the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors headquarters in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Tackling the achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools without increasing the district’s budget could prove difficult, but all seven candidates in the running for the county’s school board agree doing so starts long before students arrive for their first day of kindergarten.

From birth to age 5 is crucial in a child’s development, each candidate said Wednesday afternoon, advocating for universal pre-kindergarten and stronger relationships with county partners and nonprofits during a forum at the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors headquarters in Rockville.

“It’s so critical to provide an enriching environment to children from birth to 5, and if you wait until they’re 5, many young children will be behind,” said At-Large candidate Karla Silvestre of Silver Spring. “I want every family to have a toolkit to take home from their pediatrician so the child’s caretaker has resources, with cultural competency, they can use in their homes and communities to help bridge the gap.”

In front of about 25 people, Silvestre and the other candidates running in the Nov. 6 general election—At-Large contender Julie Reiley of Bethesda, District 1 candidates Maria Blaeuer of Laytonsville and incumbent Judy Docca of Montgomery Village, District 3 candidates Lynn Amano of Silver Spring and incumbent Pat O’Neill of Bethesda and unopposed District 5 candidate Brenda Wolff of Silver Spring—answered pre-written questions about reducing the achievement gap, how to best market the district to new families and the state legislatures and whether they support redrawing school boundaries.

The candidates all seemed to agree with each other on each topic, highlighting the district’s diversity, the need to portray the district’s successes and struggles equally to policymakers and their support of school boundary changes to relieve overcrowding at some schools.

“There will have to be some boundary changes in some capacity, there’s no doubt about that,” said O’Neill, who is running for her sixth four-year term.

Blaeuer, who participated via recorded message and was not present at the forum, acknowledged the difficulties that could arise when changing the trajectory of students whose parents bought homes in particular areas to ensure they would attend specific high schools.

“We need to introduce choice and support that choice, even if that means providing some transportation for students to different places and school choices,” she said.

[For more information about the candidates, check out Bethesda Beat’s Voters’ Guide]

Amano called for long lead times to ensure students already in the system would complete their educations prior to the implementation of any major boundary changes or include a “grandfather clause” that allows for exceptions.

And with looming boundary changes would come some resistance.
Most of that resistance stems from misconceptions that some MCPS schools are better than others, based on their programs, staff and student population, Wolff said.

“We need to strengthen all schools so they all appear to be desirable so it wouldn’t be as big of an issue,” she said. “People have these perceptions about schools and we need to change those perceptions.”

Part of creating equal, positive impressions is providing equal facilities, Wolff said. But to update existing schools or build new ones takes state funding the county isn’t currently getting because lawmakers believe the entire county population is “rich,” she said.

Amano said she would urge county and state representatives to visit the district to get a more accurate perception of MCPS’ demographics—namely the more than 40 percent of students participating in the free or reduced lunch program and other need-based programs.

“We promote our crown jewels but we don’t admit to the challenges we have, so how can we expect people to know about them or believe they’re real?” Amano asked.

School board candidates will next participate in a forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Aspen Hill Library and 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Clarksburg High School.

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