2022 | Schools

Two Montgomery school board seats will have primaries as new candidates join race

Fryar files for at-large seat; Iannaco-Hahn running in District 5

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Michael Fryar, left, and Dawn Iannaco-Hahn are running as a slate for seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Photos courtesy Michael Fryar and Dawn Iannaco-Hahn

Two more candidates have filed to run for seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education, officially setting the stage for primary elections in at least two races.

Michael Fryar, a former elementary school teacher and an attorney from Gaithersburg, has filed as a candidate in the race for an at-large seat. He is challenging incumbent Karla Silvestre.

Dawn Iannaco-Hahn, a mental health therapist, filed for District 5, challenging incumbent Brenda Wolff.

Fryar and Iannaco-Hahn are running as a slate, meaning they “join together to conduct and pay for joint campaign activities,” according to state documents.

Fryar said operating as a slate doesn’t mean the pair agree on every topic, but they align on many issues. When they don’t, he said, they will work together to “talk and come to some kind of middle ground.”

Fryar, who unsuccessfully ran in 2020 against District 2 incumbent Rebecca Smondrowski, said community members encouraged him to run for the school board again.

His main priorities would be to establish more magnet schools and charter schools; expand access to trade programs; reduce the number of administrators; and “radically expand” the number of teachers, social workers and school psychologists.

Montgomery County has no charter schools, but establishing them and creating more educational options would help diversify school populations, Fryar said.

Fryar, a father of two students in MCPS, was especially critical of the county teachers union and the school board’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said school board members are “beholden” to the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which he characterized as a “political organization” that does not act in the best interest of its members or students.

“We need folks on the board that can literally shut MCEA out,” he said.
He said MCPS “horribly mishandled” the effects of the pandemic, highlighting that MCPS was among the last to return to in-person instruction after a year of virtual classes.

He said virtual classes were “horribly set up and never executed properly” and the district has “ignored the science on almost every other decision they make.”

“If there was a wrong thing to do, the board did it,” Fryar said.

Since the 2020 election, he has remained connected to local education issues by launching a series of videos critiquing MCPS and the school board. He also has “worked with teachers and others in regard to issues they have with the union,” he said.

Iannaco-Hahn said she began paying more attention to MCPS during the pandemic. She has become a familiar face during public testimony portions of school board meetings, often challenging MCPS policy decisions and pressuring leaders to implement more mental health services more quickly.

Her “breaking point,” she said, was during a meeting in February that focused, in part, on students’ mental health needs.

“Sitting in that audience after having testified myself and listening to student after student ask for mental health services … I just came home and I was broken,” she said. “I realized something has to be done and I was like, ‘I guess it’s going to be me.’”

She said it was troubling watching the effects of virtual classes on her son. He was not receiving services he needed, and “was crying every day, which, in turn, led me to cry every day,” Iannaco-Hahn said. Her family moved him into private school, but her other son is enrolled in MCPS.

“I shouldn’t have had to do that,” she said. “That shouldn’t have happened, but that’s when I really just started paying more attention.”

She said she also would focus on improving MCPS’ communication with families, and would work harder to get feedback and input from community members, especially young students who generally aren’t consulted, she said.

“Montgomery County is so diverse in so many ways … and need[s] to hear from everyone,” Iannaco-Hahn said. “That also just goes back to my therapy background. Being a therapist, my job is to listen. I don’t think that’s any different as a sitting Board of Education member. Part of my job is to listen.”

She said MCPS has a “reputation for sweeping things under the rug” when something goes wrong, and “that cannot happen anymore.”

Iannaco-Hahn, of Silver Spring, has a master of science degree in counseling and psychology from Loyola University Maryland.

With Fryar and Iannaco-Hahn running, at least two of the four school board races will have primary elections in June. Only races with three or more candidates for one seat have primaries.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are three candidates in the at-large race and in the District 5 race. There is one candidate for District 1 and two for District 3.

Candidates who have filed for seats on the school board, as of Thursday afternoon:

At-large:
• Fryar
Domenic Giandomenico of Silver Spring
Silvestre, of Silver Spring (incumbent)

District 1:
Jay Guan of Clarksburg

District 3:
Scott Joftus of Bethesda (incumbent)
Julie Yang of Potomac

District 5:
Valerie Coll of Silver Spring
• Iannaco-Hahn
Wolff, of Silver Spring

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