Election Day is still weeks away, but the Montgomery County Board of Education is already anticipating what will be a historic result.
For the first time in the history of Montgomery County Public Schools, the board will feature all females following the Nov. 6 election, as a field of seven women vies for four open seats on the board.
The board’s lone male, President Michael Durso, is not seeking re-election. Durso has served alongside an even mix of men and women since he was appointed to the board in 2009.
“Certainly it sends the message to all of our students, female and male, that women can do anything and are great leaders,” said Jeanette Dixon, an At-Large board member. “It is about electing the best person for the job and illustrates that we have come a long way as a society, as we never commented when organizations and institutions were all male in the past. This all-female board will be a natural progression of the work women have done as educational activists.”
Since MCPS began holding elections in 1953 to select school board members, 49 men have been elected, as opposed to 30 women, according to MCPS data. However, since 1998, the field has remained fairly even with 10 male members and 11 female members.
The first woman elected to the board was Rose Kramer, who served from 1955 to 1960.
Pat O’Neill of Bethesda has served on the board since 1998, and was appointed president for five separate one-year terms. To O’Neill, the all-female candidate pool is simply “the luck of the draw,” but she acknowledged that many current board members are former or current members of Parent Teacher Associations, which are often female-dominated.
“In a lot of places you’ll see a lot of businessmen on the school board, but here we have quite a few women who come up from PTAs and such to the board, which is great,” O’Neill said, adding that the Montgomery County Council will have only one female member following the November election. “I think it’s random how it has happened, but it’s great to see women involved.”
At-Large candidates in this year’s election are Julie Reiley of Bethesda and Karla Silvestre of Silver Spring. District 1 candidates are Laytonsville resident Maria Blaeuer and incumbent Judy Docca of Montgomery Village, while District 3 candidates are Lynn Amano of Silver Spring and O’Neill, the incumbent. Silver Spring resident Brenda Wolff is running unopposed for District 5.
Along with Durso who will step down at the end of his term, Jill Ortman-Fouse will not return to the board following the election. She was defeated in the June 26 primary for an open At-Large County Council seat.
Neither standing board members nor newcomers voiced concern about lacking male representation on the board. There is a possibility, O’Neill reminded, the next student representative could be male.
Incoming board member Brenda Wolff said ideally there would be a mix of men and women on the district’s governing board to hear more, varying opinions. But, she added, the board’s mission remains the same, regardless of who is elected.
“Regardless of our makeup, I am sure about one thing: We want the best educational outcomes for all students in MCPS,” Wolff said in an email to Bethesda Beat. “And I am confident that we will work together to achieve that goal.”