Residents come together at workshop

The crowd at our first community workshop at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville. Photo by Dan Reed.

The crowd at our first community workshop at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville. Photo by Dan Reed.

Last Thursday, approximately 40 activist parents and residents came together for One Montgomery’s first community workshop at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville. Reporters from the student and professional press were there as well.

People discussed issues affecting Montgomery County schools in breakout sessions. Photo by Adrienne Lees.

People discussed issues affecting Montgomery County schools in breakout sessions. Photo by Adrienne Lees.

Following time for initial greetings, the interrelated issues of residential and school socio-economic segregation, underfunding of schools with concentrated poverty and school academic underperformance were presented through PowerPoint pictures, words and graphs.

Workshop participants separated into groups to discuss and later present the strengths and weakness and opportunities and threats characterizing our schools; and the causes of and solutions for our current situation. The groups’ findings are outlined below.

The meeting concluded with observations regarding the political nature of school improvement. Change will require formation of an active community and its insistent communication of the request for change.

What are our schools’ present strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths

1. New facilities
2. Every school has honors and AP programs
3. Strong principals at individual schools (e.g., Blair and Springbrook)
4. Some strong PTAs engaging parents with cultural barriers
5. Diversity

Weaknesses

1. Politics for resource distribution
2. Weak community engagement
3. Wide gap in scores across individual schools
4. Cultural misconceptions of students within school (e.g., withheld opportunities, more minorities with suspensions)
5. Public perception that schools are bad – middle class flight

What opportunities and threats do our schools face in the future?

Opportunities

1. Increase SAT scores and graduation rates
2. Strong leadership: Maryland-school-community
3. Safety—a priority
4. Maintenance of effort—increase base funding
5. Reputation of success of school
6. Better branding
7. Good social interaction
8. More libraries/music programs: allow leadership opportunities for students
9. Head Start/Pre-K
10 Build on diversity for global citizens
11. Language, tech

Threats

1. More violence
2. People move out of neighborhoods
3. Economic vulnerability
4. Imbalance – population growth
5. Continuing low level of involvement by parents
6. Perception and reality of inequalities
7. Can’t increase enrollment without parent involvement
8. Middle schools lose ability to meet student needs
9. Bad branding – identify issues and make adjustments

What are the causes of current issues in our schools?

1. Economic disparities

a. Demographic changes to economy
b. Consortium maintains economic status quo
c. Correlation between race proportions and economic opportunity

2. Cultural differences

a. Not understanding differences in students, unique needs
b. Staff cultural competency

3. Continual staff training; necessary supports

4. Standardized testing teaching vs. engagement in learning

5. Home life

a. Lack of wrap around service
b. Lack of early childhood education
c. Lack of resources to support and advocate

What are some possible solutions for improving our schools?

1. Greater access for Head-Start: advocate for funds
2. Advocate for resources from Annapolis for our County
3. Volunteer program from qualified high school students, local colleges/universities
4. Solutions aren’t necessarily easy
5. Alternative programs for students with behavior problems
6. Stop changing the curriculum
7. Formula needs to match needs of the school; fair does not mean equal
8. Candid communication between MCPS and community
9. Greater resources for high needs schools
10. Proactive with population trends

Group Members

Strengths,Weaknesses Opportunities,Threats Causes Solutions
Facilitator Debbie Ed All Ralph
Scribe Stephanie Stephanie Dee Evelyn
Time keeper Thalia Jewru Rosina Lulu
Presenter Bernice Core Jay Jill
Members Dan David TeddySharon Fred Kyle Otto BobAdrienne Josh Evan AdamDiana Neal Mark, Ann

Letter to East County representatives

Springbrook High Sign In anticipation of tomorrow night’s legislative forum at Paint Branch, we’re sending a letter to East County elected officials to raise our concerns about the Northeast and Downcounty consortia schools. The letter follows:

  • To: Senator Karen S. Montgomery
  • Delegate Anne R. Kaiser
  • Delegate Eric Luedtke
  • Delegate Craig Zucker
  • Councilmember Valerie Ervin
  • Board of Education member Michael A. Durso

Re: Paint Branch Legislative Forum, November 19

East County representatives:

We look forward to tomorrow evening’s discussion of the stabilization and development of East County, particularly its schools.

One Montgomery is a new and growing coalition of concerned parents and local citizens coming together to better understand, support and improve our schools, especially those that are failing to meet the high academic standards for which Montgomery County has traditionally been well known. These schools are disproportionately situated in the East County (see the Addendum). Underperforming schools shortchange our children and undermine our neighborhood quality of life. Schools and neighborhoods interact in a cycle—in our case a vicious one.

The trends are clear, and the seeming inability of MCPS to resolve issues in our schools and effectively address the achievement gap in the East County is troubling, Finding solutions requires first a commitment to transparency and openness in honestly discussing the problem, and then making appropriate policy changes and applying needed resources to follow-through until the MCPS mission “Every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social emotional skills to be successful in college and career” is achieved. We believe that the mission cannot be achieved without engaging the community as a true partner.

We look to you to raise East County schools on the political priority list.

Councilmember Ervin has made a strong beginning by calling for an Office of Legislative Oversight report on the Northeast and Downcounty Consortia high schools, now scheduled for mid-January release. This study will show comparatively poor academic outcomes and East-West demographic bifurcation. Consortia have not worked; much more must be done.

MCPS has responded with its Innovation School pilot initiative. Smarter central office-school interaction might make a marginal difference, but not the difference we need. There has been minimal input from the stakeholders involved—students, teachers, parents— whose buy-in is critical in gaining any appreciable and sustainable impact from the program. The Board must raise East County schools on the political priority list.

Addressing school inequities will require more funding for underperforming schools (i.e., smaller class sizes above Grade 2 and in on-level high school classes, more after-school and community school programs, expansion of pre-K) and placement and retention in East County schools of experienced teachers with a record of results. Funding should be allocated by school FARMS load, in the manner and at the level contemplated by both the Thornton Commission and Board policy. MCPS’ operating budget must be detailed and transparent as to the “subsidy” for high-FARMS schools.

Other needed policy changes do not necessarily carry any additional costs, but could have a significant and immediate impact on our students’ educational experience. Some examples include more thoughtful class placement, active recruiting of minority students to register for higher level courses (currently in many cases, minority students are discouraged or outright refused entry to more challenging classes based on an assumption that they will not be “successful”), and requiring demonstrated cultural competency in hiring decisions.

Only if the Board of Education raises East County schools on the political priority list should the County Council and the State raise Montgomery County schools on the budgetary priority list.

Development that ignores its effect on NEC academic performance and concentrated poverty, as does the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, is not smart–it’s self-defeating. Smart development, which would prioritize support for school academic performance, would complement serious structural changes in MCPS’ East County school support.

It is One Montgomery’s mission to help support our high-poverty, underperforming schools. We look forward to working with our local schools, MCPS staff, legislative bodies, concerned community members, and other like-minded groups to achieve this goal.

ONE MONTGOMERY

Adrienne Lees
Ed Wetzlar
Marva Deskins Hamilton
Dan Reed
Kathleen Indart
Fred Stichnoth

cc: Larry Edmunds, MCCPTA NEC Area Vice President

Addendum: NEC High School Underperformance

Data point NEC High School mean Non-OLO High School mean
FARMS % 2013 37.9 17.1
SAT mean 2013 1464 1710
AP 3+% 2013 36.5 65.0
SAT 1650+% 2013 26.9 66.9
Graduation % 2013 85.9 91.4
Dropout % 2013 8.6 4.7

What does “Non-OLO” mean? The County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight is working a report about the performance of the consortia comparing the three NEC high schools and five DCC high schools to three “like” schools elsewhere in the county, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, and Watkins Mill. “Non-OLO” schools refer to the other 14 MCPS high schools.


Join us at Tuesday’s legislative forum in Burtonsville

 

Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.

Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.

East County elected representatives will be available for a public forum Tuesday night at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville. One Montgomery will be there, advocating school equity as a means for creating a stronger community. Stand up with us.

Several elected officials will be there, including state Senator Karen Montgomery, Delegates Anne Kaiser, Eric Luedtke, and Craig Zucker, County Councilmember and Education Committee chair Valerie Ervin; and Mike Durso of the Board of Education. Larry Edmonds, Northeast Consortium Vice President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs will be there as well.

While the format has not been announced, we expect time for audience questions and comments. Come ready with something to say. Here are some ideas (bring your own):

1. Why is it acceptable that NEC kids score so much lower than West County kids, year after year after year?

2. Why is it okay that students have such wildly different educational experiences, even within the same school?

3. What is MCPS doing about underperformance in high-poverty schools? Just the Innovation School pilot? How exactly is that going to help us?

4. People over here are starting to use words like “blight.” Does blight cause our schools to do worse? Or do our schools cause blight?

5. It is Board policy to provide more resources to high-poverty schools. Where are the resources?

6. Many NEC and DCC schools receive a subsidy for smaller K-2 class sizes. How much money is that, per school? Is the subsidy paid from taxpayer money, or just Title 1 money?

7. Why doesn’t MCPS subsidize smaller class sizes in Grades 3-5 and 6-8? Or do you have something better to do with the money?

8. What is MCPS doing to see that our high-poverty students have the most experienced teachers with a track record of success? It looks like the most experienced elementary teachers teach where the need is least.

9. Does MCPS have test score targets and a schedule for bringing our schools up to an equitable level of performance?

10. The White Oak Science Gateway seems like an excellent development for the County as a whole. How will it affect the demographic composition of our schools, and our students’ academic success? Has any thought even been given to this?

11. The Delegation seems to have the idea that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” How can our East County representatives possibly have that idea with respect to East County schools? And in Senator Montgomery and Delegate Kaiser, we have two of the most powerful education representatives in the Legislature. What’s going on?

12. Do you advocate meeting the needs of the East County, or do you discount these needs in favor of others’ interests or some conception of whole County good? If you discount, how do you strike a balance, and who will represent our needs?

The forum will run from 7 to 9pm at Paint Branch High School, 14121 Old Columbia Pike in Burtonsville. Meet us outside at 6:45 and wear a sign or nametag in our orange and blue colors proclaiming “One Montgomery.” You might add a slogan, like “Strong Schools=Strong Communities” or “Equity in Education is a Civil Right.” (We’ll try to bring some extras.)

Our East County neighbors and students need you! We’ll see you on Tuesday.


One Montgomery in the Gazette

The crowd at our first community workshop at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville.

The crowd at our first community workshop at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Colesville.

Thanks to everyone who came out to our community workshop last night in Colesville. About 30 people came out to the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration for a meeting about the achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools and how to make our schools stronger. It’s exciting to see so much community support for strong schools.

The Gazette‘s Peggy McEwan was there to cover the meeting and interviewed several group members and concerned parents, residents and community leaders:

It was an ambitious agenda for the first community meeting of the members of One Montgomery, an organization formed this summer to look at the problem of declining test scores in schools of the Montgomery County Public Schools Northeast Consortium and see how the trend can be reversed.

Ed Wetzlar was one of the founders of the group, along with Fred Stichnoth and Adrian Lees, all Silver Spring residents living in the Northeast Consortium area.

“I was concerned not only for the students, but also our property values,” said Wetzlar, who lives three blocks from Springbrook High School. “Schools are the foundation of your children’s future and, if you own property, schools determine the value of your property.”

Although originally focused on the Northeast Consortium — which encompasses James Hubert Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook high schools, along with five middle schools, 16 elementary schools and the Carl Sandburg Learning Center — One Montgomery would like to have a farther reach, Wetzlar said, working for equity in education throughout the county.

We’re not done yet. Next Tuesday, several elected officials from the school board, County Council, and state delegation will host a Community Concerns Forum at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville. We’d love for you to come out and join the call for more resources in underperforming schools. For more information and for other upcoming events, visit One Montgomery’s calendar page.


Upcoming events

1. Community Concerns Forum: November 19, 2013, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Paint Branch HS

Room 1024 (enter the school by the bus parking lot).

Meet Your State & County Legislators – Congressman John Sarbanes, State Senator Karen Montgomery (member of the Education Subcommittee), House Representatives Anne Kaiser (Chair, MoCo Delegation), Eric Luedtke & Craig Zucker , Council Member Valerie Ervin, Board of Education Member Mike Durso

2. MCCPTA did not tweak its budget priorities resolution to address directly the needs of NEC, DCC and other underperforming schools (as had been suggested in a One Montgomery memo). See what MCCPTA wants.

3. The NEC, DCC, Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill and Seneca Valley (fka the red zone) are gap central. MCPS’ weapon against the gap is the Innovation School pilot. How’s that innovation thing working out for you? Watch and tell your Board of Education on November 12, mid-afternoon.

5. We need to join together, strategize and politic to get what our kids need. That is the goal of the November 14 One Montgomery meeting. Please come; please ask your friends to come; please publicize the meeting in your schools.