Give feedback on the superintendent search, and meet your Board of Education members in Burtonsville

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

A community meeting in East County. Photo by Adrienne Lees.

Next week, you’ll have a chance to give feedback on MCPS’ new superintendent in Gaithersburg, and meet your Board of Education members in Burtonsville.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ search for a new superintendent is underway, and to collect community feedback, they’re holding a series of public forums around the county. Parents, students, staff, and community members will be able to talk to representatives from the executive search firm MCPS is using to find a new superintendent and discuss their hopes and wishes for the school system’s new leader.

The next one is this Tuesday, March 10 at 7pm at Gaithersburg High School, located at 101 Education Boulevard in Gaithersburg. Unfortunately, there won’t be another forum in East County; there were meetings at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring and Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in last week, but a scheduled forum at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville was cancelled due to snow. If you’d like more information, or can’t attend the meeting in Gaithersburg and want to share your thoughts with the decision-makers who’ll hire the next superintendent, visit the MCPS website.

However, the Board of Education will be coming to Paint Branch on Thursday for a cluster meeting, the first one in four years. You’ll be able to talk to board members about issues affecting East County schools, including the superintendent search, the school system’s persistent achievement gap, next year’s budget, and other concerns. That meeting will be on Thursday, March 12 from 7 to 9pm at Paint Branch High School, located at 14121 Old Columbia Pike in Burtonsville. For more info, contact Larry Edmonds, Paint Branch cluster coordinator, at 240/381-3984 or by email at larrye14 at verizon dot net.


Students protest MCPS achievement gap in march on Rockville

March to Close the Gap Rally in Courthouse Square

Several hundred people came to march in protest of the achievement gap in Rockville yesterday.

Several hundred students, teachers and school administrators, parents, and local officials marched on Rockville yesterday in a call to close the growing achievement gap between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students in Montgomery County Public Schools.

The Minority Scholars Program, a student-driven initiative to close the achievement gap, began organizing the march several months ago. The group began at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda eight years ago as a way to reach out to minority students, and has since expanded to 10 other high schools in the county, including Northwood, Springbrook, and Wheaton. Organizers say the program has “data to support its success” in increasing the academic eligibility and honor roll placement of minority students.

About 400 people marched from the Carver Center, once the county’s black high school under segregation and now the MCPS central office, down Rockville Pike and North Washington Street. Students chanted and held signs with slogans like “Close the Gap,” as drivers honked their horns in approval. The march ended at Courthouse Square for a festive rally on the steps of the county courthouse with music and dancing.

Organizers hope the march will raise awareness about the achievement gap and spur the community to action. “For years, we have been watching and waiting and hoping and wishing for something to change,” said Mike Williams, a teacher at Walter Johnson who helped start the Minority Scholars Program.

Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.

Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.

Several MCPS and Montgomery County officials participated in the march and subsequent rally, including school board president Phil Kauffman and superintendent Joshua Starr, who tweeted selfies with the crowd and even briefly danced with MSP members on stage. “We care about you and we love you,” he said. “Everything we are doing is about how we can work harder to close the gap.”

Speakers during the rally made repeated comparisons to other youth movements in history, from the East Los Angeles Walkouts in 1968 to the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. Tim Warner, Chief Engagement and Partnership Officer for MCPS, urged the students to offer their input and ideas. “You are the solution…you are what Montgomery County looks like today and you are our leaders,” he said. “You all need to tell us what to do.”

Student leader Gabi Bianchi called the march “the beginning of a revolution to close the achievement gap,” adding, “We have been heard.” She said the Minority Scholars Program will advocate for “institutional changes” at the federal, state, and county levels to give students and schools the resources they need to succeed.

That will be a challenge for the organization. School officials acknowledge that minority students are lagging their peers, and MCPS does have many good programs in place to help close the gap. But the achievement gap continues to grow and appears to be a direct result of de facto racial and socioeconomic segregation in MCPS.

Yet in recent months, Dr. Starr has both rejected a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight about the achievement gap, while Starr and Kauffman both threatened to cut funding for additional programs to close the gap if the school system didn’t get a raise in their budget from the county. These actions really raise questions about the school system’s commitment.

Yesterday’s march was a great day for the Minority Scholars Project and for all of the hard-working students and staff who made it happen. But we all have to hold MCPS leaders accountable for their promises to listen to the community’s concerns and make the school system more equitable for all students.

Check out this slideshow of the march.


High-needs students should be a priority regardless of MCPS’ budget

County Executive Ike Leggett’s $4.9 billion 2015 budget is out today. Included is a proposal to give MCPS $2.08 billion, an increase of $80 million from the previous year.

However, it’s still $15 million less than the school system asked for. In a letter to Leggett, Superintendent Joshua Starr and school board president Phil Kauffman say the difference between their request and his proposal would affect programs for high-needs students:

“Those funds were specifically targeted to benefit our most vulnerable students by, among other things, reducing class sizes in high-need high schools, improving services to English Language Learners, adding prekindergarten classes, expanding community partnerships that serve students and families, and hiring more counselors and student support staff.”

Over half of the school system’s low-income students are in the Northeast and Downcounty consortia and in a handful of Upcounty clusters, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, and Watkins Mill. These schools aren’t performing as well as those in more affluent parts of the county, because their students come with greater needs.

Closing the achievement gap between these schools and the rest of MCPS is integral to our school system’s and our county’s continued success. That means making programs to serve high-needs students a priority no matter what.

Some of the programs Dr. Starr has recommended to serve these schools sound promising. But MCPS already makes up nearly half of the county’s total budget, and our highest-need students shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip to raise the school system’s budget.