Board of Education General Election Resources
Local elections have far-reaching consequences. The leaders we elect decide how we spend our money, how we protect our community’s most vulnerable members, and whether our region’s actions will dismantle systemic oppression or reinforce the status quo. Every vote matters — and there is a lot at stake for Montgomery County.
The safety and success of our students is on the ballot. We are particularly concerned by two Board of Education candidates: Mike Erickson (At-Large) and Esther Wells (District 1). Erickson has repeatedly refused to answer questions about protecting LGBTQ+ students and, in his one interview, would not offer LGBTQ+ students specific supports. Wells is endorsed by a group that hosted an event demonizing trans children and chairs a nonprofit that “formally opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including… homosexuality.” During the primaries, she ran on the New Dawn Slate, whose members publicly stated their extremist views, and opposition to masking and unions.
Montgomery County needs leaders who will unite, not divide, our diverse community. And remember, ALL voters in Montgomery County can vote in ALL Board of Education races.
Read below for the candidates’ responses to the JUFJ Campaign Fund’s questionnaire. Mike Erickson and Esther Wells did not return questionnaire answers, so instead we are sharing information about their concerning positions that we think all voters should know.
After you read the responses, see the list of links at the bottom of the page to find out how you can take action!
1) Addressing the Student Mental Health Crisis
What are your short-term and long-term plans to ensure that Montgomery County has comprehensive, culturally-competent mental health supports and wrap-around services for students?
Background: As of the start of this school year, the County has hired the promised social workers for each public high school, and wellness centers are slowly but surely launching to provide additional support. This is a step in the right direction to address our County’s student mental health crisis, yet we are hearing from students that it isn’t enough, especially considering how much stress is created by their experiences at school.
Short term, I will continue to support the expanded array of mental health services that were created this past school year. We have to make sure that those services are reaching and are being utilized by students that need them the most. These include telehealth services, in-person mental health providers at the schools from non-profit mental health organizations like EveryMind, restorative justice practices, wellness centers in every high school, and a more robust complement of afterschool activities as prevention strategies. We must also reduce the stress of academic rigor by providing more flexibility in the ways in which students are allowed to demonstrate that they know the content besides traditional testing. Finally, we need to build wellness into the school day to help our students and staff to be well throughout the day.
A long term goal is to help address the staffing challenges for bilingual mental health professionals in our community. MCPS can play its part through our “grow your own” initiative. We had a soft launch of this program this year where students signed on to come back and teach for MCPS. This program is for future educators as well as mental health professionals. Our students are bilingual and bicultural, and we must invest in them to grow the pipeline for the workforce that we need in our diverse community.
It is important for MCPS to implement the hiring of social workers in every school as well as to make sure we hire professionals that look like the children we teach. Having a diverse mental health team is important and crucial to develop trust with our students and families. The long term steps would be to ensure we have Wellness Centers well staffed and develop ways to work with parents in communities that are already isolated from resources. We need to get rid of barriers that hinder our students in receiving the mental health services provided by the school system. We must take into account that not every family can communicate via the web, many families have limited internet access, and also might have difficulty on how to use new technology.
As a current board member, I am proud to have already played a significant role in investing in culturally competent mental health services. According to Caitlyn Peetz writing in Bethesda Beat (June 9, 2022):
“Consistent with recurring themes in the community this year, improving mental health services and keeping schools safe are the most prominent themes in the fiscal 2023 budget. This budget represents the most focused investment in these areas that I’ve seen in the four budget cycles I’ve covered here.”
Investments include $1.1 million to add “well-being” spaces to all schools that don’t already have them and $1.6 million to provide telehealth mental health services for all students. They also include spending for additional preK and community schools and expanding the length of up to 30 psychologists contracts from 10 to 12 months to increase supports for students, retain current psychologists who want 12-month contracts (and the additional pay), and recruit new psychologists.
Obviously, this is only the beginning. The next steps will be to monitor the implementation and impact of these and other investments to ensure that all students—regardless of socio-economic status, country of origin, race/ethnicity, and disability—are getting the supports that they need.
The single most pressing issue facing our community is student mental health.
As an educator who has worked inside and outside of the classroom, I know first hand that mental health is critical to students’ success and future. I am a parent of an MCPS graduate who went through a mental health crisis and as a former MCPS high school college & career counselor, I have supported hundreds of students as a trusted adult to navigate the complex issues they experience. These experiences have motivated me to prioritize the mental health of students as part of my plan to ensure that every child has a chance to succeed in our school system.
My short-term plan:
- Have the 988 National Suicide and Crisis hotline on every high school student ID card.
- Train student peer leaders and facilitate the creation of student support groups in every middle and high school by partnering with Our Minds Matters or Active Mind.
- Provide mental health related and trauma informed training to all educators in our schools.
- Incorporate mental health into the Montgomery County Board of Education Special Population Committee and place it as a permanent agenda item for discussion and effort. That way we can evaluate all Board policies with a mental health lens.
- Evaluate Montgomery County Public Schools Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to ensure it is utilized and equipped with resources to provide adequate and quality mental health service to our staff. A healthy workforce is essential to deliver quality education to students.
My long-term plans:
- Leverage the local health system to facilitate the creation of a student health service network.
- Foster a welcoming school culture that values inclusion, diversity, and equity. Provide time and space for students to connect with one another. Make sure that school is a safe and warm place for all students regardless of religion, social economic class,residency status, color of their skin, how they identify and past experiences.
- Reassess all school, district, and state testing requirements and work with the Maryland Department of Education to make sure that assessment drives instruction and students are not overburdened with testing that does not impact instruction.
- Increase the diversity of our staff so they can reflect our student population.
Please read my op-ed that expands on my proposals to improve mental health support and resources for MCPS students.
I feel that the county plans are a good foundation but only addressing students at the HS level hits us far too late in the process of being proactive instead of reactive. We need to have school counselors available beginning in elementary schools at numbers that allow for students to have access to support at the earliest age. MCPS staffs counselors at student ratio numbers far higher than recommended. I would eliminate contracts for programming such as “Leader In Me” which has religious overtones that are unnecessary and whose focus on “grit” can be more harmful than helpful. We need to increase partnerships with local mental health supports and we need to see mental health referrals/supports handled in the same methodical fashion we handle academic referrals as time sensitive and requiring training and staffing necessary to meet student needs.
Standing up the Wellness Centers in every high school is one of my critical short-term goals. These centers, a partnership with the county, provide students with access to immediate services and connections to longer term services. With the addition of social workers, counselors, and school psychologists my long-term goal is to build a seamless web of support for student mental health, with an emphasis on helping students be available for learning. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future focuses on creating community schools with wrap-around services and connections to county resources and as these are rolled out they will be an integral component of our student mental health support system.
2) Ensuring Schools are Holistically Safe
A) What is your vision for ensuring schools are holistically safe?
B) What is your understanding of what students mean when they call for police-free schools, and will you support their demands?
C) How do you think security staff should be utilized in schools, and how will their effectiveness be evaluated?
Background: JUFJ supports the ongoing work of student leaders to remove police from Montgomery County schools and end the unnecessary criminalization of Black, Latinx, and disabled students that are the result of flawed policies, practices, and investments. Multiple County entities, including the Policing Advisory Commission, Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce, and Student Wellbeing Action Group, have recommended removing police from schools. The CEO 2.0 program puts students in closer contact with police officers and tactics than before the pandemic, and has concerning implications for student privacy and well-being.
A) In order to ensure that schools are the safest they can be, we must begin by investing in building community in our schools. This involves spending time so students connect with each other and with their teachers and feel like they belong. Students must feel like they can reach out to trusted adults when they see something is amiss or are themselves experiencing difficulties.
B) I believe that students want police to be out of schools because in the past some school communities felt that police were being called to intervene in school discipline issues. I think students feel that some students don’t see police as their allies and their presence in school buildings can be traumatizing. I support getting to the root causes of the students’ concerns because they are real. MCPS data show that the disproportionality issue of Black students being arrested in our schools continued this past year even without School Resource Officers in our schools (the School Resource Officer program was not in effect for school year 2021-2022 and officers were not in school buildings). This points to a larger issue of how schools are helping students that are engaging in high-risk behaviors to prevent serious incidents from occurring in the first place. When students act out, it is a cry for help and should trigger supports. This is an on-going and systemic issue that involves examining our bias, how educators build relationships and connect with Black and Latino students, and what they do to prevent disciplinary referrals. It also relates to how well schools implement restorative justice practices. I am hopeful that with the addition of a social worker and a wellness center with mental health services at every high school, the emphasis on restorative justice, and our youth prevention work, we can focus on prevention and abandon the idea that we need police in schools.
C) Security staff play an important role in our schools by being the eyes and ears of administration in the common areas and helping to direct students to make good choices and go where they need to go. They have great potential to build different types of relationships with students and connect on a different level than other adults in the building. Ultimately, their effectiveness should be measured by the relationships they are able to build with students, preventative measures taken to prevent incidents from escalating, and their appropriate response to serious incidents.
A) The safety of our students and our staff is a high priority for me. As someone who has worked in the State Attorney’s Office and ran an after-school program for high-risk youth, I understand where parents and the majority of teachers and administrators are coming from. However, having SROs in our schools is not the magic answer to keeping our students safe. There were OLO reports done by the county that overwhelmingly showed Black students are disproportionately affected by the SRO’s in our schools. While they make up one third of the student population, over 50% of arrests in the schools system are of black students. We need to invest in after-school programs, counselors, restorative justice practitioners ear and behavior specialists to address these alarming tendencies.
B) I believe they mean that our schools should not have any participation of a militarization focus and implementation. It is important to include those affected with our policies to have the voices of our young people when making policies that directly impacts them.
C) I will like to take a look at the role our security staff play when it comes to prevention. Security has a place in our schools we are not immune to incidents of violence as we witness with the incident at Magruder High School. I would like to look at the training our security staff goes through and the level of engagement they have within our schools with students, family and staff. We also need to ensure they have the tools necessary to keep our schools safe including the technology, cameras etc. We have a serious threat with ghost guns being easily available to our young people and we have a duty to keep our students and staff safe. If we need additional resources then we need to know what those needs are and get the resources that they need. The latest statistics from our Police Department shows an incremental impact of victimization in our under age population in our Equity Focus Areas.
Ensuring the safety of students, families, and school staff is the number one priority for schools, the administration, and the board. At the same time, we must also ensure that BIPOC students are not unfairly disciplined or arrested, which has been the case in Montgomery County and across the country.
Therefore, I support:
- The transition from School Resource Officers (SROs) to Community Engagement Officers (CEO 2.0). In this way, schools will still have access to police officers in cases of illegal activity, violence, or potential violence (e.g., reports of a gun or knife at school), but police officers will not maintain a constant presence in our schools and will be trained to act appropriately in appropriate situations. CEO 2.0 also includes provisions for engaging with community partners beyond the police department to provide supports for students and families. Finally, a key element of the CEO 2.0 program that many people overlook is the improved collection, analysis, and reporting (including on a dashboard) of data related to student discipline, arrests, and paper arrests, all disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and other factors (e.g., special education). This is critical to ensuring both the effectiveness as well as the equitable and fair implementation of the program.
- Additional (unarmed) security personnel. As a current member of the board, I supported funding for 12 additional positions that can be allocated to schools based on need.
- Significant budget increases for preK and wrap-around services. In addition to the mental health supports described under Question 1, I have and will continue to support significant investments in preK and community schools, both required by the Maryland Blueprint. I believe that the greatest contribution that the Board of Education can have on school safety and student and family outcomes is to expand access for preK for low- and middle-income families and increase funding for the community schools model, which—among other things—provides wrap-around services (including health, mental health, and social services) for students and families.
Although these approaches are by no means a silver bullet to solving the dual threats of violence and discriminatory policing in our schools, I will note that I have been endorsed by key constituencies, including SEIU, Progressive Neighbors, Association of Black Democrats of Montgomery County, the Latino Democratic Club of Montgomery County, Leadership for Educational Equity, Past Presidents of the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County, and Former County Executive Ike Leggett. I am also a Moms Demand Action “Gun Sense Candidate” and have the support of Congressman Jamie Raskin, who says: “Scott is doing a great job for us on the Montgomery County Board of Education. We are benefiting from his work with school districts across the country and his significant insight as a professor of educational leadership. We’re lucky to have him where he is using his expertise on behalf of our students and our schools.”
A) Having a strong law enforcement and police presence in school buildings is not the only answer to school safety. My vision for safe schools is one where teaching and learning are not distracted; disruptions are minimized; violence, drugs, bullying and fear are not present; students are not discriminated against; expectations for behavior are clearly communicated; and consequences for infractions are consistently and fairly applied. My vision for holistically safe schools includes the entire school staff, and community partners when appropriate.
As a former school counselor, I believe in addressing the root of many behavior issues, while providing the academic and mental health support that our students need. We can incorporate a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) that encompasses universal prevention, wellness promotion, and interventions that increase with intensity based on student needs. Through MTSS, we can use a multi-agency approach to support our students academically and emotionally, while cultivating school cultures that reinforce positive behaviors. To achieve this, the school system can capitalize on partnerships with other agencies (such as Departments of Health and Human Service and Parks and Recreations), and community groups to work together on identifying solutions and creating student opportunities. Mental health needs do not always occur on school grounds or during school hours. As an educator, my focus is on relationship building and fostering community so we can also achieve emotional safety for MCPS students, families and staff. Additionally, our students need trusted adults in their buildings so they can report potential threats or harmful incidents and ensure the physical safety of the community.
Recent incidents have exposed the need to improve our schools’ intercom system, training for staff on safety protocol procedures, and crisis communication with the community. We have also heard community feedback on how to be more age appropriate with our training drills. As a Board Member, I will work with the school system to address these concerns. It is time that we break the silos of working separately, but coming together as a community together to address the needs of our students.
B) The movement for police-free schools has increased over the years through youth and community organizing with the goal of ending practices that promote school to prison pipelines. I applaud our black youth, students of color, students with disabilities, immigrant and LGBTQIA+ youth and other diverse groups who have come together to call attention to this issue. As a former counselor who has worked with students of all backgrounds, I understand that students are seeking psychological safety and a warm, safe, welcoming non-intimidating school environment. Furthermore, no student should attend school feeling they are targeted due to implicit biases. As a school system, we must incorporate student voices and make every effort to create physically, mentally, and emotionally safe environments. We must continue to evaluate our current practices so that we do not indirectly implement policies or carry out practices that project certain populations of students as a threat to our community.
C) Security Staff are an important part of our safety measures. It includes the school system’s security guards and Community Engagement Officers (CEO). To improve security staff’s service to our students and school communities, I propose for the school system to do the following:
- Include representatives from parents and community stakeholders as part of the interview panel when hiring CEOs at our schools
- Develop a plan, timeline and criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the CEOs at each school cluster.
- Provide better training for CEO and security staff on cultural proficiency, equity and fairness.
- Offer more opportunities for dialogues between the communities and the officers/staff.
But in order to make this happen, the Board needs to meet community members and stakeholders where they are at. As a Board member, I will focus on truly engaging with the community, listening to feedback from all stakeholders, and making sure that each school remains a supportive, welcoming, non intimidating, and positive school environment to maintain the safety and emotional well-being of our students and staff.
A) I would advocate for continuing to ensure that the hard security we do (entry access, playground/athletic fields, additional building access) is maintained in a timely fashion. We also need to do better outreach to parents and our extended community about safety regarding transportation safety and event safety.
B) We know that while there are many anecdotal stories about positive relationships built with SROs in schools, the data shows that students of color are far more often dealt with by admin and SROs inequitably, especially when data is compared between consequences administered to white students and students of color or students with disabilities. I am willing to see if the CEO 2.O program acts more as a community support in aiding vertical communication in a cluster setting but at the end of this year, if data indicates that the results are the same as the SRO program, then the MOU should be rescinded.
C) School security staff need to be better trained in mental health and student support. These employees are in schools every day and have the opportunity to build relationships that advocate for students instead of being seen as antagonistic. Partnering our security staff with the wellness centers and with the community schools organizers would be something I would like to see enacted.
A) I envision a comprehensive system of support that focuses on mental health, wellness and preventative services. In addition to the creation of a seamless safety net of support there must be training that equips the adults who interact with our students with the knowledge and skills needed to de-escalate situations.
B) As a mother and grandmother of African-American males, I have been concerned about the safety of my own family based on the history of negative police interactions with minority communities and particularly black males. The George Floyd incident elevated these concerns, not only in my own household, but in our community at large. This is why I was deeply moved and personally connected to the outcry of our students against injustice and as they expressed their feelings about police in school buildings. I stood in solidarity with these students. They deserve to be physically, emotionally and psychologically safe. As a result, I introduced a Board resolution in 2020, calling for the school district to examine our School Resource Officer Program to ensure our students could thrive in our buildings without the fear or intimidation of police presence.
When students call for police free schools, I believe they are requesting a school experience where police are not “patrolling” the schools or being viewed as a part of a school discipline plan. I deeply believe that our schools must be places of learning where students are comfortable and welcomed. To that end the relationship between schools and the police must be carefully managed so that the police can be accessed when there is a real danger but school administrators are not delegating discipline decisions to them, thereby criminalizing misbehavior.
C) Security staff and Community Engagement Officers (CEO) should be utilized to maintain and enhance a safe and secure learning environment for students, staff, and the MCPS school community. MCPS has entered into an agreement with county law enforcement and other agencies to ensure this goal informs our relationship and the actions of the CEOs in our schools. The MOU requires regular data review and analysis to ensure continuous improvement. I am committed to evaluating the effectiveness of the CEO program using this data to ensure an enhanced safe and secure learning environment, improved communication efficiency between local law enforcement agencies, other government agencies, and MCPS, and more effective relationships between law enforcement agencies, MCPS, administrators, staff, students, parents, and community stakeholders.
3) Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools
As a member of the Board of Education, will you support a restorative justice approach throughout MCPS? If so, what is your plan for expanding and improving the restorative justice program?
Background: When properly funded and implemented at every level and across all roles in the school system — from administrators, to educators, to security staff, to students — robust restorative justice programming has been proven to improve school climate, reduce school violence, and keep students and staff safe. Though MCPS currently stipends full-time staff to serve as restorative justice coordinators, with a small number of dedicated restorative justice staff, there are concerns about the overwork these staff face and a lack of system-wide coordination of and investment in restorative justice implementation.
Montgomery County and Montgomery County Public Schools have been very supportive of restorative justice in our schools. From when the program was first implemented over four years ago to today, we have steadily grown its capacity throughout the school system. This has been a significant investment and we must keep working on it to continue to train every staff in the school building and to build a school-wide culture of restorative justice.
I would absolutely support ongoing efforts to implement a restorative justice approach throughout MCPS at an early age. Ensuring we have a climate that offers a built-out system towards having an environment that teaches a platform to solve problems, prevents harm, and helps build relationships and learned practical skills is more important today than ever. The impact of COVID-19 has had a detrimental affect on our children and youth and any additional skills we can teach our students to overcome that are vital.
I absolutely support a restorative justice approach throughout MCPS, and MCPS has made important strides in this direction by—among other things—investing in restorative justice coaches to work with schools and tracking and reporting indicators related to school culture, sense of belonging among students and staff, and investing in an anti-racist audit (see response to question 5 for more on this topic). Here’s the problem, which should not be listed just in response to this question because it is bigger than just restorative justice:
- Schools and MCPS get asked to do a lot of things.
- To be successful at any one thing, the district by foster coherence and create continuous improvement processes around a few high-leverage strategies. Coherence—which I teach in my graduate class at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education—means that a system has a clear theory about how it will improve and then aligns strategy, resources, culture, systems, and structures with that theory.
- MCPS has not been in coherence for a long time, meaning that any well-intended effort to improve will be less impactful than anyone wants.
- Similarly, while the system has always been good at collecting outcome data (e.g., test scores), we have not been good at collecting the implementation data on key strategies that will enable continuous improvement.
My major focus on the board for the 9 months that I have served is to address these issues, pushing the system to coherence (this requires much more space but involves, for example, pushing the administration to define non-negotiables for all schools) and being clear about what expectations we have in critical issues such as restorative justice implementation.
The administration recently presented a comprehensive plan related to all the work being done to social and emotional wellness, which includes restorative justice. This is an important first step. The next step as a board member will be to require regular briefings that include data on key outcomes as well as a transparent discussion about the challenges related to implementation.
I support the restorative justice approaches for our school district because such practices are student–centered. Students have a voice in the process, whether they were the perpetrators, victims, or indirectly involved in incidents. As a Board Member, I will focus on ensuring that adequate resources are allocated for training and staffing the restorative justice program, and collaborating with MCPS to make room for everyone in our system to build the community and relationships. Here’s how my plan to improve the current MCPS restorative justice program:
- Increase training and the formation of restorative justice peer leaders and mediators, which is a powerful grassroots practice that allows our students to interact, build relationships and work through difficult issues, situations and circumstances with peer support. This approach enables students to lay the foundation of an inclusive, positive and relationship oriented school culture.
- Provide students and staff time and space to build relationships. Punishments are just quick band-aid solutions that do not yield long term results. Time and space is much needed for individuals to work through an issue or behavior problem. We have instituted high school advisory time, but the school district can add on a mechanism for high school students to provide feedback on how to best use this time.
- Alleviate our teachers from unnecessary paperwork to implement restorative practices.
- Create incentives for teachers to organize trustee adult activities, provide regular check-ins with students and create safe spaces on campus for students to use.
MCPS does a great job maintaining a public face about restorative justice but it is not executed in ways that maintain fidelity to the program. Also, the need for RJ was originally proposed by MCEA and a partnership was asked for to help MCEA members develop and lead training as part of preventing the School to Prison pipeline. As a member of the BOE, I would want MCPS to work collaboratively with MCEA to provide better responsive training to staff. I would also advocate for bringing in the Minority Scholars Program and ask those students to help work with student leadership through student government organizations as well as other student led groups to provide peer leadership in having students engage in building understanding and ownership of Restorative Justice practices.
I am a long-time supporter of integrating a restorative justice approach throughout our schools. I will continue fighting for staff training so that in addition to a restorative justice coach in every school, all of our staff, from administrators to teachers to lunch aides are grounded in restorative justice philosophy and practice. This is particularly important as students continue to acclimate themselves back into in-person instruction and building effective relationships among their peers. The practice of creative problem solving and collaboration is key to our students’ success.
4) Protecting LGBTQ+ Students in MCPS
What is your record of supporting LGBTQ+ students, and how will you bring that experience to the Board of Education? Please share specific examples.
Background: For many years, MCPS and the Board of Education have worked to support LGBTQ+ students and have made significant progress in this area. However, students and families in our community are fearful of a growing trend nationwide of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices against LGBTQ+ students and educators. We resoundingly reject policies that marginalize LGBTQ+ students or limit discussion of gender and sexual orientation in the classroom.
I have been fully supportive of initiatives in support of LGBTQ+ students. I think that updating the curriculum, adding more inclusive books to our school libraries, training for school and central office staff, and enhanced stakeholder engagement are all critical next steps. I am in full support of MCPS’ anti-discrimination policies with respect to LGBTQ+ students and employees. I support the work of the MCCPTA LGBTQ+ committee to help the school system make recommendations to the policy and the Guidelines Regarding Student Gender Identity. This group tries to monitor how well the policy and the guidelines are working for LGBTQ+ students. We can always improve on our work in this regard.
Around the country, there are many efforts to erase populations that are non traditional, look differently, or identify differently, especially when it concerns gender and sexuality. Our job as educators is to educate without ignorance, while protecting and uplifting students in a non discriminatory way. We cannot allow the infiltration of views and practices that take away the rights of students who identify as LGBTQ+. I am acutely aware of the damage these sentiments have had on our children and youth. The data shows an increase in suicidal thoughts within the LGBTQ+ community, especially for black ad brown students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+community. This completely unacceptable and these presents cannot have any place in MCPS. I will ensure that these negative efforts that are plaguing our country do not affect our MCPS population.
I am very pleased with the measures that MCPS and the Board of Education have taken to improve the education and experience of LGBTQ students in the district. Specifically, the school leader professional development trainings and opportunities for LGBTQ students to discuss curriculum and take part in the Pride Association demonstrate commitment at all levels of the district, not just at the top. Further, by committing to review all subject material for inclusive content and ways to incorporate more diverse experiences, all students – regardless of whether they associate with the LGBTQ community or not – will have the chance to learn about an often-marginalized group. In order to build an accepting and tolerant community, it is imperative that students be exposed to a wide variety of people that may be different from themselves. These initiatives take great steps towards accurately representing the LGBTQ community in the schools, and with continued administrative and staff support, demonstrate MCPS’s and the Board of Education’s desire to celebrate the diversity of their community.
In addition, I am proud that as a current board member, I am working with my colleague Lynne Harris to include LGBTQ as a special status (along with, for example, minority or woman owned) for consideration in all contracting. This will make it easier for firms led by individuals identifying as LGBTQ to secure contracts with MCPS. We have also worked to ensure gender-neutral bathrooms for students and staff in all schools. Although we have a ways to go in existing buildings, all new facilities in MCPS will include gender neutral bathrooms.
As a mother of a child who identifies as bisexual, an immigrant and a member of a minority group, I have first hand experience and a deep understanding of the struggles and complex issues associated with embracing one’s identity and gaining acceptance from peers and society. LGBTQ+ identities are nuanced and no person shares the same experience. During my years as a college and career counselor in Montgomery County Public Schools, I have helped many students navigate their gender and orientation identity; many expressed fear of revealing their identity with their peers and family. It is important, perhaps now more than ever, that staff continue to carry out the MCPS Gender Identity Guidelines. I commend MCPS for making gender identity a topic for staff compliance training.
If elected as a Board Member, I support all students, but especially our LGBTQ+ students who now are finding themselves under attack and scrutiny in the current national “culture wars.” We need to be vigilant as members of the Board of Education to make sure that some of the excesses seen locally (such as Loudoun County, VA) and nationally are not allowed to come to MCPS.
I believe that all of our students need to be respected and welcomed in all MCPS classrooms and activities. As an elementary school teacher, I’ve supported students by providing a classroom that stresses inclusivity and value of all. My life experiences with family, friends and coworkers reflect that same practice and mindset.
I have a long record of supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ students (and staff) as well as working to improve their lived experience in MCPS. I am a proponent of our work recognizing the LGBTQ+ community in our curriculum, our hiring and our policies. My experience as a Chief Attorney and Deputy Director/ Acting Director in the Office for Civil Rights has informed my work on the Board. It is imperative that not only are the policies and guidelines (such as our guidelines on supporting students’ gender identity) important but that the messaging and actions of the leaders of organizations continuously reinforces the value of, and respect for, all of our students.
5) Investing in Black and Latinx Student Success
What is your plan to invest in student achievement for Black and Latinx students?
In October of 2022, MCPS will reveal the results of the anti-racism audit. This audit will provide recommendations to address inequitable policies and practices to begin to address systemic barriers to achievement among Black and Latino students. In addition to our anti-racism work, we address student achievement by working with County government and private providers to expand access to early care and education for our students from age 0-5 because the achievement gap begins in kindergarten. We ensure that all students are getting access to the most rigorous classes ensuring reading on level or above by 3rd grade, taking algebra by 8th grade, and passing AP, IB, or dual enrollment classes in high school. We must also expand college prep programs like ACES and CollegeTracks, so that every student that needs it has a college-prep coach to help them graduate and get admitted to the college of their choice.
We must have rigor and high expectations for all of our students, from the English language-learner, to the special education student, to those needing enriched instruction. I support expanding robust programs of enriched instruction at the neighborhood schools so that students don’t have to leave their home school to have their needs met. We must also ensure that we are encouraging all students to take the most rigorous classes. It is unacceptable that so many of our students are not considered “college ready”. We must provide the most rigorous curriculum for all our students so that they are truly ready for college and careers.
With the recent learning recovery efforts such as summer school, tutoring, social emotional supports, and training for our teachers to implement appropriate instructional interventions, it is imperative that we track what is working (and not working) in particular for our target groups such as students living in poverty.
We should not be a pipeline for the juvenile justice system instead we should a pipeline for our kids especially our black students to achieve academically.
We need to close the opportunity gap, meaning the focus needs to be on our students who are not doing well academically in school, especially the students in Title1 schools. We must ensure that we work with the family unit as well to support with guidance, while making sure the same opportunities exist to take AP classes and get internships as well. We need better data on students that are not on track to graduate and have a holistic plan to insure they are back on track for graduation. In addition, we know that many of our black and brown students are not scoring high on math and English tests. We need to ensure to close that gap as well. One of the barriers we have is transportation and broadband access and in this day and age it should not be a barrier for our black and brown students. Access to support programs are not well known to many families and we need to reach those that need it and support them in accessing them.
The board [recently] received the first draft of the report of the anti-racism audit. The draft findings are focused on issues related to expectations, inclusion, school culture, disproportionality, and other important issues. Unfortunately, the findings and recommendations DO NOT explicitly address student achievement. Based on my work with districts across the country, the Maryland Blueprint, and my nine months as a board member, the following areas of focus and investment are needed to improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students:
- PreK and Community Schools (see discussion above)
- Incentives for highly qualified and diverse educators and administrators in our highest needs schools
- High-quality implementation of MCPS’ recent rollout of Structured Literacy in grades K-3
- Effective and consistent implementation of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)
- Continued expansion of access to and support for students of color in rigorous programs and courses
- Continued work towards fostering a coherent system of schools with an intense focus on continuous improvement in several high-leverage initiatives.
I believe education is the greatest equalizer, which is why I am running to make sure that every child deserves a chance to succeed. I have witnessed first hand inequities experienced by Black and Latinx students while serving as a MCPS College & Career Counselor at Magruder High School, which is a minority-majority school with 40 percent of first generation students attending college. If elected, I hope to serve on the Board’s Special Population Committee, which can address the issues faced by our students of color. To help mitigate inequities experienced by Black and Latinx students, my plan includes:
1) Using tailored approaches unique to each student’s academic performance. I have worked with Black and Latinx students who did not see their full potential in the face of adversity, hardship, family challenges, and emotional/mental health crises. From these experiences, I propose we also take into account students’ social, emotional, mental and physical well being and their environment, circumstances and situations they are in as well when measuring inequity.That way, we can make sure a student succeeds at their level and look beyond just student performance.Through coordinating college visits for the Minority Scholars and launching the Khan Academy SAT Initiative at Magruder, I know these types of tailored programs yield results. Magruder saw a double digit increase in college applications and acceptance rate. Therefore, we need to increase similar tailored programs that support students at their level, and not just focus on degree attainment or high test scores.
2) Leveraging and expanding our Montgomery County based partnerships to remove academic barriers. I am in favor of continuing programs such as the George B. Thomas Sr. Learning Academy Saturday School, College Tracks, Achieving College Excellence and Success (ACES) program and our collaboration with groups such as the Black & Brown Coalition to address the opportunity gap. We must also ask, what other Montgomery County based groups or organizations with similar missions/visions have we not brought to the table to help address inequities? We need to tap into new resources to ensure the Board’s decisions truly reflect the needs of our Black and Latinx students.
3) Expanding learning opportunities by connecting and exposing our students to various career pathways. We need to prepare students for 21st-century jobs by expanding Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (STEAM) and career and technology programs in schools. Such opportunities support students who may not want to take the traditional path of pursuing a higher education degree.
This question and the question below go hand in hand. We need our educators to have flexibility in curriculum and assessment. I would also have us look at data from the year round programming at Arcola and Roscoe Nix ES. How are those students doing with academic progress? If we can see that year round school is improving student growth for those impacted students, we need to expand that programming. We need to focus on class size at all levels but especially in elementary schools because the more direct instruction a student receives with fewer distractions, we know they will have greater success. Again, I keep emphasizing ES because if we build a foundation for success, we can increase success in MS and HS.
One way to increase student achievement is by creating educational opportunity. I am committed to increasing access to enriched and accelerated programming, particularly for underrepresented student groups. I am a relentless advocate for increasing this access by allocating academic programming equitably across the county. For example, in East County there are few choice programs available. East County is a predominately Black and immigrant community and it is vital that they have access to the educational programming that increases engagement and achievement. I will work to create opportunities such as dual language and middle school magnet programs in East County. I would also like to see more innovative programming such as aviation and Ptech offered to our underrepresented populations. I am also hopeful that our movement, to structured literacy, a research-based program will work to improve literacy results amongst Black and Latinx students. Reading is a fundamental skill that is imperative for academic and life long success.
6) Ensuring Culturally Responsive Curricula and Pedagogy
Will you support using culturally responsive curricula that celebrates cultural identity and practices; and addresses issues of racial inequity, white supremacy, the history and legacy of slavery, and other systems of oppression such as antisemitism and Islamophobia?
Background: While many school districts have taken steps to include new perspectives and materials to make their curricula more comprehensive and representative, other school districts have taken an “anti-CRT” stance, limited the free speech of teachers and students, and banned books from schools.
Yes, I am in full support. Our school system has been implementing these changes over the last 20 years yet our students are not seeing these changes reflected in their classes. We must address this disconnect and act with more urgency in this regard.
Absolutely, our system is home to students that represent over 156 countries, they speak over 115 languages at home. It is important that our students see themselves reflected in the curriculum. I will support policies that ensure this happens.
Absolutely, and I am on record to having made the following points in a public board meeting based on testimony that MCPS is inappropriately teaching CRT:
- CRT is a legal framework used to assess history through a lens of systemic racism. This framework is not taught in our schools.
- Many people who take an “anti-CRT” stance are actually saying that they do not want their white children to feel guilty for being white (someone actually told me this on the campaign trail). While I appreciate those who actually say what they mean, schools must teach facts and how to think about interpret those facts from the perspective of more than just the white Europeans.
- As the draft anti-racist audit points out, we need to INCREASE the diversity of perspectives, cultures, races, and genders addressed in our curriculum not further limit them.
I am committed to helping to ensure that the anti-racism journey that MCPS has begun is continued successfully. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be significant obstacles along the way, and I believe that my perspective, experience, and commitment are necessary on the board to ensure that we don’t get knocked off track.
Yes, we need to integrate such topics into our curriculum through reading materials, as long as they appropriately meet the standards set by the school district. As a community, we must acknowledge that diverse cultural identity and practices, as well as issues of racial inequity, white supremacy, the history and legacy of slavery, and other systems of oppression such as antisemitism and Islamophobia are a part of American history. I want to be clear. I am opposed to any means that prohibits free speech, especially book banning to intentionally conceal the lived experiences of historically oppressed communities for political agendas.
Student exposure to culturally responsive curricula can help address and respond to forms of hate, discrimination and institutional bias. The Board can look into expanding opportunities and resources already provided by the Equity Unity, which proactively disseminates information, tools, lessons, and best practices for staff, families and students to engage, respond, and learn about the sensitive issues mentioned above. The Board may evaluate such efforts, working with partners such as JUFJ, so we can ensure the resources we provide are inclusive of all perspectives and the learning materials appropriately shed light on diversity, cultural identity, and practices that permeate our daily lives.
Additionally, the Board may consider adding programs for students to learn how to deal, confront, engage and interact with these sensitive topics. This school year, MCPS piloted an Asian American Studies elective at select high schools, which was in response to the anti-Asian hate that arose during the pandemic. The Board could consider replicating similar electives that cover underrepresented and historically oppressed populations. Currently, MCPS provides electives in African American History as part of its social studies curriculum, but we can do more.
I believe that students need to see themselves represented in the curricula we choose and that our materials must reflect our values. MCPS curriculum must reflect the various identities that make our county rich with diversity. One of our core values is equity which ensures that equitable practices are used in all classrooms and this includes equity in our curricula. It is also essential that MCPS develop a holistic approach to teaching anti-racism and anti-hate in all of our schools at every level. I believe that our students should be equipped with the skills they need to resist oppression and speak out against hate.
7) Role of the Board of Education
A) What relationship do you envision between the Board of Education (the adults and the student member), the Superintendent, the County Council, and the County Executive?
B) How should the Board of Education balance its role as a partner with the superintendent with its responsibility to supervise the superintendent and hold the superintendent accountable?
Background: Over the last four years, the JUFJ Campaign Fund at times has seen the Board of Education, Superintendent, County Executive, and County Council each avoid taking responsibility for decisions that impact students. These offices play an important role in ensuring the success of our schools, and the system only functions well when everyone works together — and holds each other accountable.
A) I envision a relationship where each takes ownership for the decisions that they make and are open and honest with the public on all matters.
B) The Board of Education plays a leadership and governance role in the school system. It is critical that the Board clearly articulates its priorities so that the superintendent focuses on these each year. A strong performance evaluation with outcomes and process checkpoints is critical to hold the superintendent accountable.
I envision a relationship of respect and dialogue, with always keeping in mind the best interest of our students and teacher and support. For me collaboration is a key component and respect of each other’s views even when disagreements might arise. This should be done with all government partners.
I see both the superintendent and the Board as partners in ensuring that our children have the best education possible, and have all the opportunities to succeed once they graduate. Our role is to ask the tough questions and hold the system accountable for ensuring that our students, educators and support have the full backing of the superintendent and leadership staff.
The most effective districts use a shared governance model. To me, effective shared governance has five themes: 
- Making a commitment to good governance
- A shared moral imperative that drives the work of the school board, the superintendent, and the strategic direction of the district
- Highly effective board members and superintendents who have a governance mindset to govern effectively
- Effective school boards as coherence makers who govern with a unity of purpose
- Leadership from the middle (vis a vis the State on the one hand and schools and the community on the other)
During my time on the board, I have been impressed by the passion, commitment, and hard work of the superintendent and my board colleagues. Both the superintendent and my board colleagues, however, would agree that we need to improve communication and coordination internally and engagement and communication externally. I am leading a process that will establish clear protocols for doing so.
A phrase that is sometimes used in trainings with new members to the board of education goes something like this: If you are trying to get individual water fountains fixed, you’re doing something wrong; if you are working to ensure that the school district has systems in place to monitor and repair water fountains, you are doing something right.
A good board member, and a good board, applies that same reasoning to everything. The board should not get involved in specific cases with students or staff unless the case has first gone through proper administrative channels. Members and the board, should, however, ensure that the district administration has systems in place to ensure student and staff safety, high-quality academic programs, functioning buses, etc.
After a very difficult couple of years, I believe that MCPS is poised to make significant gains because we have a board of education and an administration that understands the importance of a systems approach. Much like the students and educators I saw on the first day of school this year, I am truly optimistic for the year ahead.
First, while Covid-19 will likely be with us for a long time, it is clearly having less of an impact on our communities, and the school system–after some challenges–is learning how to manage in this new context. During the first week of school, I visited seven schools across the county. In every single one, principals were excited, educators were energized and focused, and students were engaged. Challenges certainly existed, with buses for example, but there was a determined can-do attitude everywhere I went.
Second, after serving as interim for a couple years and managing with a temporary leadership team, Dr. McKnight is now the permanent superintendent, and she has assembled an outstanding leadership team, including a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, chief academic officer, chief operating officer, a communications officer, and a chief medical officer. I am convinced that this leadership team has the skills and collaborative spirit needed to ensure that all students in MCPS graduate with the social, emotional, academic, and workforce readiness skills they need to thrive.
The board of education, however, plays a critical role in ensuring that the administration implements the plans to meet this ambitious goal. Put simply, the board must hold the administration accountable. This term gets thrown around a lot so let me explain what I mean. Accountability does not mean punishing someone when something goes wrong, at least at first. It means ensuring that the administration has clearly defined its strategic priorities as well as how they will be implemented and their expected outcomes. Then, the board must ensure that the administration monitors implementation and makes adjustments when things aren’t going well or aren’t having their intended impact. That’s how we foster improvement at scale.
This work is not easy, but it is necessary. And in my short time on the board, I have already seen progress. For example, the board is finalizing the instrument used to evaluate Dr. McKnight and it includes indicators that require her to measure and report on progress of key initiatives. The board, however, must maintain this focus by asking good questions and requiring the administration to report both implementation and outcome data.
In this way, the board plays a critical role in fostering continuous improvement across Montgomery County Public Schools and ensuring that every student—regardless of background—graduates ready for college, a career, and citizenship in a democracy.
 Campbell, D. and M. Fullan (2019). The Governance Core: School Boards, Superintendents, and Schools Working Together. Corwin Press.
A) Schools have increasingly become the frontline of many of the social services. In order for our students to thrive academically, many wrapped around services need to happen. This means that we must break the traditional service silos and have an open policy of interagency coordination between the school system, County Council, County Executive and county agencies. Only when we collaborate across agencies can we ensure adequate resources, tools and services reach our students, families and staff. Cross-collaboration is most prevalent when handling public crises, as demonstrated by the recent responses to the pandemic, mental health crisis, violence at athletic games, and school lockdowns, and jurisdictionally, we must rely on County departments and at times legislative decisions by the County Council to make those responses happen. As a Board Member, I would propose practices for a much closer collaboration with county agencies. Instead of only meeting during the operating budget season, I recommend ongoing meetings to share MCPS’ priorities, strategy plans and find synergies to collaborate in areas such as mental health support with the Department of Human and Health Services, and after school activities with Department of Parks and Recreation.
It is key for both the Board and the Superintendent to maintain open lines of communication for a positive and trustworthy relationship. As mandated, the Board represents the voices of the MCPS community in front of the Superintendent, and therefore the Board will bring forth their input, recommendations and resources to improve upon the operations and activities carried out by the Superintendent. Information sharing and transparency between the Superintendent and the Board is crucial when updating on pressing matters or identifying gaps/challenges MCPS must confront in real time. Through consistent communication, the Board can achieve confidence and trust in the Superintendent to implement what the Board determines as resources, policies and regulations to strengthen the school system. However, checks and balances are also integrated in this relationship, where the Board reviews how effectively the Superintendent implements policies, practices, and regulations for the school district.
Through the Superintendent, the Board must ensure that MCPS works in tandem with the County Executive when coordinating efforts related to safety, crime, transportation, social/health care programs and public health issues that impact MCPS families and staff. Both the Board and the Superintendent are conduits to the County Council, particularly when it comes to securing appropriate funding to meet the needs of the school district every fiscal year. The Board plays a major role in putting forth recommendations for legislative efforts that pertain to the MCPS community related to education issues, as well as informing the Council of pertinent issues by way of the Education Committee.
B) Balance is achieved by maintaining strong and consistent communications between the Board and the Superintendent. In essence, the Superintendent is a source of information for the Board, and will keep the Board informed of all district wide operations, activities and needs throughout the school year. The Board primarily turns to the Superintendent for recommendations to improve the operations of the school district. In turn, the Board will also keep the Superintendent abreast of information they receive from the community, stakeholders, elected officials and legislators, as the Board represents the voices of residents, stakeholders, and the entire MCPS community.
However, accountability is crucial to ensure checks and balances. Realistically, the Board may not always agree with the Superintendent’s recommendations as it is committed to the best interests of students, families and staff. I propose for the Board to hire an independent researcher to provide information and data on the school system for the Board to better evaluate the system. In addition, during Board meetings, members must be willing to ask the difficult questions on the record. For example, often individual school practices and success are shared, but it’s equally important to ask how success is measured, as well as the timeline and steps to implement at scale throughout the system.
Moreover, strong oversight and evaluation of the Superintendent’s performance is needed. Currently, the Board has adopted an evaluation tool to write constructive feedback and meet to discuss their evaluations with each other on the Superintendent’s performance during the previous fiscal year. However we can improve this evaluation tool by adding a scorecard component to keep track of the Superintendent’s accomplishments, measured against each strategic priority by program. The scorecard would help the Board and the district rank which areas need improvement. It also provides the Board an opportunity to provide policy alternatives for consideration more frequently as operations are carried out by the Superintendent.
A) The primary job of the BOE is to direct and supervise policy and practice for the district. It is NOT to rubber stamp MCPS agendas or proposals.
The primary job of the BOE with the County Council is to advocate for appropriate funding and to work in partnership with the council at the state level for all issues regarding education and well-being of the students in our care.
The primary job of the BOE with the County Executive is to maintain a positive dialog and partnership in ensuring that Montgomery County elevates and recognizes the value of our school system as primary draw for families and businesses to invest in our community.
B) The BOE needs to refocus ownership of its legal and elected responsibilities. The BOE is the elected voice of the community in running the school system as fiscally responsible as possible. The BOE needs to better own and understand the curriculum in both intent and practice. The BOE needs to make sure that MCPS is a cooperative partner with all of its unions regarding contract negotiations and issues. The BOE needs to direct the work of the superintendent, not the other way around. The annual review of the superintendent’s work must be thorough and open to public review.
A) One of the key indicators of a healthy community is when major institutions such as the Board, the County Council and the County Executive share a common vision. If we learned nothing else from the pandemic everyone now has a deeper understanding of the critical role the school system plays in the continued vitality of the community.
B) The Board has only one employee, the superintendent of schools. This requires that the Board act as any good employer or manager would, by setting annual priorities, clear and achievable goals and holding the superintendent accountable for reaching those goals and focusing on the Board’s articulated priorities. Working with the superintendent to set the goals and meeting with her throughout the year to discuss progress, offer advice and counsel, and identify problem areas is how you institutionalize a culture of continuous improvement.