April 28, 2009
I am a proud graduate of Montgomery County Public Schools, but I am here tonight specifically as a graduate of the Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School. It was about a year ago that magnet students protested in support of their programs, and following those efforts, a group of alumni, former teachers, and current students and parents worked to create a foundation to support the Blair Magnet.
I know the budget is tight. This Board has had to make many difficult choices and the teachers have given up a pay increase; our Foundation is trying to do our part too. The Blair Magnet Foundation has raised many thousands of dollars over the past year from alumni and parent donors. This money is sending students and staff to the American Computer Science League All-Stars Contest, paying registration fees for students taking the International Physics Olympiad, supporting students in the county Envirothon, and funding the county teams in the American Regions Mathematics League competition.
The county math team is one activity I remember fondly from high school; we always took a large group up to seventy-five students, including a team of middle school students, and we finished third in the nation twice during my four years. The teams are mostly Blair students, but not all; the national individual winner last year was from Wootton. The county used to pay for these teams, but Mr. Walstein had to raise his own money this year. One generous Blair alumnus, Wei-Hwa Huang, the reigning national Sudoku champion, donated half of the $15,000 the teams needed. The Foundation and other donors gave the rest. I don’t know about next year or beyond.
I graduated from Blair ten years ago, at a time when magnet programs seemed to be a great source of pride for MCPS. I was in the first class to graduate from the new Blair on University Boulevard, and we were on NBC News and in magazines and the Washington Post, not because of budget cuts but because we were winning national awards. I feel very lucky to have been in MCPS at a time when the county understood that even the smartest kids need special support, and that the key to success for any child is to challenge them to their full abilities.
I see on the agenda tonight that you will be discussing the seven keys to college readiness, and I hope that you don’t just focus on reaching minimum standards, but that MCPS continues to prepare its students to achieve and compete at the highest level. The magnet programs and the GT curriculum drive this excellence. These are not just “boutique” programs; they raise the bar for all students. Closing achievement gaps shouldn’t mean cutting special programs with a long record of success.
Over the past year, the Blair Magnet has lost several teachers and there is no funding for extracurricular activities like the math team. I don’t understand how the county can just stop funding the science, math, and computer science competitions that have brought national recognition to Blair and to Montgomery County. Next year’s budget shows further cuts. The Eastern Magnet is losing its eighth period, and there is increased pressure on the eighth periods at Takoma and at Blair. It feels like the magnets are being chipped away with each cut – 0.4 teachers at a time. Please, help us keep these special programs special.