The Strouses' Letter to the Board of Education

January 23, 2010

Dear Ms. O’Neill and Members of the Board of Education,

I am writing to you to ask that you fund the Magnet Programs, and in particular the Math, Science & Computer Science Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair HS and Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology.

In these economic times, it is not surprising that cuts have to be made. Cuts should be made, but not to programs, teachers, busing and other support with direct contact with students. Instead, cut budgets that do NOT have direct contact with students, such as the top-heavy administration that has grown over 500% over the past 7 years. Perhaps look at improving efficiency of transportation, not cutting transportation. Perhaps cutting the expenses of printed glossy color brochures and holding “press conference” like budget announcements would allow more funds to be spent on direct student contact rather than self-promotion.

However, the budget you have received has potential cuts to Special Programs Teachers and Transportation for those programs. These programs repeatedly have been a headline for this county’s school system. Just last week, the MCPS website highlight was about INTEL Science Fair Semi-Finalists: “MCPS has 15 of Maryland’s 20 semifinalists in the competition….Twelve of the semifinalists this year attend Montgomery Blair High School, making it the school with the second-highest number of semifinalists nationwide.” The only school with more semi-finalists is a whole magnet school with approximately 1800 students compared to Blair’s Magnet of approximately 400. That school is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. Fairfax County is also facing hard economic times and has to cut funding. Here are quotes from their website, which specifically says they want to preserve their crowning jewel High School:  “To prevent more damaging cuts, I am requesting a county transfer increase of $57.8 million to preserve full-day kindergarten, elementary band and strings, elementary foreign language immersion, and to avoid further increases in class sizes for general and advanced academic education, including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST).” Instead, Fairfax states “Student achievement remains our main focus, and while we have directed our diminishing resources to support students and staff members working directly with our students.”

The Blair Magnet program makes headlines repeatedly. Just last month, “A team of approximately 160 students from Montgomery Blair High School finished in first place among 678 high schools in the 53rd Knowledge Master Open (KMO), the largest high school academic tournament in America.”

It is not just for headlines that you need to fund these programs. These programs produce the future leaders of industries that Montgomery County has targeted – science and technology. The future of Montgomery County depends on these students.

Despite all the achievements of this program, funding for this program is targeted to be cut for the third year in a row. Isn’t it interesting that Fairfax wants to preserve their Magnet High School and Dr. Weast repeatedly targets Montgomery County’s Magnet for cuts?

Four of your Core Values say that:
  1. MCPS is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, or disability, learns and succeeds.
  2. MCPS has high expectations for all students, believing that all children can learn at high levels.
  3. Every student is a unique learner and MCPS will tailor instruction to meet the learning needs of each student.
  4. The pursuit of excellence for all students requires providing our neediest students with the extra support necessary to attain rigorous targets.
These students are highly-gifted, by your own testing methods, and in order to learn at high levels and be successful, these students need a more challenging curriculum that is not offered at their base school. The Magnet program meets the learning needs for these students. These are some of your neediest students, not due to finances or lack of attaining minimum test scores, but neediest in being challenged to be successful.

Three of your academic goals listed below are met by this program: Blair’s Magnet success clearly aligns rigorous curriculum and demonstrates continued student achievement, both in the Magnet program, but even more importantly in the school as a whole. The Blair Magnet community, parents and Foundation, is a strong support for not only Magnet achievement, but whole-school achievement. Blair Magnet teachers need extra planning time to develop their own content and curriculum through active integrated engagement of these students. A model used for many other pilot and implemented programs, such as the Parkland Magnet Middle School.
  1. Align rigorous curriculum, delivery of instruction, and assessment for continuous improvement of student achievement.
  2. Strengthen family-school relationships and continue to expand civic, business, and community partnerships that support improved student achievement.
  3. Develop, pilot, and expand improvements in secondary content, instruction, and program that support students’ active engagement in learning.
Transportation to these programs is essential to maintain that those students requiring such a rigorous curriculum can continue to get to these programs.

My son attended Parkland Magnet Middle School as an out-of-consortium student with no transportation available. This was not an undue burden for us due to our proximity to this school, but was for many others. However, transportation to the High School program would be prohibitive in cost, time, and environmental impact. In the Middle School program there were enough students locally to create a car pool. Parkland offered my son the academic rigor, an academically-integrated learning style, a social environment that was rich in diversity as well as acceptance that being smart is good, and courses that were focused in the area in which he excelled – science and math. This type of environment was not and is not available to him at his home school. He is getting the same rich learning environment in the High School Magnet program at Blair. However, busing is a necessity to get from near the Shady Grove Metro (or for some students even further up-county) to Blair. Ride-on and Metrobus do not provide a reasonable service from these far reaching areas. The best we could come up with was for him to take 3 different buses to get near home - and that includes changing buses in areas that are not the safest for a 14 year-old boy alone. The cost for him to do this would be prohibitive since he would still have to pay at least one way every day. The loss of sleep would be crippling if he could even find routes early enough to get him to Blair by 7:10am. As it is, he gets up at 5:30am and does not get home until 4pm, without any after-school activities with busing provided. Without busing it could take hours longer.

Let me just share with you a conversation I had with my son which exemplifies why this program is so important to these students. When he got off the bus and entered my car, I asked the daily question about how much homework he ha. He did not respond about the quantity, but responded “I can’t wait to get home to do my physics homework. I have a physics problem that is really challenging.” Doesn’t every parent, educator and Board member wish every child said this! This is why he is in the Magnet program. This is why the Magnet program is so important. This is the impact that this Magnet program is making on these students!

Please make sure that funding for the teachers to make this curriculum challenging, integrated and continues to produce students who make a significant contribution to the country and world.

Please make sure to continue to fund transportation so this program is available to those students not close to the school whom need this type of specialized instruction. Don’t make this an economic decision for these gifted students. Don’t block out those students whose parents work and can not drive their students to and from school or those students who can not afford or get public transportation. This is a special, needy population. They are special in a different way than you typically use this term. They are needy in a different way than you typically use this term. They are special and needy all the same. Please continue to support what is special and needy about these students.

We know we are extremely fortunate to have these choices for our son. We know this every time we speak to relatives and friends who are not from Montgomery County. We will not change jobs so we don’t have to relocate for fear that we could never find programs like these that so closely match the needs of our son. I am certain we are not alone, that many children in the Middle School and High School magnet programs feel the same as we do.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Strouse, PhD                                Cynthia D. Strouse, RPh

Comments