Board of Education Survey - Election 2020

The Magnet Foundation surveyed the candidates for Montgomery County Board of Education in advance of the June primary. Full results are here: mbhsmagnet.org/action/election

Election information for Montgomery County: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections/index2.html

The answers from candidates who are on the ballot in November are reproduced below:


Sunil Dasgupta (At-Large)

1. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should identify gifted and talented students. 
Comment: If you agree or strongly agree, how should the educational needs of identified students be met?


Agree.

MCPS follows two paths for supporting GT students. One, in test-in magnets, and the other, at home schools. (A third category of whole school magnets are really specialized schools and I am not addressing them in this discussion.) The balance between GT and general academic programs depends on how we define GT. The law provides a definition for what is GT, but the law itself is a social artifact and tries to combine two quite different concepts:

A) A definition of GT that is broad and includes those children who can be prepared to be GT. In this model, family resources are often critical in determining which children will go into the magnet programs. And as more families prepare their children for magnet programs, the school system will have to build more and larger magnet programs to accommodate them. The importance of preparation and family resources in this model means that students from families that cannot afford tutoring-type services may not have access to magnet programming.

B) A narrow definition of gifted, which identifies the uniquely gifted rather than just the better prepared. This model leads to more limited magnet programs, but expanded and enriched curriculum in the home school. There is difficulty in determining the uniquely-gifted from the well-prepared, but organizations such as Johns Hopkins CTY may be able to help MCPS to do this.

My tentative conclusion is that Model B is superior than Model A because it focuses on the uniquely-gifted while supporting a larger number of students in their home schools. So, philosophically I would like to see us veering toward Model B but I am not looking to dismantle current programs. Of all the magnet programs in the county, I think the Blair Math/Science magnet is the closest to Model B. 

As we do this, we need to keep in mind that MCPS itself needs to prepare students better so that they are ready for magnet programs. This is especially a problem in math, where novel problem-solving needs to become the norm than the exception. It is not the case right now. We also have to make sure that students of color have equal opportunity to track up toward the more rigorous coursework whether they be in a magnet program or in the home school. One way to ensure this is to diversify our recruitment to include more teachers and staff of color.

2. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should continue to offer test-in gifted magnet programs at the middle and high school levels. Comment:

Agree.

Based on my comment above, my hope is that magnet programs will continue to serve the uniquely-gifted students. What I would really like to see is better preparation of students inside schools for magnet programs.

3. What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the selection process for the elementary school center program and the middle school magnet programs in response to the "choice study"?

MCPS has made policy changes to selection to enable students from lower income families to gain from magnet opportunities. The record of these initiatives is mixed. Universal screening appears to be working and I believe it is changing the composition of magnet programs especially in elementary school CES. The trouble with universal screening is that it generates more students and the system must accommodate. MCPS has also adopted a rule that says students remain in their home schools if they have 20 or more peers there. I have only heard about the rule anecdotally from parents whose children were denied magnet entry, but I am yet to see clear evidence on how this rule is playing out overall. One possibility might be to use CTY-type second tier testing to identify the uniquely gifted to send to magnet programs and to boost rigorous academic work in home schools.

4. Should the "choice study" changes be extended to the high school magnet programs at Montgomery Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville?

Universal screening is a great idea. Follow that up with second-tier testing, if necessary, using different evaluation tools, to ensure selection for the uniquely gifted.

5. Is there anything else you would like the Montgomery Blair Magnet community to know about your candidacy?

I am a college professor and I care about rigorous academic work and understand that some students are going to be ahead and we have commitment to meeting students where they are. I also have had direct experience with the magnet process based on my own children’s experience and as a result my own thinking has evolved over time. When my children started in MCPS, I thought they would qualify for select magnet programs. They did not. I sought to understand why and the discovery process helped change my thinking. As I learned more, I began to see two distinct models of magnet education as I have outlined above. The problem has been how MCPS has sought to manage the tension between the two models. Parents of uniquely gifted students criticize magnet programs for not meeting the needs of their students while parents of students who work hard and benefit from support at home demand that their children be let in, if necessary by expanding the programs. My commitment is to making sure to look at research and data and make informed and transparent decisions.


Lynne Harris (At-Large)

1. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should identify gifted and talented students. 
Comment: If you agree or strongly agree, how should the educational needs of identified students be met?


Strongly Agree.

We need to look at universal screening, and then ensuring that high quality and well-delivered enriched and accelerated learning is available in every school -- because I believe every school has a large enough cohort to support devoting instructional resources to GT students.

2. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should continue to offer test-in gifted magnet programs at the middle and high school levels. Comment:

Strongly Agree.

But we need more -- and more truly geographically accessible - magnet opportunities.

3. What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the selection process for the elementary school center program and the middle school magnet programs in response to the "choice study"?

I fully support making these opportunities objectively available to all students via universal screening.

4. Should the "choice study" changes be extended to the high school magnet programs at Montgomery Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville?

We need to franchise -- with fidelity to quality -- the CAP, Global Ecology, and IB magnet programs to more sites in MCPS. Both more seats, and more true access.

5. Is there anything else you would like the Montgomery Blair Magnet community to know about your candidacy?


Michael Fryar (District 2)

1. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should identify gifted and talented students.
Comment: If you agree or strongly agree, how should the educational needs of identified students be met?


Strongly Agree.

They are a special education class as identified under Javits, ESSA and the Talent Act. They need a different approach to education and need to have classrooms that can meet their special needs and abilities.

2. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should continue to offer test-in gifted magnet programs at the middle and high school levels. Comment:

Strongly Agree.

I believe that gifted programs should be independent schools with their own budget and education approach. Magnet programs are not uniquely for gifted students and should incorporate regular education students who are interested in the magnet track.

3. What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the selection process for the elementary school center program and the middle school magnet programs in response to the "choice study"?

"Paper and Pencil" testing does not capture the full spectrum of talented and gifted students. In addition, the testing is corrupted by 1) administering testing that can be prepped for by students (COGAT), 2) the amount of testing throughout the year given to students that create test anxiety/fatigue, 3) issues and problems with the testing format itself (failing laptops, poor internet connections, testing distractions). The true test for selection should be the same one that I took to qualify for TAG - IQ testing as administered by a psychologist/psychiatrist.

4. Should the "choice study" changes be extended to the high school magnet programs at Montgomery Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville?

Yes.

5. Is there anything else you would like the Montgomery Blair Magnet community to know about your candidacy?

I was a TAG student (and member of Young Mensa) and attended a one day a week program. I would have loved to have a full week program. The idea of a school committed to talented and gifted education was not even a dream when I was a student. The program needs to be an independent school, with independent programs, but the testing needs to be more comprehensive and the program broadened beyond traditional education.


Rebecca K. Smondrowski (District 2)

No response to survey.


Shebra Evans (District 4)

1. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should identify gifted and talented students. 
Comment: If you agree or strongly agree, how should the educational needs of identified students be met?


Strongly Agree.

MCPS should be able to identify the needs of each student and provide the instruction needed to thrive in the classroom.

2. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should continue to offer test-in gifted magnet programs at the middle and high school levels. Comment:

Agree.

3. What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the selection process for the elementary school center program and the middle school magnet programs in response to the "choice study"?

I appreciate that we are communicating earlier with families that are typically harder to reach within MCPS. Equity and excellence is maintained when we remain committed to expanding access, opportunity, support and resources to allow each of our students to reach their full potential.

4. Should the "choice study" changes be extended to the high school magnet programs at Montgomery Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville?

MCPS has implemented many of the recommendations referenced in the choice study. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, several regional/county-wide programs will be offered at John F. Kennedy, Springbrook, and Watkins Mill High Schools. The expansion of more district wide programs gives students more choice and options to programs that often have limited space.

5. Is there anything else you would like the Montgomery Blair Magnet community to know about your candidacy?

I am running for re-election to the Board of Education because I am proud of the work we are doing to expand access and opportunity for all students. In my current role on the board, I have traveled to national and state school board conferences. In relation to school districts across the country, Montgomery County Public Schools far exceeds others in the area of excellence and equity. We are not perfect, but we continue to make progress. I want to continue the work and believe my experience coupled with my proven leadership will be an asset.


Steve Solomon (District 4)

1. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should identify gifted and talented students. 
Comment: If you agree or strongly agree, how should the educational needs of identified students be met?


Agree.

MCPS does a great job across the board of providing special programs beginning in elementary school with enriched studies, and continuing through middle and high school with magnet programs and the consortium/choice options.

2. Rate from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”: MCPS should continue to offer test-in gifted magnet programs at the middle and high school levels. Comment:

Agree.

Yes, MCPS has proven ways of identifying gifted students for the magnet programs. There are a limited number of seats in many of the special programs, so we need to continue to be selective in how we place students.

3. What is your opinion of the changes that have been made to the selection process for the elementary school center program and the middle school magnet programs in response to the "choice study"?

I know that middle school choice programs begin early in the fall for 5th graders and the process lasts many months into the winter, and the expansion of choice study a few years ago opened up more opportunities for more students across the county.

4. Should the "choice study" changes be extended to the high school magnet programs at Montgomery Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville?

I believe the high school special programs system we have now works well. There are many options for students both regionally and countywide - magnet, IB, engineering, biomedical, etc.

5. Is there anything else you would like the Montgomery Blair Magnet community to know about your candidacy?

I am an advocate for preparing our students for life in the real world. Magnet programs in MCPS have proven to be very successful. Just look at the many students who have gone through those programs and found success in their careers. I also believe we need broader vocational programs across MCPS. We currently only have one high school that offers technical training to be a plumber, electrician, or auto worker. We need to expand those to other schools in the county. Also, I want to ensure MCPS stays #1 in the state by improving our rate of retention of teachers. Half of new teachers in MCPS don't stay past their third year. Lastly, I believe all 206 schools in Montgomery County need to be safe and modern. Many schools have waited too long for repairs or rebuilds.

Answers from additional candidates are here: mbhsmagnet.org/action/election