Tuesday (Dec. 4) marked a new beginning for our Board of Education, the eight-member board (seven elected officials and a student-selected student) that makes the policy and budget decisions for our 200+ public schools and $2 billion budget, with the installation of three members (two re-elected and one newly elected.)
Watching Chris Barclay, Phil Kauffman, and Rebecca Smondrowski raise their right hands and vow to fulfill their duties as Board members was a reminder that these people are not doing just any job, but people who we have entrusted to charter our school system towards success. Their decisions and actions eventually result in what we hear about progress on AP scores and the achievement gap, the debates over land use and school capacity, and implementation of new curriculum and technology. Their speeches represented all that the Board in general brings to the proverbial and physical conference table – their personal history, experiences, and perspective of important goals.
Chris Barclay, a re-elected member of the Board, current Vice President, and past President, gave credit to the importance of life-long family lessons. He made few specific remarks about his duties as a Board member, but perhaps more interestingly, gave us some insight into who he was and how he made decisions.
He honored multiple generations - his parents, his mother, father, and "other mother", for his grounding, as well as acknowledged the sacrifice his daughters have made in sharing his time with the community. His parents were educators, but he made it clear that the lessons he learned weren't just from the books and paper pads that were the tools of their profession. From them, he realized the power of service, preparation, and community.
Mr. Barclay called his parents his “anchors, [his] advocates, and [his] heroes.” It was a thoughtful summary of what, we, as parents, want to be to our children. Through guidance, we provide our children a secure connection and prevent them from drifting afar. We stay by our children’s side and try to ensure the best for them. And we hope that we can always save them from any danger.
Phil Kaufman, re-elected to the Board for his second term, reflected on the success of the school system, to the credit of the students, the parents, and the MCPS staff, including our new Superintendent, Dr. Starr. He also thanked his wife and two daughters, sitting proudly on the first row, for their love and support.
Included in Mr. Kaufman’s remarks, he acknowledged that with all the system’s success, there were still improvements to be made, including in the areas of special education, closing the achievement gap, and vocational education. I asked him about his goals and visions for the system as he returns to the Board. In addition to working in concert with the County Council and the Superintendent on various issues, he spoke of revising the system’s core vales and strategic plan, as well as “monitor[ing] the system's implementation of the new common core curriculum and assessments.” Mr. Kaufman touched on a few issues which have been affected by our recent school budgets, including middle school reform and restoration of positions. And for those parents in the downcounty, I’m sure you are familiar with the capacity issues in our schools; Mr. Kaufman suggested that work needs to be done on a long-term plan to address these concerns.
I have children in elementary and middle schools, and yes, I do have my own thoughts on all the concerns listed here. I am willing to give the new common core and Curriculum 2.0 a chance, and I’d like to know more about the middle school reform initiatives. And school space? As my daughter’s school gets ready for an 18-month modernization, I can appreciate the real-life meaning of “capacity study”.
Rebecca Smondrowski is the newest member to the Board. Her speech presented her goals in her new position, emphasizing the concerns upon which she built her campaign: providing a “complete, positive experience for every student.” Mrs. Smondrowski insists that the school system must consider the whole child – their physical security, their social development and connection to their school, and their academic challenge. She advocates for a well-rounded child. Mrs. Smondrowski thanked the people who worked on her campaign, as well as her family, her husband and children, and her sister and her family.
Mrs. Smondrowski is a parent of two children currently in a MCPS high school and middle school. She’s been an active volunteer on MCCPTA and in her children’s schools and, professionally, worked as a legislative aide to Senator Manno. She leveraged the combination of all her experiences as she ran for this office. Perhaps our county citizens like having school Board member who currently have children in the system and will be impacted by the decisions made. It’s akin to us wanting the person who cooks are food to be willing to eat it, right? I volunteered on Mrs. Smondrowski’s campaign and I trust that she will be a new, fresh voice on the Board that considers the children and their families as they dialogue and debate over the issues that come before it.
There are countless decisions made by the Board of Education, like any other. And there may be many that I, as a parent, as a citizen, agree with; probably just as many that I don’t. It’s impossible for the Board to choose everything that I would, everything that would be what I believe to be best for my four kids. But it’s a bit comforting knowing where the members are coming from, what might be lying in the back of their minds as they consider one option or another.
Congratulations to the Mr. Barclay, Mr. Kaufman, and Mrs. Smondrowski. And to the Board – here’s to another good school year. May you make your decisions based not only on the bottom-line and what's popular politically, but also what's best academically for the students of our schools.