Before Strathmore’s brand new Music Center opened to the public, it opened to thousands of local elementary school students.
A decade later, the North Bethesda venue is celebrating 10 years of student concerts with a new music genre.
From Tuesday-Friday next week, Strathmore will shut down to make way for more than 11,000 MCPS 5th graders who will hear a new Blues concert thanks in part to nonprofit JazzReach. Until this year, the annual MCPS student concerts have exclusively featured classical music in partnership with the National Philharmonic:
The musicians onstage personify racial and gender diversity–Strathmore and MCPS were insistent that performers be inclusive and representative of the diversity in their community. The concerts were developed in close collaboration with MCPS music curriculum experts, addressing key concepts 5th graders will master during the school year. All elementary music teachers have pre-concert lessons to prepare students for their experience and strengthen their understanding of concepts contained in the program. The concerts will also illuminate for students how Blues is the foundation for genres more familiar to them, such as rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, and R&B.
The live multi-media educational program will foster an appreciation of the great American Blues tradition. With the goal of teaching timely music curriculum concepts in a highly interactive and thrilling concert experience, the Strathmore Student Concerts include audience participation throughout, as well as supporting video content–live shots of musicians on stage and clips of famous Blues musicians performing.
Strathmore said the 5th grade student concerts require $124,000. Together with the 2nd grade concerts set for November, the total program costs $248,000 and is funded with help from the Strathmore Hall Foundation, GEICO, Jordan Kitt’s Muisc and the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation .
The concerts next week are set for 10:35 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and just 10:35 a.m. on Friday. Expect some school bus traffic in the area of the Music Center on Tuckerman Lane.
Flickr photo via Bill in DC
The school system confirmed it has added a batch of artificial food dyes and chemical additives to its “restricted list,” which means it won’t rebid for the products once contracts including those products expire.
Real Food for Kids – Montgomery — perhaps the most vocal group in calling for healthier food options in MCPS — announced the move in an email to supporters on Wednesday.
MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig confirmed the school system’s Food and Nutrition Services department is adding the ingredients to its restricted list.
“In some instances the rebidding won’t take place for a few years, although we are always working with our current manufacturers to improve the quality and nutritional value of what we serve our students,” Tofig wrote in an email. “We took this action based on best practices and on input from parents and experts.”
Additions to the restricted list include five artificial food dyes, acesulfame-potassium, saccharin, trans fat, “pink slime” beef, MSG, BHA and an artificial sweetener.
That means no more Cool Ranch or Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos chips, Baked! Cheetos, Eagle Popped Crisps, Welch’s Fruit Snacks and several varieties of ice cream bars.
It also means frequent cafeteria entree items such as spicy chicken breast patties and orange chipotle sauce will be gone.
Real Food For Kids – Montgomery is a nonprofit that was key in getting MCPS to ban strawberry milk. It also quarreled with MCPS over snow day-influenced menu changes that meant two days of double-stuffed pizza in elementary schools during one week in January.
The group also made a wide-ranging list of recommendations for the entire school system (including salad bars in every cafeteria and more scratch-cooked meals) that picked up some support from members of the County Council. MCPS officials say they’re always looking to make improvements in their food offerings.
The group’s email on Wednesday announced a “Victory!!!” in its quest to ban particular food dyes and additives.
Tofig said Real Food For Kids members weren’t the only ones involved.
“While representatives from Real Food for Kids were among the parent voices we listened to, they were not the only ones. It is not accurate for them to say their efforts alone led to this move,” Tofig wrote.
Photo via Real Food for Kids – Montgomery
With only one scheduled candidates forum left, the eight people up for four county Board of Educations seats on Nov. 4 made clear Wednesday that there are differences in opinion when it comes to some pressing MCPS issues.
Candidates differed on maintenance of effort, disagreed on whether the school system should institute its own inspector general and shared different views on the importance of later start times. Two candidates challenging incumbents criticized the Board and Superintendent Joshua Starr for what many teachers claim has been a disjointed rollout of the county’s new math curriculum.
The non-partisan Board of Education election pits four pairs of candidates against each other for three district seats and one at-large seat. Every voter in the county gets to vote for every board member, no matter the district.
In Districts 1, 3 and 5, incumbents Judith Docca, Pat O’Neill and Michael Durso are facing challenges from Kristin Trible, Laurie Halverson and Larry Edmonds, respectively. With at-large member Shirley Brandman not running for reelection, potential first-timers Jill Ortman-Fouse and Shebra Evans are facing each other for the one at-large seat on the ballot.
All eight candidates attended a forum Wednesday in Potomac hosted by the Whitman High School Cluster PTA.
There are 35 MCPS school buses outfitted with cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass when the bus is stopped, enough to net Montgomery County $78,250 in fines since the program started in January.
The Montgomery County Police Department, which reviews all camera citations, will give the Council’s Public Safety Committee an update on the program on Monday.
There have been 733 citations issued for vehicles caught on camera illegally passing buses with stop arms extended at bus stops. Of those, 607 of the $125 fines have been paid. Sixteen cases have been scheduled for court.
The county began the program in January with 25 buses outfitted with the cameras. The original plan was to outfit an additional 75 buses with cameras to allow the cameras to be moved along high-priority routes as needed. Police have outfitted an additional 10 buses with cameras and apparently have no immediate plans to wire up more.
Councilmembers will likely ask police officials whether they intend to install the remainder of the planned cameras. They may also ask for data that shows where the most violations are happening and if there are any other trends in terms of routes or road types.
In just the program’s first three months, the cameras resulted in 272 citations. In April, police projected that about 100 citations would be issued per month during the 2014-2015 school year. That would mean 1,000 total citations over a 10-month school calendar. Assuming a 90 percent collection rate, that would net the county about $112,500 in revenue.
The county is paying $250,000 annually for its three-year contract with the vendor for the program.
A North Bethesda school will reveal items found in a time capsule buried 31 years ago by the school’s Class of 1984.
Green Acres School, a pre-K to Grade 8 school with more than 320 students, will present some of the items found in the time capsule during a celebration of the school’s 80th anniversary on Saturday.
Last month, middle schoolers at Green Acres helped dig up the time capsule, situated in a small outdoor amphitheater on school grounds.
Saturday’s event will include members of the Class of 1984 along with the school’s current eighth graders. They will show off the items those students left behind in honor of the school’s 50th anniversary.
The school got some help from a specialist who used ground-penetrating radar technology to find the capsule — a map showing the exact location of it had apparently been lost. Students took turns digging and found the capsule about three-and-a-half feet underground.
The time capsule was actually a trash can full of memorabilia meant to show off American culture at the time. A member of the Class of 1984 who lives locally told The Gazette students also recorded interviews of each other on cassette tapes in which they talked about Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Australian rock band “Men at Work,” and predictions for the future.
The presentation of the capsule items is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at the school (11701 Danville Dr.).
Photo via Green Acres School
Wednesday is International Walk to School Day, an annual activity Montgomery County officials encouraged students and parents throughout the county to take part in.
A number of local schools (including Wood Acres Elementary) regularly celebrate the day with organized meet-ups and walks to school before the first bell.
But what happens after that?
It’s a topic Councilmember Nancy Floreen said was a “pet peeve” of hers last week during a Council session on pedestrian safety.
“One of my pet peeves of course are parents driving their kids to school,” Floreen said. “So much of the Safe Routes to School issue is associated with people who are simply driving instead. I think part of it is design and some policy rules that need to be revisited as to how transportation actually occurs for these kids. I think it’s a problem.”
Floreen said her Garrett Park neighborhood has three nearby schools that start at different times and make evident the amount of driving parents do to drop their kids off.
“[MCPS] runs a lot of empty buses these days,” Floreen said. “I don’t know what the answer is but I just see it over and over again as a problem. A lot of driving on neighborhood streets at a speed that doesn’t work.”
Department of Transportation officials agreed with Floreen’s assessment. Director Art Holmes said he’s spoken to parents who drive their kids to school despite living a block or two blocks away from the school.
“The fact that people choose to drive their kids and not use the big yellow bus, there’s not a lot we can do about that other than make those routes safer,” MCDOT Engineering Chief Emil Wolanin told Floreen. “I think in this county, when it’s raining you see a lot more people driving their kid to school than walking.”
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MCPS on Tuesday released average combined SAT scores from all Class of 2014 students in the system. With an average combined score of 1,900 (out of 2,400) Whitman’s Class of 2014 once again beat out regular top performers Poolesville (1891), Winston Churchill (1,838), Thomas S. Wootton (1,836) and Richard Montgomery (1,771).
Almost 70 percent of all MCPS students who graduated in 2014 took the SAT, the widely used college entrance exam with critical reading, math and writing sections each worth 800 points.
The MCPS Class of 2014 average was 547 for critical reading, 560 for math and 542 for writing, adding up to a combined average of 1,650 — two points higher than the Class of 2013 average.
The 1,650 countywide average is higher than the Maryland average (1,468) and national average (1,497), both of which dropped compared to 2013.
In a press release, MCPS said much of the Class of 2014 improvement was due to a six-point improvement to a combined average of 1,403 by black students and a 10-point improvement to a combined average of 1,461 by Hispanic graduates.
While both those rates are also significantly higher than the state and national averages, the Class of 2014 still showed a large achievement gap between white and minority students. White MCPS graduates scored an average of 1,766 on the test.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School graduates averaged 1,711, down from the Class of 2013 average of 1,760. Walter Johnson High School graduates averaged 1,747, up from the Class of 2013 average of 1,716. Walter Johnson’s Hispanic graduates who took the SAT improved by an average of 76 points compared to 2013.
Six college lacrosse teams will come to the Landon School next weekend to benefit the foundation started in memory of one of the school’s all-time greats.
The 3rd Annual Capital Lacrosse Invitational is set for Sunday, Oct. 12 at Landon (6101 Wilson Lane) to raise money for the Mario St. George Boiardi Foundation. Boiardi was an All-Met in football and star in lacrosse at Landon, before going on to star for Cornell’s lacrosse team.
In the fourth quarter of a game in 2004, Boiardi was struck in the chest by a lacrosse ball. He collapsed, was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead.
The foundation raises money for grants to organizations such as Lacrosse for Life, which teaches and promotes the game in cities, and Teach for America, which Boiardi had planned to volunteer for after college graduation.
The lacrosse teams from Cornell, Georgetown, Lehigh, Penn State, Richmond and UMBC will compete in an all-day fall league tournament on two of Landon’s fields. The event also includes a free youth lacrosse clinic from 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.
Tickets for the games are $15 for kids 12 and younger and $20 for adults.
For more information, visit the event website.
Photo via Capital Lacrosse Invitational
Real Food for Kids – Montgomery named the school “most improved” thanks to a flurry of changes and educational activities prompted by parents. RFKM’s Lisa Mandell — a member of the school PTA’s Wellness Committee — worked with Principal Sandra Reece to remove snack items on the school’s a la carte menu that more than half of parents disapproved of.
Items jettisoned from the lunch menu included gummy fruit snacks, Doritos chips and ice cream. The changes came after Mandell and PTA member Aimee Aronson met with Reece and MCPS Food and Nutrition Services Director Marla Caplon.
According to RFKM, MCPS agreed to remove the items after the meting. It followed a 2012-2013 parent survey the PTA put out about school food.
That survey showed parents wanted a salad bar in the cafeteria, which was subsequently installed.
The PTA Wellness Committee organized a “Rainbow Week” in April during which students were supplied with charts and stickers to track the different types of food they ate throughout the week. At the request of Reece, MCPS Food Services supervisor Elizabeth Harrell spoke with parents at a November 2013 meeting about changes to the a la carte menu and introduction of the salad bar.
RFKM co-director Lindsey Parsons gave Reece a certificate on Tuesday.
The RFKM nonprofit was key in getting MCPS to ban strawberry milk and quarreled with MCPS over snow day-influenced menu changes that meant two days of double-stuffed pizza in elementary schools during one week in January.
They also made a wide-ranging list of recommendations for the entire school system (including salad bars in every cafeteria and more scratch-cooked meals) that picked up some support from members of the County Council. MCPS officials say they’re always looking to make improvements in their food offerings.
But they’ve also said some of the suggestions, including the idea of offering unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day, just aren’t practical.
Real Food for Kids – Montgomery also had some suggestions for upcoming classroom Halloween parties in a recent email to supporters: Basically, get rid of all candy and soda.
Photo via Real Food for Kids – Montgomery
MCPS last week revealed three early designs for an addition to overcapacity Walt Whitman High School.
All three would use the land of the existing Whittier Woods Center (once an elementary school, now a daycare facility in front of the school) for a new building that would likely include 13 regular classrooms, two science labs, two engineering labs, one art room and an auxiliary gym.
MCPS senior planner Deborah Szyfer presented the three potential designs to parents and other community members on Tuesday. Another open to the public meeting is set for Monday, Oct. 6. The 2:30 p.m. start time is geared for staff just after the regular high school day ends.
As is the case with all three school clusters in Bethesda, the Whitman cluster has seen a large increase in students — particularly at the elementary school level. MCPS planners have said turnover in single family neighborhoods, private school students transferring to public schools during the recession and an uptick in the birth rate are all contributing factors.
Whitman High School was remodeled in 1992 and has an existing capacity of 1,882 students. It’s already overcapacity, with a projected 1,910 students this school year and 1,921 students last school year.
With that in mind, plus the coming surge of elementary and middle school-aged children in the cluster, MCPS recommended and was given money in the current capital budget for an addition feasibility study.
Szyfer said next year’s freshman class at Whitman will be “the first very large class,” and the school will is projected to be 239 students overcapacity by 2019. The school is projected to pass the 2,000 enrollment work during the 2015-2016 school year and hit 2,121 students by the 2019-2020 school year.
By then, MCPS hopes to at least have the money to fund an addition project that would provide a capacity of 2,300 and perhaps have that addition project already under construction.
One option would be a combination one-story and two-story building with a courtyard in the area where the Whittier Woods Center stands now. Another option would provide for a more compact three-story addition and a third concept would be two-stories with room for yet another addition.
Szyfer said planners are considering that option because of the Westbard Sector Plan, which could mean new residential development along Westbard Avenue and River Road. Many school-aged children in that new residential development would be in the Whitman cluster.
“It would allow more options for the future and we’re trying to plan for that future,” Szyfer said.
Architects will continue to do site planning to come up with cost estimates, Szyfer said, before submitting the project to the superintendent next year for consideration in his FY2017-2022 capital budget request.
But as is often the case with school addition and renovation projects, the Whitman addition will be competing against a number of other projects in a number of other overcapacity school clusters.
The daycare that leases out the Whittier Woods Center would be notified of when it must vacate the building once funding is in place.
The three concept plans presented last week should be put up on the MCPS website soon, Szyfer said.
Montgomery County Public Schools on Monday launched a new website and mobile app that will send push notifications to a user’s phone or tablet about emergency closures, delays and other important MCPS news.
The free app, which you can download through Apple, Google for android and Amazon, will also include school year calendars, lunch menus, news stories, contact information, MCPS videos and access to the school district’s official Twitter feeds, plus the Twitter feed of superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr.
In a press release on Monday, MCPS said its website gets an average of 1.7 million page views per week during the school year with an increasing amount of its visitors coming from mobile devices. Mobile visits to MCPS web pages have grown by more than 400 percent since 2012.
As part of creating a more mobile-friendly website, MCPS also redesigned its old one. It now “not only has a more contemporary look, but also is better organized to make information easier to find,” according to the MCPS press release.
Photo via MCPS
The state’s highest court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from opponents of a second middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase School Cluster, likely clearing the way for the new school in a Kensington park.
Members of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association are against the school system’s plan to to build the yet-to-be-named middle school at the Rock Creek Hills Park (3701 Saul Rd.).
MCPS says it needs the school to accommodate overcrowding at Westland Middle School and the planned reassignment of Grade 6 students from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.
Neighbors sued to block the school and maintain the 13.4-acre park. At issue was the manner in which the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) acquired the site from the Board of Education in 1990. At that time, the school system didn’t need the land.
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge threw out the suit in April 2013, saying the school system had the right to get the land back to build a new school. The Planning Board reluctantly transferred the land back to the Board of Education in July 2013.
The Rock Creek Hills group appealed the Circuit Court decision. In April 2014, the state’s Court of Special Appeals likewise threw out the suit. A few weeks later, RCHCA President Jim Pekar and member John Robinson said they considered the Court of Special Appeals’ findings to be “erroneous,” and they filed another appeal to the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court.
On Monday, the Court of Appeals declined the group’s petition for certiorari, which means the Court of Special Appeals finding will be upheld.
“Your RCHCA Board of Directors will consult with legal counsel regarding what steps may be available to us at this point,” Pekar wrote.
He also asked for donations to the group’s litigation fund, which has an outstanding balance.
Construction for the unnamed middle school is slated to start in July 2015.
The county’s Community Use of Public Facilities (CUPF) has published the proposed rules, which will be reviewed by the County Council. CUPF has been under pressure from child care providers to update the way it picks which providers get to operate before and after school programs in MCPS space.
Many Child Care Service providers have complained about conflicts of interest, unfair standards and principals with too much sway in a recent rebidding process that saw some longtime providers ousted from the schools they operated in with no apparent issues.
The Wonders Child Care Center was rebidding for its longtime space in North Chevy Chase Elementary School in May 2012 when it says a former parent who had had a legal dispute with the provider was included on the school’s selection committee. The scores from six members of the committee, on a 100-point scale, were 100, 100, 88, 85, 81 and 50, according to a complaint submitted in a memo by County Councilmember Hans Riemer.
The memo also includes anonymous complaints from providers alleging a principal told an incumbent child care provider up for rebid that the provider could buy her a commercial popcorn machine for school events.
One provider said it was told “that parents don’t care about quality and that ‘old, white women,’ should not represent your center, should not be part of the process.”
A provider alleged it lost space in a school and was told afterward by the school’s principal that “he hated the process and felt the whole thing was scripted to get a certain result.” A provider told Riemer it was told “to put more minorities on our interview committee, to have a sales-type person be present at your interview, change your name, that tuition was too expensive” and “to be perkier,” among other things.
Ginny Gong, executive director of the CUPF, said the department decided to create a new bidding process in 2007 to give other providers an opportunity. Earlier this year, she labeled some of the accusations in the Riemer memo as misinformation.
The result of one lawsuit over the selection process was a Montgomery County Circuit Court decision that found the new bidding system was not the legal way to conduct the process and that state law assigned the responsibility to each local Board of Education. In January 2013, the Montgomery County Board of Education passed a resolution to give the responsibility back to the governing board that runs CUPF.
Out of that, a work group including Gong, leaders of child care providers and other stakeholders was created with the goal of ironing out draft regulations to improve the process.
The proposed regulations require each member of a school’s child care selection committee — made up of staff, parents, administrators or “other responsible individuals” — to disclose any vested interests or prior relationships with any of the applicants.
The regulations also dictate that nonprofit child care providers be given first preference and that the terms for each provider’s stay at each school would be lengthened to seven years, instead of five.
CUPF is taking public comments on the new regulations until Sept. 30. Written comments must be submitted by September 30, 2014, to Elizabeth Habermann, Community Use of Public Facilities, (CUPF), 255 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland, 20850; 240-777-2713; Email: elizabeth[dot]habermann[at]montgomerycountymd[dot]gov.
Monday is the first day of the 2014-2015 school year in Montgomery County, which means more than 150,000 kids will be walking, riding and driving to school.
With that in mind, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service put out a reminder of school-related driving safety tips. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, 29 percent of pedestrian-related fatalities happen in the fall, the most dangerous time for pedestrians:
1. Respect the bus. Imagine being in a large car with 40 noisy, excited 4th-graders. Could be pretty stressful. Do your part and make the bus drivers’ lives easier. Yield when they are attempting to merge, and maintain a significant distance behind them, as they often make unexpected stops. Make sure children know to walk in front of — never in back of — buses.
2. Get in the zone. Speed limits in school zones typically range between 15 and 25 mph. Abide by the limits and look out for pedestrians, keeping your foot on the brake. (It goes without saying that school zones are home to newly licensed teenagers who are largely inexperienced). Speed limits aren’t just for during school hours either — consider after-school soccer practices, late night football games and other events.
3. Walk smart. Drivers aren’t the only ones who need to obey the rules of the road. A major driving hazard are pedestrians who jaywalk, cross at a red light or text while walking. More than an annoyance, this is a danger, especially in school zones. According to the Safe Routes to Schools organization, 33 percent of youth pedestrian crashes are attributed to kids darting out into the road. Remember to be a good pedestrian — cross at corners/marked crosswalks and in clear view, never between parked cars. Remind your kids to do the same.
4. A different kind of pool safety. If you’re part of a carpool it’s up to you to remind your children/passengers that seatbelts are a must – no matter who they are driving with. Not only are seatbelts the law, they save thousands of lives each year.
5. Go back to school yourself. Even if you’ve been driving for 30 years, make time for a refresher course in safe driving. Through your insurer, you may be eligible for a discount for a program. Remember that distracted driving unfortunately didn’t end with the summer either. The national report “Distracted Drivers in School Zones” offers sobering statistics about the effects, so turn off/put down your cell phone while in the car. While it’s an exciting time, getting back to school can be stressful, too. Tolerance and defensive driving will get you everywhere you need to go safely.
With the school year starting Monday, Montgomery County is reminding drivers not to pass stopped school buses.
A two-minute public service announcement advises drivers that they are putting students, who “can be unpredictable when getting on or off school buses,” in danger by passing a bus with an outstretched stop sign and flashing lights.
It also reminds drivers of the rules. All traffic in each direction must stop if a school bus is stopped — unless the bus is stopped on a divided highway of at least four lanes with a median. In that case, drivers behind the bus must stop while drivers heading the opposite direction may proceed.
MCPS and the Montgomery County Police began the school bus camera in January with small cameras attached to the side of a handful of buses.
MCPS has about 1,300 buses that transport more than 100,000 of its roughly 150,000 students each day.
“It’s our duty as a community to make sure they are safe and secure,” says a narrator in the video.
There are 1,100 bus routes with more than 40,000 bus stops.
In just the first three months of the camera program, police issued 272 citations for drivers caught on camera passing a stopped bus. The cameras were eventually deployed on 25 buses. In April, MCP and MCPS said they hope to wire an additional 75 buses for cameras “to move cameras along high priority routes as needed.”
Police project that about 100 citations will be issued per month during the 2014-2015 school year. That means 1,000 total citations over a 10-month school calendar. Assuming a 90 percent collection rate, that would net the county about $112,500 in revenue.
Video via Montgomery County Council