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by Aaron Kraut — April 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm 237 0

B-CC sophomore Eric Guerci will start as the Student Member of the Board in JulyA Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student will be on the county’s Board of Education.

Sophomore Eric Guerci was elected Wednesday as the next Student Member of the Board of Education, or SMOB.

Guerci got 52 percent of votes from MCPS secondary school students. His opponent, Richard Montgomery High School junior Rachit Agarwal, got 48 percent of the votes.

As the SMOB, Guerci can vote on many items, though not boundary changes, the capital and operating budgets, teachers’ contracts, school closings and what MCPS referred to in a press release as “negative personnel matters.”

His predecessor, Clarksburg High School senior Dahlia Huh, did vote on key changes including the Board’s decision to move middle school and high school start times back by 20 minutes.

Guerci has been active in student government organizations and will start his one-year term on the Board on July 1.

by Aaron Kraut — April 28, 2015 at 12:25 pm 172 1 Comment

Walter Johnson High School, via MCPSUpdated Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. — The MCCPTA budget rally set for Wednesday afternoon at Walter Johnson High School has been postponed. Officials expect to announce a new date and time for the event later Wednesday.

Original — Parent Teacher Associations from around Montgomery County on Wednesday will call on Gov. Larry Hogan to release education funding at a press conference and rally at Walter Johnson High School.

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) is hosting the event starting at 3 p.m. at the school (6400 Rock Spring Drive).

It’s part of the effort by education groups across the state to persuade Hogan to release $68 million in Geographic Cost of Education Index funding, or GCEI.

The funding was designed to help school systems in the 13 jurisdictions where public education is costliest. Montgomery County would lose roughly $17 million in GCEI funding if Hogan opts not to spend it.

The $68 million was included in the budget passed by state legislators. Hogan has said spending it and other funding set aside for state employee pay raises and health care programs would be fiscally irresponsible and hurt the state’s pension system.


by Aaron Kraut — April 28, 2015 at 10:00 am 852 15 Comments

Tilden Middle School (the former Woodward High School) at 11211 Old Georgetown Road, via MCPSResidents in a North Bethesda neighborhood on Monday lashed out at Montgomery County Public Schools for not including them in discussions on the collocation of a special needs school with a new Tilden Middle School.

Many who spoke at a Board of Education public hearing on the proposal, which has the backing of Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers, said the work of the Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School Roundtable Discussion Group proves the move is all but a done deal.

“What we’re objecting to is the way this entire process has been handled,” said Della Stolsworth. “What we’re asking you is to slow this down. It’s fine to make a mistake.”

Bowers and MCPS staff would like to collocate Rock Terrace — a Rockville school for students age 12-21 with special needs — with the new Tilden Middle School when it moves from its current spot on Old Georgetown Road to 6300 Tilden Lane.

Many in the Luxmanor neighborhood around Tilden Lane claim the extra traffic generated by the Rock Terrace School will be too much for area streets to handle. Some parents of future Tilden students say they’re concerned about their kids having to share certain aspects of the new school building.

MCPS senior planner Deborah Szyfer said the collocated schools would require 32 buses, just five more buses than Tilden has now because some routes could serve both Tilden and Rock Terrace students.


by Aaron Kraut — April 16, 2015 at 1:10 pm 268 0

One of the collocation concept plans discussed by the Tilden/Rock Terrace roundtable, via MCPSThe Board of Education for the first time on Tuesday discussed a controversial proposal to collocate a North Bethesda middle school with a special education program.

The Board members who asked questions gave few indications of their level of support for Interim Superintendent Larry Bower’s recommendation to collocate the Rock Terrace School with the future Tilden Middle School in the Luxmanor neighborhood.

While some wanted to know why more community members weren’t involved in the initial planning process, others spoke highly of the potential for general education and special needs students to be at the same site and occasionally interact in certain classes and programs.

MCPS senior planner Deborah Szyfer countered some of the concerns about the collocation during a presentation to the Board.

Some in the neighborhood around the future school site on Tilden Lane have expressed concerns about road capacity for buses and fencing that would be needed to make sure some special needs students in the Rock Terrace program don’t leave school grounds.

Others with children who will attend the future Tilden Middle School are concerned about middle school-aged kids mixing with Rock Terrace’s older students, some who are 18-20.


by Aaron Kraut — April 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm 3 Comments

MCPSBoard of Education President Patricia O’Neill said the finalists for the school system’s superintendent job will remain confidential, despite some calls to allow for public forums involving each of the candidates.

O’Neill wrote in a blog post Wednesday that she will convene a panel of representatives from 17 community groups including employee unions, PTAs, educational groups and county agencies to review the finalists.

Participants will be asked not to share the identity of any of the candidates interviewed.

The Board will not reveal the finalists for a broader public review because it might narrow the list of those interested in going through the process.

“Some people simply will not apply if their current positions will be jeopardized, which could happen if it becomes public they are a candidate for another job,” O’Neill wrote. “We have seen this happen in other school districts and government organizations, and we believe that confidentiality is important as we conduct this search.”

The Parents’ Coalition, a frequent critic of the school system, called for public forums with the finalists similar to what the school system in Hartford, Conn., did during its selection process last year.

“Yes, this selection involves a personnel decision, but ‘personnel’ should not be used to defend unnecessary secrecy,” said Parents’ Coalition member Sheldon Fishman at a Board meeting shortly after former Superintendent Joshua Starr resigned. “A selection process that is both transparent and still protects privacy will give taxpayers more confidence in their elected officials. More important, transparency will empower the new superintendent to be bold.”


by Aaron Kraut — March 31, 2015 at 11:00 am 412 3 Comments

Bethesda resident and BOE President Pat O'Neill, via BOEAfter another year of high math exam failure rates and with a new standardized test taking center stage, Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill says it’s time for MCPS to consider dropping some of its final exams.

O’Neill wrote a lengthy blog post on Monday outlining the issue. O’Neill and Board member Phil Kauffman also sent a memo last week to Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers asking him to consider exempting some students from countywide final exams in subjects where they also took one of the new state PARCC tests.

“Does it make sense for us to give a countywide final exam in the same high school subject where we give a PARCC test? And are we losing too much instructional time in the name of testing?,” O’Neill wrote Monday.

The PARCC tests, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, were rolled out for the first time this year, replacing the Maryland State Assessments in reading and math and the High School Assessments in Algebra 1 and English 10.

O’Neill and Kauffman asked about exempting those who had already taken either a PARCC or HSA test in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, English 10, Biology and National, State and Local Government from taking the corresponding county final exams in those classes.

“After speaking with Mr. Bowers, as well as principals and administrators, it does not appear practical to make such a change this year,” O’Neill wrote. “But he has assured me that staff will consider this change for the 2015-2016 school year.”

About 65 percent of MCPS high school students who took the county’s Algebra 1 final exam in January failed it. About 63 percent failed the Algebra 2 final exam.


by Aaron Kraut — March 30, 2015 at 7:20 pm 1,872 15 Comments

Interim MCPS Superintendent Larry BowersMontgomery County Public Schools will have to make up one of its seven snow days this school year, meaning the last day of school has been pushed back to Monday, June 15.

MCPS Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers announced the decision from Maryland State Superintendent at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

The school system had originally requested the state waive three of hits seven snow days, which would have put it three school days short of the required 180 days. MCPS builds 184 school days into its calendar each year to provide a buffer in case of inclement weather closures.

Bowers revised the waiver request to two days and Lowery agreed, meaning the last day of school will be pushed back from Friday, June 12 to Monday, June 15.

The teacher workday scheduled for June 15 will now be held on Tuesday, June 16. June 15 will be an early release day.

In its original three-day waiver request, MCPS said adding three days to the end of the school year would’ve cost between $1.7 million and $2 million, mostly due to personnel costs.

Photo via MCPS

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm 259 3 Comments

The search firm helping MCPS find a new superintendent says it has boiled down almost 1,000 pieces of community input into six “desired characteristics” the new hire should have:

  • A collaborative administrative style
  • Effective communication skills
  • Evidence of being culturally aware, culturally responsive, and valuing diversity
  • The ability to narrow the achievement gap
  • Educational experiences as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator
  • Respect for, and appreciation of, teachers and staff

The school system released the 47-page “Leadership Profile Report” from search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates on Thursday.

Board of EducationFormer Superintendent Joshua Starr resigned from the position in February once it became clear that a majority of Board of Education members wouldn’t support renewing his contract, which was up this summer.

Little has been made public about why Board of Education members were opposed to Starr continuing as superintendent, as preliminary deliberations were held in closed-door sessions.

The search firm collected feedback from 978 people, including parents, students, staff and other community members from focus groups, a series of community forums, online surveys and individual interviews.

The achievement gap, economic disparities and inequities, communication and transparency and testing were recognized as some of the school system’s poor qualities.

The Board expects to have a new superintendent in place by July 1. The search firm is still accepting applications.

by Aaron Kraut — March 24, 2015 at 9:05 am 1,098 29 Comments

One of the collocation concept plans discussed by the Tilden/Rock Terrace roundtable, via MCPS

Parents of future students at a long-planned North Bethesda middle school aren’t happy with the school system’s recent move to collocate a special needs school on the same site.

On Monday, MCPS Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers recommended that Rock Terrace — a Rockville school for students age 12-21 with special needs — collocate with the new Tilden Middle School when it moves from its current spot on Old Georgetown Road to 6300 Tilden Lane.

“Even though these schools will share space, they will maintain their separate identities and missions, and will have staff dedicated to ensuring student success,” Bowers announced.

Parents of future Tilden Middle School students say MCPS is rushing to find a collocation partner for Rock Terrace because of its aging Rockville building and a state mandate that discourages funding for standalone special education centers.

“It seems like this is very much a fast-tracked,” said Andrew Weiss, who lives next to the Tilden site and has two kids in a nearby elementary school. “They had a need to accommodate Rock Terrace. I guess it’s in bad shape and they needed to put it somewhere and Tilden was the next build on the list. They did it not because it made sense, but because it was convenient.”

Rebecca Rudich, who has children in nearby elementary and preschools, said she wants to see a thorough analysis of why collocating Rock Terrace with the new Tilden is the right choice.

“I’m worried that we’re telling one story to get the building built,” Rudich said, “but it won’t be the truth.”


by Aaron Kraut — March 18, 2015 at 10:35 am 431 6 Comments

Snowy Battery Lane Park in JanuaryMontgomery County Public Schools on Tuesday asked permission not to have to make up three snow days.

The school system had seven snow days this winter, three more than the four extra days automatically built in to the calendar. Each school system in Maryland must have at least 180 days of instruction.

But in the case of particularly bruising winters, school systems can get waivers from the Maryland State Board of Education not to have make up snow days — even if it means having less than 180 days of school.

If the state board denies the waiver request, as it initially did last year, the MCPS school year could be extended to June 15, 16 and 17. Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers sent the state board a waiver request citing cost issues:

“MCPS is prepared to follow the contingency calendar which would move the last day of classes to Wednesday, June 17, 2015. However, adding these three days will cost between $1.7 million and $2 million, mostly due to personnel costs,” MCPS announced. “Given financial concerns in the county, Mr. Bowers said it made sense to seek a waiver of the three days. The Maryland State Board of Education is expected to consider the waiver at its meeting on March 24, 2015.”

MCPS also said it considered making up one of the snow days on Friday, March 27, which is a no-school day for students but a teacher work day for grading and reporting.

“However, since the State Board will not consider waivers until March 24, it was not feasible to make March 27 part of the request,” MCPS announced.

Last year, MCPS agreed to make up two snow days after a total of 10 days of class were cancelled because of wintry weather. One of those make-up days came on the Monday after Easter and another was tacked on to the end of the school year in June.

by Aaron Kraut — March 17, 2015 at 12:35 pm 752 14 Comments

Planners' proposed alternative for B-CC Middle School No. 2 entrance

The design for a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school would take out too many trees, according to Montgomery County planners.

The Planning Board is set to review the school system’s preferred design for the yet-to-be-named Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School No. 2 next week. In their report, planning staff says they’re working with MCPS on a new entrance and parent drop-off loop that will mean fewer trees are removed for the project.

The four-story school, set for the former Rock Creek Hills Local Park in Kensington, will help ease overcrowding in Westland Middle School, the only current middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster.

The existing curb cuts at the site (3701 Saul Road) are more than 30 feet below the proposed school building entrance. That means MCPS would have to remove 31 trees and impact two others, mostly because of a retaining wall needed to support the drop-off loop along the steep hill.


by Aaron Kraut — March 17, 2015 at 9:10 am 213 0

B-CC Principal Karen Lockard, Via Montgomery County CouncilBethesda-Chevy Chase High School Principal Karen Lockard will retire at the end of the school year.

Lockard made the announcement on Monday in a letter to the school community.

She was on the staff at B-CC for 27 years and worked in education for 38 years. She’ll retire effective July 1, 2015.

“Now is the time for me to pursue other opportunities. I am announcing now so that the county has ample time to conduct a search to find someone worthy of serving this community,” Lockard wrote. “I will always be thankful that I have been part of this beautiful Baron Nation.”

Associate Superintendent Christopher Garran also wrote to B-CC parents on Monday about the selection process for a new principal. MCPS will set up an interview panel including school staff, parents, students and central services personnel.

“Our first major step is to conduct meetings with Bethesda-Chevy Chase staff members, parents/guardians, and students in order to collect input regarding the characteristics that the community seeks in the next principal,” Garran wrote. “At these meetings, we will also provide detailed information and answer questions about the principal selection process.”

MCPS will also hold an April 14 meeting in the school’s cafeteria for all staff, students and parents to collect input on the search. It’s set for 7 p.m.

The school is on what’s probably Montgomery County’s most urban high school campus. With a growing enrollment of more than 1,900 students, it’s scheduled for an addition project that will bring 24 more classrooms, four science labs, two art rooms and a new dance studio.

MCPS hopes to start the roughly 45,000-square-foot project in January 2016 and complete it in August 2017, though it could start a year later depending on school construction funding.

Via Montgomery County Council

by Aaron Kraut — March 10, 2015 at 9:00 am 888 12 Comments

Interim MCPS Superintendent Larry BowersMontgomery County Public Schools on Monday said it’s preparing to hold back 370 school-based staff positions for next year in anticipation of the County Council not fulfilling its wish for a 4 percent budget increase.

The school system made the announcement in a press release, a week before County Executive Isiah Leggett is set to make his FY16 operating budget recommendation and a few months before the County Council is expected to adjust and approve it.

Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers said he sent staffing allocations for the 2015-2016 school year to principals on Friday. Those allocations include the reduction of 370 school-based positions, including more than 150 teaching positions.

MCPS says the reductions would mean a class size increase of one student per class in elementary schools, of 0.5 students at higher FARMS rates middle and high schools and one student at other middle and high schools.

“While I am hopeful that the County Council will be able to fully fund our budget, we must prepare for the possibility that we will have to make additional reductions to our budget request,” Bowers said in the press release. “We are taking this action now so that our schools and staff impacted by these changes can begin planning for next year.”

The announcement Monday indicated another schools budget tussle is ahead for the Council.

The Board of Education is requesting $2.39 billion for its 2015-2016 operating budget, $80 million over the minimum level required by the state’s controversial Maintenance of Effort law and about half of the county’s entire budget.

Last year, not long before the Democratic primary, the County Council came up with one-time funding sources to fund MCPS at its requested level but without increasing the minimum threshold required by the law.

The Board’s budget request assumes the county will provide $23.3 million to restore those funds used last year. It also cut then-Superintendent Joshua Starr’s request from December, realizing Gov. Larry Hogan is recommending a $25 million cut in state funding for county schools.

The hiring cuts proposed by Bowers, which include cutting about 40 central service positions, would save MCPS about $27 million.

“We have taken prudent, necessary steps to plan for next year and will continue to fight for additional state funding,” Bowers said. “But we must be ready should the County Council be unable to fully fund our budget.”

Photo via MCPS

by Aaron Kraut — March 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm 0

A volunteer group funding after-school tutoring, summer classes and a Bethesda-based college counseling nonprofit is celebrating 20 years with a special fundraiser next week.

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Educational Foundation will host “An Evening of Wine, Chocolate and Cheese” on Thursday, March 12 from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. at the Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase (7931 Connecticut Avenue). RSVPS are needed by Sunday. Tickets cost $50 per person.

The event is meant to highlight the 20th anniversary of the Foundation, which provided the seed money for College Tracks, the nonprofit providing counseling and college guidance for high school students across Montgomery County.

At B-CC, the foundation funds the school’s Time for Academic Progress, or TAP program, in which it hires teachers from the school to tutor students in a study hall setting.

Thanks in part to a donation from Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman, it also funds the school’s Summer Academy and other school programs not supported by regular MCPS funding.

“Sometimes those extra programs, those extra supports can only be brought together by the community to make the real differences in students’ lives,” Foundation President Matthew Gandal says in the video above. “And that’s really what the Foundation is here for.”

Video via Foundation Digital Media/Vimeo

by Aaron Kraut — March 5, 2015 at 5:40 pm 0

Montgomery County Public Schools decided not to wait until Friday to make a school-closing decision.

MCPS will be closed Friday, for the second-straight day and third day this week.

The school system made the announcement at 5:30 p.m. Thursday:

Montgomery County Public Schools are closed on Friday, March 6, 2015 due to emergency weather conditions. All school and community activities in school buildings also are canceled. Administrative offices will open two hours late. Day care programs in school buildings may open at 10:30 a.m.


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