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by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm 164 2 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 1,077 27 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.”

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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.

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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.

by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 3:15 pm 1,079 9 Comments

MCPS school bus

Updated at 3:55 p.m. – A pilot program for busing private school students using MCPS buses and drivers will cost the county $240,560 for the 2014-2015 school year.

The County Council on Tuesday approved taking the money out of the county’s Mass Transit fund after a public hearing in which private school officials, parents and students talked of the overwhelming success of the pilot so far.

Nobody testified against the program, which was initiated in part by District 19 Del. Bonnie Cullison.

“The fact is that 20 percent of Montgomery County’s children don’t go to public schools,” Cullison told the Council. “Their cars and minivans are in some of our busiest intersections.”

The program started last fall and grew to include six schools: the Norwood School at 8821 River Road, the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville and the Torah School of Greater Washington, Yeshiva of Greater Washington and St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.

The pilot required coordination with the public school system to make sure buses and drivers weren’t needed at the same time for public school students.

County Executive Isiah Leggett wrote in a memo asking for the $240,000 that he supported the pilot “in order to reduce peak hour automobile trips on County roads.”

The private schools involved contributed $43,285 for the program.

Father John Enzler, president and CEO of the Catholic Charities of Washington, told the Council to imagine the busy River Road intersection with Bradley Boulevard without private school parents driving their kids back and forth from school each day. The area is home to five non-public schools.

“This is not an entitlement,” Enzler said. “This is really actually a chance to make something happen that helps all of the people in our county.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 12:30 pm 0

Montgomery County Public Schools has cancelled all school-sponsored after school activities set for Tuesday because of expected wintry weather.

Day care programs in school buildings and community use activities in school buildings will happen as scheduled.

High school basketball playoff games scheduled for Tuesday will be moved to Wednesday, at the same time and same locations, according to MCPS Athletic Director Jeff Sullivan:

by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm 566 2 Comments

MCPSWith plenty of sun and temperatures above 40 degrees, Monday might be the nicest “snow day” Montgomery County students have enjoyed in a long time.

But the school system’s move to close school on Monday might also mean an extra day of school tacked on to the end of the calendar in June.

Monday’s school cancellation was the fifth of the 2014-2015 school year, one more than the four inclement weather days MCPS builds into its schedule.

That means the school year could be continued to June 15, according to school system spokesperson Dana Tofig.

MCPS can apply for a waiver from the state not to have to make up the day to meet the minimum amount of school instruction days required. But getting a waiver from the state is never a sure thing.

Last year’s frequent snow and winter weather closings left the school year extended by two days and that came after a back-and-forth negotiation with the state schools superintendent.

To make matters potentially trickier: More winter weather is expected this week:

by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 10:25 am 234 0

View of proposed of B-CC High School addition, which could start next year depending on state and county school construction budgets, via mCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools tabbed a well-known regional economic expert to show how a fully-funded schools budget would help the local and state economy.

The school system is facing state education funding cuts, a Montgomery County budget shortfall and an uphill fight in Annapolis for a state bond bill that would provide $20 million in annual construction funds.

To help make its case, MCPS hired George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller to do a study on how its $2.7 billion in operating and construction budget requests for FY 2016 would impact the economy.

If the County Council fully funds the school system’s operating budget request and the state legislature approves the construction bill, Fuller found that MCPS spending would contribute $3.2 billion to the county economy and $4.1 billion to the state economy.

“What this study does is demonstrate that for every dollar our community invests in MCPS, there is a significant economic benefit as well,” Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said in a press release. “For every dollar that is invested, we generate $1.50 for the state economy.”

The study also found that MCPS would generate $711 million in new personal earnings to county workers beyond MCPS employee salaries and support 17,388 full-time, year-round jobs locally and elsewhere. A little more than 9,000 of those jobs would be held by workers who live in the county.

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by Aaron Kraut — February 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm 654 4 Comments

Students using laptops in the classroom, via MCPS

The chief technology officer for Montgomery County Public Schools says student emails and personal information are not being sold, shipped to or marketed by software vendors or outside companies.

Sherwin Collette, who’s overseeing the rollout of the school system’s Google Chromebook program, met with a number of concerned Bethesda and Chevy Chase parents last week. Since the school system’s Chromebook initiative was approved last summer, about 45,000 of the devices — equipped with a set of Google education apps — have been distributed to elementary schools, middle schools and some high schools.

On Wednesday, Collette said MCPS has taken great strides to create a “walled garden,” around its network of Google education apps. Early last year Google came under fire when it acknowledged it had been scanning and indexing the contents of student emails for advertising purposes.

In January, Google pledged to stop the practice, which it commonly uses in non-education email systems such as Gmail.

“Early on with Google’s entrance into the educational arena, they didn’t do as clean a job of separating those worlds. Google is an advertising company by and large,” Collette said. “That was one of the things we looked at. Students are only able to communicate with other students and staff within MCPS. We are not selling or using any information.”

Collette said he had hoped to assuage some of those fears in the meeting last week with parents at Chevy Chase Elementary School.

Bethesda parents Mario and Assya Pascalev said they came away from the conversation wanting to see any official agreements between MCPS and Google, as well as more information on the school system’s new online registration system for middle and high schoolers.

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by Aaron Kraut — February 23, 2015 at 4:05 pm 171 5 Comments

Board of EducationThe Board of Education wants community input on the type of candidate it should hire to become the school system’s new superintendent.

The Board, along with executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) will hold a public forum on Wednesday, March 4 at Walter Johnson High School (6400 Rock Spring Drive) “to give MCPS students, staff, parents and community members the opportunity to identify the educational priorities and leadership qualities they would like to see in the next MCPS superintendent.”

It appears unlikely HYA will bring a list of potential candidates for the community to vet and comment on. The Board of Education hopes to have a new superintendent in place by July 1.

The Board hired the firm for $35,000 (plus other reasonable expenses) after former Superintendent Joshua Starr resigned. Starr and the Board came to a resignation agreement earlier this month after it became clear at least four members of the eight-person Board opposed giving him a new contract.

Starr will receive the remainder of the salary he was owed under his contract, which ran until June 30, a $46,583 payment for unused sick and annual leave in accordance with his contract, and health insurance benefits through the end of 2015.

HYA was the search firm that helped the Board hire Starr and his predecessor Jerry Weast. HYA has assisted in superintendent searches for 14 of the country’s 25 largest school districts and more than 1,000 searches over the last 20 years.

The Walter Johnson forum on March 4 is set for 7 p.m.

MCPS says an online survey will be available soon for those unable to make it to the forum.

by Aaron Kraut — February 23, 2015 at 9:25 am 2,210 7 Comments

The chosen design for an addition project at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School would bring 24 more classrooms, four science labs, two art rooms and a new dance studio wrapped around the west and north sides of the already overcrowded school.

The addition project would create a four-floor structure connected by a bridge to a parking garage. New tennis courts would go on top of the ground-floor garage, on the existing site of the school’s six tennis courts and a number of portable classrooms.

A new three-floor structure would be built on the north side of the school facing the football field and the school’s existing main entrance (with the curved staircase) would be taken down and rebuilt to connect to the new structure.

B-CC is projected to surpass 2,000 students by the 2016-2017 school year. With an enrollment of more than 1,800 students, the school is already over its capacity of 1,692 — even after an addition that was completed just 13 years ago.

MCPS hopes to start the roughly 45,000-square-foot project in January 2016 and complete it in August 2017. But that would depend on new school construction funding from the state, a prospect that seems unlikely this legislative session.

Still, officials from Rockville-based architecture firm Smolen-EMR-Ilkovitch are preparing as if the first shovels will hit the ground next year. An architect on the project described the design earlier this month in a meeting with the school’s PTA group after a series of worksessions.

Without the state funding, the B-CC addition project is slated to be completed in August 2018.

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