Montgomery candidates for school board meet at public forum as June primary nears

Four candidates vying for an at-large seat on Montgomery County’s school board laid out their views at their first political forum this week, with some supporting changes in special education and all weighing in on the district’s budget difficulties, changes to school schedules, the need for construction funding and the possibility of charter schools.

The four candidates — Edward Amatetti, Shebra Evans, Merry Eisner-Heidorn and Jill Ortman-Fouse — will appear on the June primary ballot in the nonpartisan race. The top two vote-getters will proceed to the November general election.

The four candidates met earlier this week at the Wheaton Library for their first political forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and the American Association of University Women.

Here is a video recording of their forum.

Below are takeouts from the candidates’ answers to the question that opened the forum, about the Common Core state standards, a set of K-12 academic guidelines that have been adopted by states including Maryland. They are listed in their order in which the candidates spoke.

Ortman-Fouse: “Our problems that we’ve had in Maryland are not unique. They’ve been across the country. . . . Our teachers are unprepared. They don’t have the curriculum in place that they need. It is very frustrating. . . . Our kindergartners are now in fourth grade who have been using the curriculum. Our fifth graders, it just got dropped into their laps this year. . . . It’s like aliens visiting a foreign land because there’s a new vocabulary and a new way of doing things. The thing you won’t want to do with your teachers is frustrate them and kill their morale. And the rollout for this curriculum has been highly difficult on the teachers, and they don’t have the planning time they need to be able to make it happen.”

Evans: “With this curriculum, we are going deeper and we are going broader, and we do want our kids to be critical thinkers to be able to be prepared for the 21st century, and although the timing was not good, what we are hearing from our teachers is that they love the fact that our students are going to be able to go deeper with the knowledge. And in the future I think it would make it easier on our teachers if a lot of things weren’t taking place at the same time, in terms of having a new . . . curriculum, as well as having different assessments that are going to come down. So what we hear from the teachers, when I am talking with the community . . . they are happy we are going deeper, that it’ll be broader information, just not happy about the timing of having a new curriculum as well as having to do new assessments that will go completely to computer technology.”

Amatetti: “Common Core is going to have a huge impact on our schools in terms of money, in terms of diversion from what teachers and administrators need to be doing every day, in terms of the toll of the staff at schools. Taking it back from that, what is it going to accomplish? It’s not going to address any of the problems in the schools. And if you got 100 teachers together four years ago and said, ‘Can we solve some of the problems with the schools with a new curriculum?,’ zero of them would say that, especially the ones that are most effective in the classroom, so it is not going to help. In Montgomery County . . . it will reduce the rigor in many areas. It’ll push Algebra 1 to 9th grade. We’re already pushing it up to 8th grade. It’s going to put us between one and two years behind the world proficiency benchmarks in various things, whether it’s decimals or plus and minus. . . . So it’s going to lower the rigor. It’s also going to take control again away from the parents, the teachers, the administrators and give it higher-up to people who again don’t know the local situation in Montgomery County. . . . It will not be the panacea we think it is.”

Eisner-Heidorn: “Jill did a wonderful explanation of the Common Core. This is a brief reminder I was in the math work group in 2009, when we first started talking about it and pretty much there wasn’t a single parent, teacher, administrator, counselor, curriculum writer who didn’t agree that we didn’t need a huge sea change, in our math curriculum at least, prior to the introduction of the Common Core. Ed is correct in saying the curriculum itself is not a panacea for some of the issues we are having in our schools. Curriculum will only do so much to address things like the (achievement) gap. But it will go a long way, as it’s being implemented currently in Montgomery County, if our teachers get the kind of training time, the support and the attention they need to correctly implement it, if we get the stakeholder input from everyone in the community, to really do it right, if we have the time to really get the tests right. Because Montgomery County isn’t implementing the Common Core, we’re implementing our version, which is more rigorous, which is better, which goes deeper, which really can get our kids college- and career-ready for 21st-century jobs.”

Another school board election forum will be held May 29 at 2 p.m. at Leisure World, sponsored by the Leisure World Democratic Club. In the general election, a total of four seats on the eight-member school board will be decided by voters.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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