Montgomery school board candidates cite top issues

With Maryland’s primary election Tuesday, four candidates vying for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education are making their final push with voters.

Three of the candidates have experience as parent advocates and have held PTA leadership roles in Montgomery: Merry Eisner-Heidorn, Shebra Evans and Jill Ortman-Fouse. The fourth, Edward Amatetti, was a teacher for seven years and works in finance.

The race is nonpartisan, and the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s primary will advance to the general election.

Here’s a brief look at their top issues and what idea or change they’d like to make happen. They gave their responses in written form, and some answers were condensed.

● ● Edward Amatetti, 55, works in finance, and is a North Potomac father of two children who have graduated from Montgomery schools.

Education: University of Maryland, MBA, and Georgetown University, B.S. in economics and biology

Top two issues: 1. Finally beginning to close the achievement gap with common sense ideas that have worked for teachers and schools throughout the country, instead of the top-down approaches that have failed for the past 40 years. 2.Bringing order and transparency to the budget and budget process, including conducting an operations audit.

One idea or change you’d like to see: I will propose the following curriculum changes: 1) introduce business, entrepreneurship and personal finance coursework in high school; 2) introduce foreign languages as early as the first grade; 3) make certain that all students are mastering “life math” concepts; 4) establish internships with local businesses and nonprofits so students gain workforce experience; and 5) reintroduce trade programs.

●Merry Eisner-Heidorn, 56, works in marketing and operations for a trade e-newsletter and is a Potomac mother of two children who attend Montgomery schools. She has three grown stepchildren.

Education: University of Pennsylvania, BA, nonprofit marketing

Top two issues: The Board of Education should be more responsive, collaborative and transparent. To that end, the BOE should expand stakeholder engagement in its policy-making and budget-making processes, apply that learning to Dr. Starr’s and MCPS’ initiatives, establish measurable goals for system expenditures, be accountable for the results, and be willing to challenge the system so that all students succeed.

One idea or change you’d like to see: Participation in the MCPS study circles program should be mandatory for all teachers. Everyone has biases – but in a county with our diverse student population, our teachers need to learn to recognize those biases and eliminate them. Critical to a student’s success is their belief that they can accomplish any challenge put before them. We need to ensure that every teacher will transmit that message to every student, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or the presence of an IEP.

●Shebra Evans, 42, a stay-home parent with work and college experience in finance and a Silver Spring mother with two children who attend Montgomery schools.

Education: Tennessee State University BBA, economics and finance

Top two issues: Create more opportunities for career education to provide students with multiple career options for life after high school. Work to eliminate the achievement gap.

One idea or change you’d like to see: An idea would be to partner students in middle school with career mentors. As a school system, we will have to think about how we really engage students to think about their skills and their passions and how to build upon those to give them choices coupled with understanding of what it takes to follow their dreams. Engaging our business partners will allow the school system to work collaboratively with the community to make the promise of college and career readiness real.

●Jill Ortman-Fouse, 50, an organizational development consultant and a Silver Spring mother with two children who attend Montgomery schools.

Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, BA in media communications

Top two issues: First, I want to work toward a school system that is more open, accountable and responsive to parent and community input, and able to collaborate effectively with the many talented, knowledgeable and resourceful people in our county who want to help create solutions. . . . Second, I support whole child learning. We must not define our students simply by scores on standardized math and reading tests. We must support the whole child – mental, physical, emotional, social and intellectual—with an enriched curriculum that addresses the wide spectrum of learning styles and needs.

One idea or change you’d like to see: I would like to see feedback from the BOE on the feedback they receive from the community. . . . Following community surveys and hearings, the BOE should report out not just how many people spoke about what, but how their input will inform policy going forward.

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