May 28, 2014

MONTGOMERY COUNTY’S student enrollment has increased by nearly 14,000 since 2007. Another 11,000 students are expected during the next six years. Not only do the numbers pose a challenge for the bursting-at-the-seams district; changing demographics mean there will be more students with impoverished backgrounds and special needs. Smart, engaged leadership is needed, so we urge Montgomery voters to pay close attention to this year’s races for school board.

Four seats on the eight-member policymaking body will be decided in elections in November. But only one race — the at-large seat being vacated by board member Shirley Brandman — will see a primary June 24. There are four candidates — Edward Amatetti, Merry Eisner-Heidorn, Jill Ortman-Fouse and Shebra Evans — and the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election.

Ms. Ortman-Fouse, a consultant and leadership coach from Silver Spring, and Ms. Evans, a homemaker from Wheaton, have emerged as the strongest candidates. Ms. Evans has impressive credentials for her work with the Montgomery County Council of PTAs and has earned a reputation as a thoughtful collaborator. However, our endorsement goes to Ms. Ortman-Fouse because of her interest in and ideas about one of the most serious issues facing the high-performing school system: how to close the achievement gap between poor students of color and their white peers.

Her work as a parent activist has schooled her in the issues; we like her emphasis on parent engagement and her common-sense approach. For example, she pointed out that the high school with the largest cohort of Hispanic students has no one in the front office who speaks Spanish. She also argues for schools to have the flexibility to establish practices tailored to their particular needs. We think she would provide a needed spark for better strategies on the achievement gap issue.

All county voters are eligible to cast ballots in the nonpartisan races.