School Board Narrows the Field to Five Finalists for Vacant Seat

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Montgomery County school board members have selected five finalists for the vacant board seat representing the Silver Spring area, picking their choices from a group of 20 candidates.

The Board of Education will interview the candidates Saturday and vote on the appointment at a public meeting. The new board member will complete the last two years of Valerie Ervin's term. Ervin was elected last month to the County Council.

Applicants for the District 4 seat, which encompasses Takoma Park and parts of Silver Spring and Wheaton, have stressed the major issues of their community: closing the achievement gap that separates students of different races and socioeconomic levels; raising grade-point averages, advanced coursework participation and graduation rates at the high school level; and challenging the school system to provide equal services to all students and schools.

After reviewing the applications -- a field winnowed to 19 after one candidate was disqualified for not being a registered voter -- each of the seven board members picked five top candidates. No one got seven votes; the five finalists each received five ballots.

Three of the finalists are minorities and three are men, reflecting the diversity of the applicant pool and also the interest among board members in further diversifying their panel. All but one of the current board members are women, and four of the six adult members are white.

The candidates will be interviewed in half-hour sessions starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the board room at the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Dr. in Rockville. The interviews are open to the public. They will be structured question-and-answer sessions, with questions provided to the candidates in advance.

The board said in a statement that the questions focus on "the candidates' perceptions of the role of a board member, professional and civic experiences, priorities, assessment of the needs of District 4, and availability for extensive meetings and other public commitments."

The finalists are:

ยท Christopher Barclay, 45, a 10-year resident of Takoma Park. He is a project manager for Verizon and has three children in the school system: a freshman at Einstein High, an eighth-grader at Takoma Park Middle and a sixth-grader at Loiederman Middle. He has been a member of the county PTA and a representative on the NAACP Parent Council at two schools.

Barclay said in a recent interview that he is particularly interested in raising standards at the county's middle schools, which have been the focus of a reform effort. He's also concerned about the large number of high school students in his community who aren't prepared to take and pass the state-mandated High School Assessments, which are being phased in as a graduation requirement.

"The big things that I've worked on for years have been the issues of equity and excellence in education," he added.

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