SCHOOL BOARD elections tend not to attract a lot of attention; other contests are seen as more exciting or significant. But this year in Montgomery County, the impending retirement of Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast underscores the importance of choosing carefully a board that -- by selecting a new superintendent -- will help define the county's future.
Mr. Weast announced last month that he would step down at the end of the 2010-11 school year after more than a decade of leading a system that now counts 141,777 students. Mr. Weast is an extraordinary educator with the acumen of a businessman and the skills of a politician. He will be a hard act to follow, particularly considering the hard economic times that will make it difficult to sustain the programs responsible for much of the system's progress. Indeed, we wondered why members of the current Board of Education, including some of those up for reelection, didn't do more to get Mr. Weast to remain in office.
Of the seven elected board members, four are up for reelection this year. The races are nonpartisan and there are primaries on Sept. 14 for three contests -- District 1, District 5 and at large -- with the top two vote-getters for each seat advancing to the November general election. All votes, including those for district seats, are countywide.
Patricia O'Neill, the current board president, who represents District 3, advances to the November election, where she will face PTA activist Karen Smith. Ms. O'Neill has our enthusiastic endorsement. She has served the longest on the board, since 1998, and she has done so with smarts, hard work and a passion for education. Not only will her knowledge be invaluable as the system copes with hard economic realities, but she also is the only board member with experience in picking a superintendent. That Mr. Weast ended up as the choice is testament to her judgment, as is the fact that she alone pressed him not to retire.
For the District 1 seat, incumbent Judy Docca is the clear choice over Parents' Coalition member Agnes Jones-Trower and Mike Ibañez, security analyst and former educator. Ms. Docca, a retired principal, is finishing her first term in which she proved to be an effective advocate for minority students, focusing attention on the skewed suspension rates of African American students.
In District 5, incumbent Mike Durso, appointed to the board last year to replace Nancy Navarro after her election to the County Council, faces challenges from Parents' Coalition member Louis M. Wilen, schools activist Martha Schaerr and nonprofit founder Lou August. Mr. Durso, as a former principal of Springbrook High School, has an insider's perspective of school needs, but we give our nod to Mr. August. He has valuable experience in providing job skills to at-risk students, and his involvement in global education issues gives him a unique perspective on the competition today's students face. Instead of looking backward, Mr. August looks ahead to new ways and technologies of delivering instruction.
The at-large race sees incumbent Shirley Brandman facing Parents' Coalition member Lyda Astrove and homemaker Lisa Lloyd. Ms. Brandman is finishing up her first term, in which she showed a good grasp of fiscal issues and an ability to build consensus. She is our choice.